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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Matt Williams: No problem with Harper’s two-strike bunting

NATITUDE FLEX PACKS NO PUNCH!

A strange play occurred in the sixth inning during the Nationals’ 5-4 victory over the Angels on Wednesday night. After Adam LaRoche singled off right-hander Jared Weaver to lead off, Bryce Harper tried to bunt for a hit on a 2-2 count, but he fouled out to catcher Chris Iannetta.

Manager Matt Williams defended Harper, saying the Angels gave him the opportunity to bunt.

“I’m not opposed to him laying a bunt down with two strikes. We’ve seen guys do it before,” Williams said. “If he gets that bunt down, it’s a base hit. I’m not concerned about that. He is trying to do things to help us win.”

Two innings later, Harper hit a routine ground ball to first baseman Albert Pujols, who bobbled the ball. At first, Harper didn’t run hard to first base, but once he saw that Pujols couldn’t handle the grounder, Harper ran hard and was safe on the play. Pujols was charged with an error on the play.

...“He was safe at first base. That’s all I care about,” Williams said. “We are not asking him to go 100 percent all the time—as fast as he could possibly go, every single moment. Not everybody does. But what we expect is for him to give us a chance, and he gave us a chance on that play. The ball was mishandled by Albert and [Harper] kicked it in gear and got on first base. That’s all I care about.”

Repoz Posted: April 24, 2014 at 07:43 AM | 35 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: nats

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   1. Rough Carrigan Posted: April 24, 2014 at 07:57 AM (#4692935)
Officer Matt seems a bit mercurial.
   2. Rob_Wood Posted: April 24, 2014 at 08:20 AM (#4692945)

i think matt is now convincingly a throw-back manager (throw-back to john mcgraw)
   3. bunyon Posted: April 24, 2014 at 08:21 AM (#4692946)
Hey, maybe Matt learned something from the last go-round. He IS a young manager. Yes, he's been around the game a long time but sitting in the big chair is different (so everyone tells me - no one lets me near the big chair. Or even medium chairs.) FWIW, I agree with his take here. If Harper was safe he, by definition, went hard enough. It isn't as if he were going to get a double out of it.
   4. JE (Jason) Posted: April 24, 2014 at 08:56 AM (#4692964)
Harper also squared to bunt on the first pitch of that plate appearance. That he also attempted to bunt on a 2-2 count was plain insane.
   5. Best Regards, President of Comfort, Esq. Posted: April 24, 2014 at 08:58 AM (#4692967)
What if he bunted to break up a perfect game?
   6. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: April 24, 2014 at 10:18 AM (#4693055)
As long as the shift wasn't on.
   7. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: April 24, 2014 at 10:38 AM (#4693072)
I remember when Billy Martin went berserk after REGGIE attempted to bunt with 2 strikes...
   8. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: April 24, 2014 at 10:44 AM (#4693081)
i think matt is now convincingly a throw-back manager


Did you mean a throw-up manager?
   9. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: April 24, 2014 at 10:46 AM (#4693085)
If more batters actually learned how to execute a good drag bunt successfully instead of looking on bunting as a mark of sissydom, they'd gain an extremely useful skill that would raise their overall value in many ways. The main reason we don't see this is because so few players seem capable of doing it.
   10. calhounite Posted: April 24, 2014 at 11:04 AM (#4693115)
so let's get this straight. Lollygaggling is ok if the player is an expert at judging the maximum amount allowed based on the play at hand so long as the number of bases lost remains at 0.

sounds like Williams is missing a portion of his ass since he last addressed the lollygaggling issue.
   11. Joey B. "disrespects the A" Posted: April 24, 2014 at 11:20 AM (#4693131)
Officer Matt seems a bit mercurial.

It's really something how he panicked and pulled Gonzalez after just 83 pitches in a 1-1 game because he had the nerve to give up back-to-back hits to two of the best hitters in baseball, and then made up some total bullcrap afterwards about him having shoulder stiffness.

This act is going to wear thin very quickly if he keeps it up.
   12. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: April 24, 2014 at 12:11 PM (#4693174)
If more batters actually learned how to execute a good drag bunt successfully instead of looking on bunting as a mark of sissydom, they'd gain an extremely useful skill that would raise their overall value in many ways. The main reason we don't see this is because so few players seem capable of doing it.


