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Bunting For Hits is Smart, not Small, Ball...


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#1 Scotti

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Posted 24 November 2013 - 01:32 AM

Every so often someone lays down a "Bunting for hits is caveman ball" or "MOAR SMALL BALL!" comment.  I've replied but, seriously, holding a conversation in the comment section of ANY blog is tedious at best.  So here goes an attempt at conversation here:
 
Bunting for a hit is NOT "small ball."  During the 2011 MLB season, ALL batters bunting for hits (the good, the bad and the ugly) had a .438 batting average.  These were bunts in non-sacrifice situations--purely bunting for hits.  This just takes into account the hits divided by the outs and not the attempts that were missed, fouled off, etc.  However, batting average itself doesn't take into account swings and misses, fouls, etc.  
 
 
Notice the link there isn't Bring Back Small Ball dot Com.  It's Bill James Online dot Com.  
 
Micky Mantle batted .541 for his career while bunting for a base hit (80 for 148).  He was nowhere near the best, in terms of average (Matty Alou and Rod Carew--just to name two--were both well over .700 for their respective careers).  Seems to me, Rizzo could use a shift-busting bunt every now and then:
 
 
Bunting, for hit or sacrifice, is part talent (latent "born with" talent) and also part skill (skill is 100% learned/practiced).  Fortunately for aspiring MLB bunters, the requisite talent required for bunting (hand-eye coordination, timing, etc.) all come with the package that a successful MLB hitter already brings to the party.  Thus, successful bunting at the MLB level is about learned skill (which, like ANY skill, takes time and effort to develop).  
 
That skill should be learned at the MiLB level.  If Javy Baez doesn't know how to bunt for a hit by the time he sees MLB then there is something seriously wrong with the Cubs FO.  Same goes for ALL Cub prospects (fast and slow). 
 
Vogelbach uses the whole field, so the shift shouldn't really be an issue for him, but he could certainly benefit by pulling the infield in (the result of successful bunt hits).  If Vogelbach should do it then the rest of the lot (Baez, Soler, Almora, Alacantara, etc., etc., etc.) should do it...  
 
Conveniently, since most generally accept that even sacrifice bunting is a valuable tool (even Oakland does it from time to time and even with position players), the BEST way to keep a player's bunting skill fresh without sacrificing outs during a game is by "practicing" your learned bunting skill by bunting for a hit IN-game (practicing outside of game speed isn't the same as putting the skill into practice during a game).  
 
Again, the "Cubs Way" should include bunting for a base hit.  It isn't "small ball," it's "smart ball."  
 


#2 OCCubFan

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Posted 24 November 2013 - 06:39 AM

Excellent. Simple game theory says that if infelder positioning----whether just playing deep or an extreme shift---is reducing a player's effectiveness, then an alternative that yields a .400+ BA and a .800+ OPS should be employed occasionally. If the player is successful repeatedly, then opponents will lessen their tendency to shift.

 

I fear that Rizzo's low BABIP last year was not just bad luck, but the effect of the shifts often used against him.

 

Carlos Pena bunted more than a few times. I especially liked it when he did so when leading off an inning, realizing that getting on base was the primary goal.

 

I also agree that players should learn to bunt in the minors. It was incredible to me that Patterson, Pie, Campana and others were not skilled bunters when they reached the majors.

 

Finally, I agree the ability to have an intelligent conversation on the main board of the blog has gotten harder and harder with the proliferation of trolls.



#3 MichiganGoat

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Posted 24 November 2013 - 08:00 AM

If bunting was so simple and learnable that it would result in it being used regularly. Teams would not ignore something that would be this successful, so perhaps it's not as easy to teach as you believe it is and if let's say 20% of the time MiLB players are learning to bunt would that be 20% less at bats and coaching that they aren't learning how to hit and drive the ball. My thoughts is that bunting is a very specialized skill that only a handful of players are able to do so successfully that it becomes a regular weapon. If bunting is such an exploitable inefficiency then teams would be doing it.

And yes I said MOAR SMALL BALL.

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#4 OCCubFan

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Posted 24 November 2013 - 08:09 AM

If bunting was so simple and learnable that it would result in it being used regularly. Teams would not ignore something that would be this successful, so perhaps it's not as easy to teach as you believe it is and if let's say 20% of the time MiLB players are learning to bunt would that be 20% less at bats and coaching that they aren't learning how to hit and drive the ball. My thoughts is that bunting is a very specialized skill that only a handful of players are able to do so successfully that it becomes a regular weapon. If bunting is such an exploitable inefficiency then teams would be doing it.

