Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Damn The Sacrifice Bunt...

Much to my chagrin, when I had returned home from a seminar in Baltimore this evening, the Phillies were losing 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning.  I had followed on my phone and saw that Doc Halladay was left in too long and blew it, but hey, there's a bottom of the ninth for a reason, right?*  Anyway, Carlos Ruiz led off with a walk against Arizona closer J.J. Putz (pronounced as it is spelled, don't let anyone tell you otherwise) and with Michael Martinez (whose first career home run I got to see) stepping up to plate, the announcers began to speculate whether Martinez would be called on to sacrifice Ruiz to second base.  My first thought was...


Now, let's establish this: I hate the sacrifice bunt.  Despise it.  Loath it.  Wish someone would take it out back and put a bullet in its head.  As a fundamental concept, it is flawed; a team has twenty-seven outs to work with, and the idea of giving away something as precious as outs to help your enemy on the field is unthinkable.  Baseball doesn't have a clock, but if it did, think of it having twenty-seven numbers on the face, with each out moving the hand closer to the end.  Why would you deliberately help the 'clock' move along?  There are only two scenarios that I would even consider sacrificing tolerable, sort of a necessary evil.

1) Pitcher who is a weak hitter is up with a runner on first and/or second and less than two outs.  This is mostly to avoid a potential double play; if he bunts or strikes out, he is only making one out instead of two.  So I can understand it, if nothing else.  

2) You are in a) a tie game in the late innings (eighth inning and beyond), b) there is a runner on first and no outs AND c) you are at home.  If there is one out, no bunt.  If there is no force play and the runner is in scoring position already, no bunt.  And most importantly, if you are on the road, DON'T BUNT!

Why are these distinctions important?  If you score the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, you can put your closer in there for the ninth.  If you score the run in the ninth or in extra innings, then obviously the game is over.  If you are in the road in a tie game, then you still have to worry about shutting down the other team even after scoring the go ahead run.

Getting back to the present, the Phillies situation was even worse than bunting in a tie game on the road because they were down a run in the ninth inning.  A team facing a deficit needs hits and baserunners; giving away outs just doesn't cut it.  In fairness, the Diamondbacks tried the same thing with a deficit.  However, they took the lead despite the piss-poor strategy.  

The Phillies put the bunt on for Martinez and he successfully got Ruiz to second base, but in the process took away an extra chance to get him home.  The next two hitters (Ross Glad and Jimmy Rollins) both struck out with Ruiz standing at second base.  Without delving too much into the fallacy of the pre-determined outcome, theoretically the Phillies would have had a third chance to get him in.  Instead, Charlie Manuel opted for the bunt, and took away the one commodity that an offense possesses.  

*I am a pretty hardcore 'Negadelphian', which is the mode of the Philly fan that is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.  However, with the Phillies over the past 3-4 years, that has eroded quite a bit and there is actually some optimism within me.  However, the Eagles still bring out the worst of my Negadelphianism.

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