Maybe learning how to execute a good drag bunt is actually sort of hard to do, and seeing as the max reward is a single players are told to focus on other skills in lieu of drag bunts. You seem to indicate lack of drag bunting as a laziness factor from the players - 'just learn to do it, damnit, I saw it a few times when I was a kid, it's really not that hard'.
   13. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: April 24, 2014 at 01:21 PM (#4693235)
I could have sworn Harper was bunting on orders. It was incredibly stupid, bunting with two strikes like that.
   14. BDC Posted: April 24, 2014 at 01:22 PM (#4693236)
Just per se, I don't see why the two-strike bunt is so insane (though circumstances might make it more or less insane, of course). It's a risk, but it's sometimes you take risks to surprise a defense.
   15. bunyon Posted: April 24, 2014 at 01:23 PM (#4693238)
Bunting is hard for mortal folk but MLB hitters should be - and for most of history were - excellent at it. I don't think it's laziness but, rather, as you say, a conscious decision to pursue higher yielding investments.

However, given that sabernerds idolize the walk and OBP, it seems like learning to dump a bunt down the line against the shift would be an excellent thing to do. Yes, the other team will adjust, but I'm not saying only work on bunting. I do think within a few years people will adjust to shifts with this strategy.
   16. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: April 24, 2014 at 01:32 PM (#4693249)
In 169 career PA with a 2-2 count, Harper has hit 149/148/208.

In 294 career PA after a 2-2 count, Harper has hit 212/327/336.

That third ball is a make-or-break pitch.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=harpebr03&year=Career&t=b

   17. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 24, 2014 at 01:35 PM (#4693252)
Has Bryce shaved those sideburns yet?
   18. Ron J2 Posted: April 24, 2014 at 01:41 PM (#4693257)
#15 I think it's very much like pitcher's hitting. Not worth the time to add the skill from scratch, but worth building on if you happen to have a decent base.

If a guy's not a decent bunter by the time he hits A ball it's likely too late.
   19. Sunday silence Posted: April 24, 2014 at 02:14 PM (#4693295)
instead of saying bunting with two strikes is insane perhaps some statistical comparisons about the swinging away or bunting wuld be in order. This is a sabr metric site you know.
   20. alilisd Posted: April 24, 2014 at 02:29 PM (#4693310)
Bunting is hard for mortal folk but MLB hitters should be - and for most of history were - excellent at it.


Hitters hit, and bunters bunt. IOW, for some lesser hitters learning to bunt, and being good at it, is valuable. For guys like Harper it is not a valuable skill because Harper has the skill to be an elite hitter.
   21. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: April 24, 2014 at 02:36 PM (#4693319)
Once Gibson gets fired, I guess Williams will be manager I will think is the most stupid.
   22. Steve Treder Posted: April 24, 2014 at 02:41 PM (#4693327)
Well, all I know is what Joe Schultz said in Ball Four: "Boys, bunting is like jacking off: once you learn how, you never forget."
   23. The Polish Sausage Racer Posted: April 24, 2014 at 02:45 PM (#4693335)
Roenicke has the Brewers do this far too frequently. It makes me throw things at the teevee. Someone really should inform him about the rule about two strikes.
   24. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: April 24, 2014 at 03:41 PM (#4693405)
Hitters hit, and bunters bunt. IOW, for some lesser hitters learning to bunt, and being good at it, is valuable. For guys like Harper it is not a valuable skill because Harper has the skill to be an elite hitter.

That's not true at all. Players with the skill level all the way up to Mickey Mantle have added to their value by beating out bunts at an enormous success ratio.

In fact, during Mantle's career, his success rate of bunting with the bases empty was .547**, which was the virtual equivalent to his career slugging average of .557, and much better than his career on base percentage of .421. It's just shortsighted for a player to deny himself the acquisition of a skill like that, and IMO a team that cultivated serious bunting skill among its players would be at a big advantage.

**Which doesn't even account for any extra bases he may have gotten on wild throws.
   25. SandyRiver Posted: April 24, 2014 at 04:30 PM (#4693470)
And more than a few of those bunts came with two strikes Nearly all were drags from the left side, and if he got it past the pitcher, it was a hit.
   26. Walt Davis Posted: April 24, 2014 at 06:06 PM (#4693580)
Why are we assuming that Bryce Harper doesn't know how to bunt?