And yes I said MOAR SMALL BALL.

I don't know how hard or easy it is to learn how to bunt effectively, but the skill level need not be exceedingly high if nearly half the infield is open due to an extreme shift, or if the 3rd baseman is playing way back, or if a player has exceptional speed.

 

I don't think anyone is suggesting that 20% of a player's time or ABs in the minors be devoted to bunting.

 

That players currently have a success rate greater than 40% tells me this is an exploitable inefficiency.



#5 Scotti

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Posted 24 November 2013 - 04:13 PM

 

 

If bunting was so simple and learnable that it would result in it being used regularly. Teams would not ignore something that would be this successful, so perhaps it's not as easy to teach as you believe it is and if let's say 20% of the time MiLB players are learning to bunt would that be 20% less at bats and coaching that they aren't learning how to hit and drive the ball. My thoughts is that bunting is a very specialized skill that only a handful of players are able to do so successfully that it becomes a regular weapon. If bunting is such an exploitable inefficiency then teams would be doing it.

And yes I said MOAR SMALL BALL.

 

"If bunting was so simple and learnable that it would result in it being used regularly. Teams would not ignore something that would be this successful..."

 

So, why is it that teams ignore solid fundamentals (i.e. The Cubs Way)?  if solid fundamentals were so simple and learnable that it would result in it being used regularly. Teams would not ignore something that would be this successful...  

 

Or perhaps teams DO ignore things that would help them to be successful because they are too busy prioritizing other "more important" things.  Now, you claim that I said it was simple.  Where?  I said bunting is a learned skill.  What learned skill is simple?  If it were simple everyone would be able to do it WITHOUT effort.  Not simple at all.  But important.    

 

"Teams would not ignore something that would be this successful..."

 

Like sabermetrics?  Oh, wait, many teams DO ignore Sabermetrics.  By that logic sabermetrics cannot be effective because a number of teams ignore sabermetrics...  That logic is specious, at best.  

 

"...and if let's say 20% of the time MiLB players are learning to bunt would that be 20% less at bats and coaching that they aren't learning how to hit and drive the ball."

 

And certainly the time spent learning defense (or baserunning, or learning English, or brushing their teeth, etc.) is wasted time since it is time spent not "learning how to hit and drive the ball."  Again, a very specious argument.  The link I provided, a Bill James link, provides the facts.  They facts are incontrovertible.  The AVERAGE of MLB bunting for base hit attempts is wildly successful.  More players should be taught the skill.   The Cubs have the facilities to teach hitting and driving the ball, bunting, English and tooth-brushing simultaneously.   

 

"And yes I said MOAR SMALL BALL."

 

And, yes, it wasn't a very apt comparison.  Bunting for base hits is no more SMALL BALL than playing defense is SMALL BALL or playing fundamentally is SMALL BALL or learning English is SMALL BALL.  It's SMART ball.

 

And the whole MOAR BLANK BLANK is a VERY tired meme often aimed at shutting down very legitimate conversation.   Brett doesn't need less conversation on the site, he needs more.  What he needs less of is attempts to shut down conversation.   

 



#6 FFP

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 12:02 PM

That .438 number is interesting and even more interesting when I see the James chart you supplied, Scotti. Your comment about de-shifting shifts is also well taken. 

 

If we use that .438 to informally compare with league average in all cases (about .260), it looks pretty attractive! But this may be one of those places where BA is a little misleading. 1) The hitter chooses to bunt for a hit when the time is right (Shifts, pitcher, pitch), so that is by definition a non-random sample. 2) That big ol' BA is probably stealing some production from BB. 3) as one comment on the James site noted: the data doesn't include at bats where abandoned bunt attempts messed with a count and the at bat was concluded more conventionally. And 4) bunting for a hit takes ALL the production away from Slugging (the definition of small ball).

 

Still I will look at things a bit differently the next time I see a position player laying one down  to the third base side of the infield.



#7 MichiganGoat

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 12:41 PM

It's the sample size issue that has me not buying into this .400+ AVG, to think that is all teams started to bunt more and were better trained we'd see this AVG continue is a big IF.

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#8 Scotti

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 02:27 PM

It's the sample size issue that has me not buying into this .400+ AVG, to think that is all teams started to bunt more and were better trained we'd see this AVG continue is a big IF.

 

To LARGE of a sample size for you, Goat?  

