The Indians attempted to sacrifice bunt 46 times in 2018. In some cases, the player that attempted the bunt successfully sacrificed the runner over. You shouldn’t celebrate these too much; sacrifice bunts — including those that resulted in an error or a single — still cost the Indians 5.45 runs according to RE24 in 2018. They were worth -.81 WPA. No traditional sacrifice bunts increased the Indians’ chances of winning per WPA.
What I plan to examine today are the times that Indians players squared up a sacrifice and blew it, ranked in ascending order of shame the hitter likely felt when leaving the batter’s box.
May 8th - Corey Kluber
Situation: 1 out, runners on first and second, top of the second inning, Indians trail 0-2
Kluber squared up and doinked the ball right to the pitcher, who caught it and picked off Guyer at second base. Double play.
This is a terrible bunt, but it is the least harrowing simply because Kluber is a pitcher in the American League and attempts a bunt about as often as I actually hit my daily call quota.
Result: WPA -.9, RE24 -.9, Indians lose 2-3
September 9th - Erik Gonzalez
Situation: 0 out, runner on second base, bottom of the second inning, Indians lead 2-0
Result: -.03 WPA, RE24 -.45, Indians eventually lost 3-5
April 30th - Roberto Perez
Situation: 0 out, runner on first, bottom of the 8th inning, Indians losing 3-4
Roberto Perez couldn’t do anything at the plate in the beginning of the year. Or the middle. Or the end.
Anyway, this game gets a discount for happening in April and being by a catcher. He popped a bunt foul that the catcher ran down.
Result: WPA -.09, RE23 -.37
May 15th - Greg Allen
Situation: 0 out, runners on first and second, top of the sixth inning, Indians lead 5-3
Allen laid down the bunt, but it rolled to Zac Reininger who rushed from the mound and dispatched of the lead runner at third. Everyone loves a free out.
Result: -.04 WPA, -.59 RE24, Indians eventually lose 8-9
May 6th - Greg Allen
Situation: 0 out, runners on first and second, top of the 8th inning, Indians lead 1-0
Allen popped up a 1-1 pitch from Jonathan Holder in front of home. With Gary Sanchez catching this may have been a clever strategy to reach via error, but it did not work.
Result: -.05 WPA, 0.59 RE24, Indians eventually lose 4-7
July 15th - Roberto Perez
Situation: 0 out, runner on first, bottom of the 7th inning, game tied 2-2
Perez rolled a bunt directly to Masahiro Tanaka. He threw toward first and traded a strike for an out.
Result: -.05 WPA, -.37 RE24, Indians eventually win 5-2
June 3rd - Greg Allen
Situation: Greg Allen is at the plate I dunno guys we better bunt lol, Indians lead 4-3
I understand why it’s appealing to have Greg Allen sacrifice bunt: He’s allegedly good at it, and his speed opens up the possibility of a hit or error instead of an out.
He attempted nine sacrifices in 2018, and only one of them was a net positive by either WPA or RE24 — a single. His only other bunt attempt resulted in a single.
In this particular instance he bunted to move Yan Gomes from second to third, but the catcher scooped it up and eliminated the lead runner. Yay.
Result: Indians lose 5-7
May 11th - Jason Kipnis
Situation: 0 out, runners on first and second, bottom of the 4th inning, Indians trail 3-4
Kipnis doinked one right in front of home plate, and the lead runner was nabbed at third.
Result: WPA -.07, RE24 -.59, Indians lose 9-10
September 7th - Rajai Davis
Situation: 0 out, runners on first and second, top of the 11th, tied 2-2
Look: I understand that it’s a tie game and you only need one run. A successful sacrifice here is the one situation in which you actually raise the chance to score a single run (at the expense of scoring multiple).
The caveat to that is a below average hitter is at the plate (check) and there are no better options on the bench. The Indians had a 70% chance of winning the game at this point, anyway, and notice that this game happened right after September callups. Here is a list of hitters that Francona might have deployed instead:
I don’t have any idea why you don’t hit Diaz here, but I honestly like any of these options better than Rajai at the plate, and bunting in particular. Rajai failed to perform another legendary slug bunt and rolled into a forceout at third base. Nothing like a free out in extra innings.