For his career so far he has 15 bunts already. 6 of these have been classified as SH. Of the other 9 (some of which may have been sac attempts), he has 3 hits and one RoE. That's not a particularly good bunt success rate (esp depending on how you count the sacs) but it's only a handful and it doesn't suggest incompetence.

For comparison, Ichiro is 77 for 127 with 39 sacs and 4 RoE. Brandon Phillips is 11 for 24 with 33 SH and 1 RoE, showing the importance of how you want to count SH. Arroyo is 6 for 60 with 78 SH and 3 RoE. David Ortiz is 6 for 11 with 2 SH and 0 RoE. The 2013 AL was 271 for 596 with 463 SH and 36 RoE. (Not a lot of pitcher bunts in that.) Again, 271 for 596 is an awesome OBP, 271 for 1059 is not.

One limitation of the "bunt" stats is they are only bunts in play. They don't count bunted third strikes in the bunt splits at b-r. I'm not sure where the Mantle stats are coming from, b-r doesn't have those splits in that time period.

Harper's 2-2 numbers are above and they're typically not very good. The above examples suggest it's not that hard to reach base 40-50% of the time you get the bunt down when bunting for a hit -- again, this depends on how you count the SH, some of which may have been hit attempts. Of course those attempts aren't a random event, presumably batters do it at times they think the defense is really not ready for it ... although I think Harper with two strikes will qualify as such a time.

Anyway, if he succeeds 40% of the time he gets it down he needs to be able to put it in play about 80% of the time to match his post 2-2 numbers. I'm not that comfy with those numbers. Of course the pitcher is as likely to throw one outside the zone whether he's planning to bunt or not so, as long as he's as likely to layoff it, he's as likely to end up 3-2 as he did before so his post-bunt-intention numbers should be higher than his bunt attempt numbers so maybe he needs to get it down 70% of the time or something. And if the 3B was playing deep short and the 2B was in medium right in a shift, his success rate after getting it down is probably better than 40%.
   27. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: April 24, 2014 at 06:28 PM (#4693596)
One limitation of the "bunt" stats is they are only bunts in play. They don't count bunted third strikes in the bunt splits at b-r. I'm not sure where the Mantle stats are coming from, b-r doesn't have those splits in that time period.

Sorry, I should have provided the link: It's from a 2012 article from Beyond the Box Score, and it's the last chart just before the bottom of the page.
   28. Yellow Tango Posted: April 24, 2014 at 08:00 PM (#4693655)
As someone who isn't assuming Bryce Harper is a lousy bunter, I'm pissed. I'd really like to know if these bunt attempts make sense, but it's a sabermetric question well beyond obvious analysis.
   29. boteman is not here 'til October Posted: April 24, 2014 at 09:19 PM (#4693690)
The Harper bunt in question was simply lousy mechanically. Instead of the classic approach of following the level of the pitch as it comes in or dragging it, he poked the head of the bat down at it, which is rarely successful. He looked to me as though it was a last-minute thought and not particularly well executed. Because he poked the bat down below the level of the pitch as it arrived, he popped it up.
   30. valuearbitrageur Posted: April 24, 2014 at 11:59 PM (#4693754)
One limitation of the "bunt" stats is they are only bunts in play. They don't count bunted third strikes in the bunt splits at b-r. I'm not sure where the Mantle stats are coming from, b-r doesn't have those splits in that time period.


It also sounds like it doesn't count bunts fouled off or taken for strikes, which seems like it would be a big deal.

For example, let say you hit .500 on bunts when you put them into play. That sounds impressive, but what if it means your total results on bunt attempts is 80% strikes/fouls, 10% hits, and 10% outs, then 90% of the time you had a bad or very bad outcome. Obviously if you bunt with 2 strikes your outcomes are going to be immediate, either a hit or an out, so batters who bunt a lot with 2 strikes are going to have batting (bunting?) lines that more closely match reality while the batting line for batters who rarely or never bunt with 2 strikes won't be very meaningful.
   31. Walt Davis Posted: April 25, 2014 at 01:31 AM (#4693782)
It also sounds like it doesn't count bunts fouled off or taken for strikes, which seems like it would be a big deal.

