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Monday, August 13, 2012

Ben Zobrist insists 10th-inning sac bunt was right decision

Really somethin when they join in jumpin
When he does the Zobristol stomp…on the rally.

It isn’t quite worth billing as the curious case of Benjamin Zobrist, but it was an odd decision when the Rays’ No. 3 hitter opted to bunt with two on and no outs and the score tied in the 10th inning.

Though Zobrist did move Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton up to third and second base, and both eventually scored, he also took DH Evan Longoria out of the mix, and actually the game, as the Twins put Longoria on and he was pinch-run for.

Manager Joe Maddon made sure to praise Zobrist for his team-first thinking but said it was the wrong decision: “I prefer him swinging away right there.”

Zobrist, however, insisted it was the right play.

“The thing is, it’s a one-run game at that point,” Zobrist said. “Having the confidence that I have in our lineup up and down, I knew the most important thing was getting the guy from second to third. … I felt good about it. I felt I would do the same thing again, especially with that particular pitcher (Alex Burnett) on the mound. And it ended up working out for us.”

Repoz Posted: August 13, 2012 at 01:00 AM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: rays, sabermetrics

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: August 13, 2012 at 04:28 AM (#4207058)
I think I'm OK with it. I'm especially OK with it if they weren't playing him to bunt. But you do need just one run and runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out is quite high probabiliyt of scoring at least one. Plus the possibility of a bunt for hit or error (against the possibility of a force out or DP). Losing Longoria's PA possibly counters that a bit. They did get what Zobrist wanted as Keppinger got the run home on a GB to SS. They then scored 3 more to make it a moot point.

Keppinger hits for a good BA and decent OBP (both very good this year) and Ks only about oncer ever 16-17 PA (amazing these days) and that's the kinda guy you want up in that sort of a one-run situation.

I'm sure it being the top of the 10th reduces the utility of a one-run approach there but this is more than close enough for me.

MGL to call this the dumbest move in the history of play in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ...
   2. TomH Posted: August 13, 2012 at 07:23 AM (#4207071)
game theory, people. It's probably proper to bunt in that kind of situation one time in 10 or 20, so the defense will adjust to consider it. If Z was doing thids regularly, that would be a problem. It's like Rod Carew who occasionally drag bunted with 2 strikes; it's dumb in isolation, but in rare context OK.
   3. Joey B.: posting for the kids of northeast Ohio Posted: August 13, 2012 at 10:11 AM (#4207135)
Manager Joe Maddon made sure to praise Zobrist for his team-first thinking but said it was the wrong decision: “I prefer him swinging away right there.”

Ummmmm, then why the heck wouldn't you tell him that before or during the at-bat Joe? You're the freaking manager, aren't you?
   4. Greg Maddux School of Reflexive Profanity Posted: August 13, 2012 at 10:30 AM (#4207154)
In that game situation, each run is several times more valuable than the next in terms of what it adds to your win probability starting the bottom of the inning; playing for the run that gets you from .38 to .73 is almost always the better play than waiting for the runs that take you from .73 to .89 or from .89 to .95, unless the defense is specifically guarding against it. If the defense has no idea it's coming, it's no longer even a question, barring extreme circumstances like having the pitcher in the hole with no remaining position players.
   5. Dale Sams Posted: August 13, 2012 at 11:43 AM (#4207211)
I'm with Walt. And like he said, it's not like they walked Longoria to get to Brandon Crawford. And by loading the bases, another walk or HBP brings in a run.

But why was Longoria PR for?? He was healthy enough to swing and sprint to first, but not to run to second and duck out of the way of a DP ball?
   6. JJ1986 Posted: August 13, 2012 at 11:45 AM (#4207214)
I think Keppinger being the guy coming up makes it a good decision. He's probably one of the more likely players in baseball to get the runner in from third.
   7. Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: August 13, 2012 at 11:54 AM (#4207219)
I think Keppinger being the guy coming up makes it a good decision. He's probably one of the more likely players in baseball to get the runner in from third.


