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Ron Washington loves his precious bunts, but he's wrong

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer

Ron Washington will bunt when he damn well pleases, people.
Ron Washington will bunt when he damn well pleases, people. (USATSI)

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Rangers manager Ron Washington has apparently been hearing a bit too much about how he shouldn't be so in love with sacrifice bunting. In a Sunday story for star-telegram.com, there's a rather glorious Washington tirade concerning sac bunts.

“I think if they try to do that, they're going to be telling me how to [bleep] manage,” Washington said. “That's the way I answer that [bleep] question. They can take the analytics on that and shove it up their [bleep][bleep].”

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“Mike Scioscia dropped 56 sacrifice bunts on his club, the most in the league, and he's a genius,” Washington continued. “But Ron Washington dropped 53 and he's bunting too much? You can take that analytics and shove it.

That'll surely be pretty popular among old-schoolers who think bunting is such a paramount part of the game. Of course, like pretty much every strenuous pro-bunting argument there is, the facts are lacking.

First of all, Scioscia has actually faced criticism for bunting too much. I can't find one instance of anyone calling Scioscia a genius for bunting. Secondly, Washington's numbers aren't correct. The Rangers attempted 63 sac bunts last season to the Angels' 54 (baseball-reference.com). The Rangers were successful 45 times to the Angels' 37. No matter how you look at it, the Rangers bunted more than the Angels last year. And, to reiterate, Scioscia is no genius.

Not only that, but only the Astros attempted more sac bunts among American League teams last season than the Rangers.

Just for fun, let's see if there's any correlation between sac bunts and runs scored. In 2013, here were the top five teams in the AL in runs scored, with their rank in sac bunts in parentheses.

1. Red Sox (12)
2. Tigers (6)
3. Athletics (14)
4. Orioles (10)
5. Indians (7)

Hmmm.

Here are the top five in bunts and their rank in runs is in parentheses (again, this is only among AL teams, of which there are 15 total).

1. Astros (14)
2. Rangers (7)
3. Royals (11)
4. Angels (6)
5. Yankees (10)

Yeah, it definitely doesn't seem like there's a relation, but that's only one season. Maybe we should check out data from several decades and see if bunts actually, generally help an offense.

Well, the run expectancy matrix from tangotiger.net includes 60 years. Is that enough? Go check it out, but I'll bottom line the findings of actual data from actual games. More runs scored with runners on first and second and no out than second and third and one out. So bunting runners over in the former situation actually decreases the odds of scoring runs.

How about a runner on first and no outs as opposed to a runner on second and one out (scoring position!). Yeah, the historical data again shows the former as having a better chance of producing a run. So, again, bunting actually hurts the offense.

But don't tell Wash. He knows why he needs to bunt:

“Our weakness the past couple of years going down the stretch has been situational hitting,” he said. “Having runners in scoring position with less than two out and not being able to get them home. Having runners at second base with nobody out and not being able to move them. Having runners with the infield in and not being able to get the ball to the outfield. Having the infield back and not being able to play pepper with the middle of the infield.

Just a thought, Ron, but maybe giving away an out decreases your players' chances of getting a big hit? Let's say they have three chances to get a hit instead of two. Do you like those odds better?

Look, I understand that at certain times a bunt is defensible. If, for example, there's a runner on in a one-run game against Felix Hernandez and a weak hitter is at the plate, by all means, bunt away. Most of the time, though, bunts are tantamount to a surrender. Elvis Andrus, for example, has led the majors in sac bunts in each of the past two seasons. He is better than league average in on-base percentage and yet Washington makes Andrus give away outs more frequently than any other player in baseball.

This isn't the first time I've lamented the illogical love affair with sacrifice bunting. I've said this in the past:

Argue if you want, old-schoolers, but your side has name calling, anecdotes and meaningless rationale. My side has the cold, hard facts. You cannot dispute 60 years worth of evidence. And no, I'm not a pocket-protector-wearing dork who never played the game. I played in college, and I hated it every single time my coaches in high school or college called for someone on our team to bunt. It's not because I like "selfish" baseball or hate "fundamentals." It's because there are only three precious outs in an inning. Why would you give one away on purpose?

But who am I to argue with Ron Washington? After all, he has this outstanding argument in defense of his bunting calls:

“I do it when I feel it's necessary, not when the analytics feel it's necessary, not when you guys feel it's necessary, and not when somebody else feels it's necessary. It's when Ron Washington feels it's necessary. Bottom line.”

Got that, guys? He's digging in his heels, regardless of those stupid things people call "facts" or "information" or "data" or so-called analytics. Nope, instead what rules the day is a gut feeling. You can have your fancy "facts." Ron's got his gut.

Baseball seriously might be the last place in the world where information is looked upon with a scoff instead of a rightful embrace.

 
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