Why I Don’t Like Sacrifice Bunts

Put ever so simply, I don’t like sacrifice bunts because by giving up an out to move a runner over one base, the best case scenario is an increased likelihood of scoring less runs. In other words, by attempting a sacrifice bunt, so much can go wrong, while even if it does go right it’s not necessarily to the batting team’s advantage.

Let’s take a look at the bottom of the seventh inning of yesterday’s Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays game, and compare it to a run expectancy chart that has measured every at bat in every situation from 1993 to 2010.  The Blue Jays were down 3-2 to the Twins with the eight, nine and lead off hitter due up.

  • None on and none out. Run expectancy = 0.539.
  • J.P. Arencibia walks. Run expectancy = 0.929.
  • M. McCoy walks, J.P. Arencibia to second. Run expectancy = 1.542.
  • Y. Escobar sacrifice bunts, J.P. Arencibia to third, M. McCoy to second. Run expectancy = 1.438.
  • J. Rivera grounds out. Run expectancy = 0.604.
  • J. Bautista lines out. Run expectancy = 0.

What the run expectancy number is representing is every time that that situation has arose in an inning over the last seventeen years of baseball, the result has been x number of runs.  So, more runs have been scored in an inning where there are men on first and second with none out than there have been with men on second and third with one out.

Now, I recognize that this is very much a neutral statistic and it doesn’t account for who is batting and who is pitching. For instance, a sacrifice bunt might be the best route if your ninth hitter is a pitcher or just a generally terrible batter. In this scenario though, the person being asked to sacrifice was the lead off hitter, the one person on the team whose sole mission it should be to get on base. If a manager doesn’t have faith in his lead off hitter’s ability to get on base, I’d suggest that the manager hasn’t created his batting order properly or he’s contradicting himself.

Here’s a quick chart to give you an idea of the run expectancy for certain situations:

Run Expectancy Matrix, 1993-2010
___ 0.539 0.289 0.111
1__ 0.929 0.555 0.240
_2_ 1.172 0.714 0.342
__3 1.444 0.984 0.373
12_ 1.542 0.948 0.464
1_3 1.844 1.204 0.512
_23 2.047 1.438 0.604
123 2.381 1.620 0.798