I agree. The fact that Keppinger almost never strikes out is a big plus in this situation.
   8. GregD Posted: August 13, 2012 at 11:58 AM (#4207223)
Ummmmm, then why the heck wouldn't you tell him that before or during the at-bat Joe? You're the freaking manager, aren't you?
Isn't the tradition that you signal bunt and otherwise the manager is indicating no bunt? One of those plays that players sometimes try on their own that better work or they get an earful.
   9. trtaylor6886 Posted: August 13, 2012 at 12:27 PM (#4207242)
@#5 Rays wanted someone fast on 1b to break up the possible DP.
   10. tshipman Posted: August 13, 2012 at 12:29 PM (#4207245)
I agree with Zobrist that this was the right play. He's getting the runner to third with one out. The fact that Longoria was walked is almost immaterial.
   11. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: August 13, 2012 at 01:07 PM (#4207272)
Ummmmm, then why the heck wouldn't you tell him that before or during the at-bat Joe? You're the freaking manager, aren't you?


Well, if Maddon is anything like Valentine then he probably has never talked to Zobrist.
   12. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: August 13, 2012 at 01:10 PM (#4207275)

I think Keppinger being the guy coming up makes it a good decision. He's probably one of the more likely players in baseball to get the runner in from third.


He's been almost exactly league average this year and a shade better over the course of his career according to BBRef.

I'd rather see Zobrist swinging there but I think the move is defensible. Zobrist is a pretty good DP candidate which messes up the inning pretty harshly. On the flip side I've got a situation where I've got Zobrist, Longoria and Keppinger due and the bunt results in Keppinger being the batter who has to come through for me. I don't care for that.
   13. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: August 13, 2012 at 01:35 PM (#4207291)
If the defense isn't playing for the bunt, I think it's an acceptable move. If the defense is surprised they could easily make an error or unsuccessfully try to get the lead runner or something and then they are really screwed. Don't do it every time obviously but probably ok here.
   14. Select Storage Device Posted: August 13, 2012 at 01:54 PM (#4207309)
But why was Longoria PR for?? He was healthy enough to swing and sprint to first, but not to run to second and duck out of the way of a DP ball?


@#5 Rays wanted someone fast on 1b to break up the possible DP.


Which is exactly what happened. #InMaddonWeTrust
   15. Sunday silence Posted: August 13, 2012 at 05:49 PM (#4207523)
I thought bunting w/ 1st and 2nd was one of the most underused plays in baseball and not some 1/10 trick you play. Im pretty sure Bill James mentioned it once, and I did some back of envelope calculations and it seems a very good percentage play. I understanding taking the bat out of zobrist's hands, but you are quite likely to get 2 AB w/ Keppinger plus who ever. Is there some way this makes less sense in late innings than early innings? That's the only thing I can think of but it's still top of the 10th right?
   16. Walt Davis Posted: August 13, 2012 at 06:14 PM (#4207539)
Keppinger being the batter who has to come through for me

But he doesn't hage to "come through", he has to put the ball in play without hitting into a DP or popping up (or he can walk/HBP not to mention wild pitches and such). Keppinger Ks only about 1 every 15-16 PA, he's going to put the ball in play.

Which is exactly what happened.

Not according to the boxscore which puts Keppinger out at first. Unless it was a hit and run, if Fuld was too close to second to try for the force then Keppinger was almost certainly gonna beat out the DP.

I thought bunting w/ 1st and 2nd was one of the most underused plays in baseball and not some 1/10 trick you play

I don't think that's what the Book found. But (I recall) the Book did find that 1st and 2nd nobody out is a time when it's generally close to break even and there are scenarios in late/close where a bunt is favorable. But remember that's not a finding that a successful sac bunt is favorable but that a bunt attempt is favorable -- with all its outcomes of ball, strike, foul ball, hit, error, etc. There are apparently enough hits and errors (especially if the defense is playing back, the batter is fast, the batter is a good bunter, the 3B kinds sucks, etc.) that it pays off big time often enough.

If it's the bottom of the tenth I think Zobrist's butn must be close to a no-brainer. The top of the 10th is not quite "just one run" territory (but see #4).