True but it doesn't matter with 2 strikes per se.

In the book, Tango and MGL did look at bunt attempts not just bunts in play. I'm not entirely sure how they did that and how they handled bat pulled back. But they did account for the count after the bunt attempt. My memory is that, if anything, it "helped" sac bunt outcomes -- i.e. it was a bad time for the sac bunt, the batter failed to get the bunt down and that allowed him another regular swing or two, occasionally leading to a big inning or even just a ground ball that still advanced the runner.

I'm not that concerned about the strikes/balls in accounting for this -- we don't usually break down other PAs by every possible outcome of every pitch either. It would be nice to know of course, and we definitely need it for the 2 strike decision.

What concerns me more is how we want to deal with sacrifices:

1) batter is trying to sacrifice and does so successfully. No particular reason we should count that against his bunting for hit prowess. But ...
2) batter trying to sacrifice and gets a hit out of it shouldn't count towards his bunting for a hit numbers. And ...
3) batter trying to bunt for a hit with a man on (esp a force situation) might fail but be credited with a sacrifice but we want this to count against his bunting for a hit numbers.

The technique for the two tends to be quite different so I think scorers could track this ... or at least classify it and be correct the vast majority of the time.

I should also note that bunt attempt numbers might be buried elsewhere at b-r or some other website. The only place I know they are though is in the "hit trajectory" split which is where they track GB/FB/LD and bunts ... so the split is intentionally conditional on contact.

Anyway, re-thinking the 2 strike situation

Assuming on pitches outside the zone that Harper is as likely to pull the bunt back as take it in a normal PA, he only has to out-bunt his 2-2 pitch numbers of 149/208. That doesn't seem too hard. He has K'd 68 times on 169 2-2 pitches that ended the AB. He's taken ball 3 125 times. When he does make contact, he's only hitting 250/350.

So assuming he still takes ball 3 at a rate of 125/294 ... assuming a 400 BABIP on fair bunt hit attempts ... he needs to get it down on only about 40-45% of his non-ball PA to break even. That's not so bad. We still need to account for DP%, runner advancing even when he's out (in both scenarios) and that a regular foul swing on 2-2 just puts him back in 2-2 (that must remain a single 2-2 PA in the split) so maybe it's 50% or something to break even.
   32. alilisd Posted: April 25, 2014 at 12:14 PM (#4694008)
That's not true at all. Players with the skill level all the way up to Mickey Mantle have added to their value by beating out bunts at an enormous success ratio.


Ah, I see. It was Mantle's 80 bunt hits with the bases empty which made him such a great player and not the 952 extra base hits, including 536 HR, plus his 1,300 or so non-bunt singles and 1,733 BB. Thanks for clarifying that for me.
   33. Rants Mulliniks Posted: April 25, 2014 at 12:26 PM (#4694025)
Ali, he had a .547 average on bunt attempts with the bases empty. Bunting like that is a net benefit for anyone.
   34. Rants Mulliniks Posted: April 25, 2014 at 12:29 PM (#4694030)
Further to the above, that is one reason why Mantle and other great players are great players - they look for every single advantage they can. Or would you have rather he decided at age 16 "Well, I can hit a ball 400', so I'm just going to swing at every pitch as hard as I can because nothing in baseball is more valuable than a homer"?
   35. alilisd Posted: April 25, 2014 at 03:51 PM (#4694340)
Rants, a .547 average on 80 one base hits with no one on. That didn't add any significant value to Mantle's game. It's trivia. Mantle was a great player because he had tremendous power, the plate discipline to draw a lot of walks, and was a fine defender and baserunner (before his body broke down), not because he bunted for a hit in 1/10 of 1% of his career at bats.

Now if a player doesn't have great power and on base skills, they might add some value to their game if they became a skilled bunter, but Harper is not that sort of player.

Further to the above, that is one reason why Mantle and other great players are great players - they look for every single advantage they can. Or would you have rather he decided at age 16 "Well, I can hit a ball 400', so I'm just going to swing at every pitch as hard as I can because nothing in baseball is more valuable than a homer"?


That, sir, is a false dichotomy.

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