Result: WPA -.12, RE24 -.58, Indians lose 3-2
June 9th - Lonnie Chisenhall
Situation: 0 out, runners on first and second, top of the 11th, tied 2-2
I hate everything about this bunt. One, it’s a Chisenbunt and we had precious little time to enjoy Lonnie this season before his calves betrayed him. Two, Chisenhall is a good hitter! Why? Why would you do this?
Chisnehall popped up to the catcher.
Result: WPA -.12, RE24 -.58, Indians lose 2-4
August 13th - Greg Allen
Situation: 0 out, runners on second and third, top of the fourth inning, Indians lead 2-1
The Indians attempted a squeeze play. Allen bunted a weak line drive toward the second baseman which Home Bailey gloved.
If that isn’t bad enough, the reason the runners were on second and third is because Bailey balked. They started the inning with a Kipnis single, then Yan Gomes reached on an error. Before a pitch was even thrown to the third batter the Indians had runners on second and third.
After Allen’s bunt attempt, Mike Clevigner struck out (they were in Cincy), Francisco Lindor walked, and Michael Brantley grounded out. This turn of events changed the Indians’ win expectancy from 76% to 58%.
Result: -.05 WPA, -.58 RE24, the worst use of a balk ever, Indians still win 10-3
April 29th - Bradley Zimmer
Situation: 0 out, runner on first, bottom of the first, game tied 0-0
Francisco Lindor led the game off with a walk, and Bradley Zimmer followed. Marco Gonzalez pitched, Francisco Lindor broke for second, and Zimmer bunted. The ball blooped to a charging Kyler Seager, who gunned it to first and picked off Lindor.
Momentum sucks anyway, right guys?
Result: -.07 WPA, -.81 RE24
September 19th - Melky Cabrera
Situation: 0 out, runners on first and second, bottom of the ninth, Indians trail 0-1
Terry Francona told a dude who hit .309/.356/.485 against lefties to drop a sacrifice bunt against a lefty in the bottom of the ninth with the Indians trailing by one. Making matters worse, he hadn’t attempted a bunt all season, and only five total in the previous three years.
Why, god? Why?
This bunt was largely forgotten because Jason Kipnis won the game on a full count with two outs and the bases loaded. If not for that, I think we would have discussed this decision at length. No manager is perfect, but decisions like this one make me wonder about Francona sometimes.
The leverage index here was 6.03 to give an idea of how much this affected the game despite it being “hidden” by Kipnis’s bomb. There were fewer than a dozen at-bats more significant to the outcome of a game in 2018; two of them were the Tribe’s next two at-bats. Interestingly, three more came in the next two games — the Indians lost both. Talk about a tense few days of baseball.
Result: WPA -.19. Notice that this is nearly one quarter of the Indians total WPA value from the season. This was a really, really bad bunt. RE24 .59. Indians still win in style 4-1 because Jason Kipnis reads magazines or something.
Some additional numbers
- In games that featured a sacrifice bunt attempt, the Indians went 30-16. In games that featured a failed sacrifice bunt, the Indians went 4-9. Don’t screw up your bunts, kids.
- Greg Allen is the worst offender on the roster from 2018. Screwing up almost half of your bunt attempts is terrible. Please stop bunting, Greg.
- For all of the complaining we do about Lindor squaring up instead of swinging away, at least he didn’t screw any of them up. His sacrifice attempts were actually a net positive in WPA for the season, largely because one of them resulted in an error.
- Roberto Perez attempted a sacrifice ten times in 2018, the highest total on the roster. None of them gave the Indians a better chance to win the game according to WPA.
Why on Earth did you just write 1,515 words about sacrifice bunts?
I mean, the alternative was doing real work on the Thursday before Christmas. I imagine your reason for reading them is the same.