Althouth #4, I'm assuming those numbers are from the start of the inning. Top 10, 1st & 2nd, nobody out and I'm guessing the p of winning is a good bit higher than .38. Zobrist may well have only taken them from .6 to .65 ... or possibly from .68 to .65. (All numbers made up)
   17. Dan Posted: August 13, 2012 at 06:23 PM (#4207543)
Zobrist is generally a very good bunter too, which should be a factor. In his career he has put 41 bunts into play and gotten 16 sacrifices and 17 hits. With that and the situation, I don't see an issue with this bunt.
   18. Select Storage Device Posted: August 13, 2012 at 06:45 PM (#4207561)
Not according to the boxscore which puts Keppinger out at first. Unless it was a hit and run, if Fuld was too close to second to try for the force then Keppinger was almost certainly gonna beat out the DP.


I only heard the play on the radio, but I am not sure it's certain Keppinger would have been safe had Evan been on and out at second.

----

After actually watching the play -- I don't think "certainly" is a word you can use. Weakly hit, but not that weak. Keppinger looks dead to rights to me in a DP scenario.
   19. zenbitz Posted: August 13, 2012 at 06:54 PM (#4207570)
According to fangraphs, Zobrist's bunt was a +2% WPA play from .70 to .72. With a 80% success rate, his bunt attempt was worth +.016.

Since Zobrist has an above average OBP this is probably extremely marginally positive if not actually negative (~.360 OBP vs. AL average .321).
   20. Walt Davis Posted: August 13, 2012 at 08:40 PM (#4207615)
According to fangraphs, Zobrist's bunt was a +2% WPA play from .70 to .72. With a 80% success rate, his bunt attempt was worth +.016.

Not quite. His successful sacrifice moved it from 70 to 72. Using the numbers above (which aren't necessarily relevant depending on where the defense was) he has a 40% chance of a successful sacrifice and a 40% chance of getting a hit. The hit has a greater impact on the WE than the sacrifice. There's also some chance of an error. We'd also like to know the chances of force outs at 3, 2 and the DP.

On the other hand, those numbers above are for butns in play not bunt attempts. The ball and strike outcomes will shift the WE some too. (Note I'm not sure how well the study in the Book handled "squared to bunt, took the pitch for ball/strike."

Just making up numbers for exposition: .4(.02) and .4(.05) + .02(.05) - .16(-.2) -.02(-.3) I get a made up number of about .02.

Since Zobrist has an above average OBP this is probably extremely marginally positive if not actually negative (~.360 OBP vs. AL average .321).

According to the numbers above, Zobrist gets a hit on 40% of his bunts in play, higher than his usual OBP. Now, if the infield was playing for a bunt, his OBP is almost certainly below 400 (but therefore over 400 if they were playing back). And I don't know what impact bunt attempts (i.e. balls and strikes again) have on his OBP.

I agree, it's borderline -- individual baseball decisions are pretty much always borderline. And we don't have enough info to fully judge what the probabilities likely were. I'd have more faith it was a good decision if Maddon had made it rather than a player (under the assumption Maddon will have a better grasp of the probabilities) but I'm willing to assume that based on all the conditions, Zobrist made the right move.

Unrelated to all of this, here's a factoid that tells you how much the world has changed -- and likely at least partly due to sabermetrics. Zobrist leads the AL in caught stealing ... with just 8. OK maybe the world hasn't changed, it could be a one-year fluke, but this year nobody has been running unless there was a very good chance of making it. The AL rate is 74%. Tampa leads the AL with 98 steals and 36 CS. The NL is at 73%. Miami leads with 117 steals at an 80% clip. If they keep to this pace, the AL and NL CS leaders will have the lowest totals since the early 60s.
   21. Ron J Posted: August 13, 2012 at 09:33 PM (#4207638)
#15 Even Pete Palmer (the father of the "don't sac" analysis) specifically mentions that the out for two bases sac produces a slight increase in expected runs. (although his analysis is based on a lower offensive context than today's AL) Which matches the "Book" results already mentioned.

It's close enough that it hinges on the non-bases for outs results. And as Walt shows in #20 this is tricky (though it's generally favorable to good bunters -- I've actually worked this through in some detail)
   22. Sunday silence Posted: August 14, 2012 at 01:01 AM (#4207779)
very nice discussion. Thank you.
   23. Robinson Cano Plate Like Home Posted: August 14, 2012 at 01:46 AM (#4207797)
Why was Zobrist particularly confident in his choice because the pitcher was Alex Burnett?

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