 

"...there were 850 bunts put into play in a non-sacrifice situation (in 2011), with 372 going for hits, making for a .438 batting average."

 

As the Bill James dot Com author stated, 2011 wasn't an anomaly.  Bunting for hits = high BA.  You don't need a .400+ average to be successful as a bunter and there's a LONG way to drop from .438 to what would be acceptable.  



#9 Scotti

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 03:16 PM

That .438 number is interesting and even more interesting when I see the James chart you supplied, Scotti. Your comment about de-shifting shifts is also well taken. 

 

If we use that .438 to informally compare with league average in all cases (about .260), it looks pretty attractive! But this may be one of those places where BA is a little misleading. 1) The hitter chooses to bunt for a hit when the time is right (Shifts, pitcher, pitch), so that is by definition a non-random sample. 2) That big ol' BA is probably stealing some production from BB. 3) as one comment on the James site noted: the data doesn't include at bats where abandoned bunt attempts messed with a count and the at bat was concluded more conventionally. And 4) bunting for a hit takes ALL the production away from Slugging (the definition of small ball).

 

Still I will look at things a bit differently the next time I see a position player laying one down  to the third base side of the infield.

 

"1) The hitter chooses to bunt for a hit when the time is right (Shifts, pitcher, pitch), so that is by definition a non-random sample."

 

Very true, but with such a high success rate, the "time is right" far more than attempted (and it was attempted 850 times in 2011).  There are probably less than 25% of MLB player who would even attempt it WHEN the time IS right (they generally don't have the confidence to do so because they have not developed the skill).  

 

"2) That big ol' BA is probably stealing some production from BB."

 

Again, true, but so is taking a HUGE cut.  In fact, bunting for a hit you can hold back on balls outside the zone far easier than you can taking an actual swing.  The only real reason that walk rate would go down would be because you make better contact (thus ensuring more "outcomes" per bunt hit attempt than swinging hit attempt).  

 

"3) as one comment on the James site noted: the data doesn't include at bats where abandoned bunt attempts messed with a count and the at bat was concluded more conventionally."

 

I disagree with this point because we don't similarly discount taking a rip at a pitch (a la Baez) or even just generally swinging and missing or guessing wrong, etc.  They ALL lead to outcomes.  

 

And missed attempts pull defenders "in" causing "normal" BA's to rise.  A solid reputation as a frequent bunter for hits does the same.  IMO, this would be, at worst, a wash.  

 

4) bunting for a hit takes ALL the production away from Slugging (the definition of small ball).

 

While it DOES take all of the IMMEDIATE production away, it also brings in the 3B and that raises SLG production for future AB's (and potentially, even THAT AB if the AB isn't resolved with that bunt attempt--we've all seen this).  Also, .438 ain't the worst SLG percentage in the world.  .876 OPS (counting zero walks that occur in such AB and ALL 2 strike attempt strikeouts) is NOT small ball.  Small ball just doesn't OPS at .800 anything.  

 

And, remember, that was ALL bunters and not just the good (practiced) bunters.  An organization that teaches its players to take advantage of this can develop some talented bunters and go north of .438 (as the Bill James guy said, good bunters are well north of .500).  

 

FWIW, Junior Lake was 7 for 11 (.636) at the MLB level last year (IIRC, those 7 hits wound up being 3rd or 4th in MLB in his limited play). I would give kudos to the organisation except for the fact that Sveum said he had had no prior knowledge of Lake's skill there.  

 

Incidentally, MANY of Lake's stolen bases in the low minors were of the delayed variety.  He's a very interesting cat.  For the most part, delayed steals would not work in MLB but it really gives a glimpse into his mind.

 

Finally, Lake bats right-handed and, while fast, is no burner.  Same with Baez, Soler, Almora and Castro.  Bare minimum, those guys (and Lake) should be laying down 10-15 bunt hit attempts per year--each.  As I believe I said above somewhere, Mickey Mantle was one of the greatest bunters for hits in the game's history.  That helped him get on base but also helped him draw in defenders.  We need some guys who can shift-bust.  We need some guys who can successfully lay one down every now and then, too.   



#10 MichiganGoat

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 05:23 PM

It's the sample size issue that has me not buying into this .400+ AVG, to think that is all teams started to bunt more and were better trained we'd see this AVG continue is a big IF.

 
To LARGE of a sample size for you, Goat?  
 
"...there were 850 bunts put into play in a non-sacrifice situation (in 2011), with 372 going for hits, making for a .438 batting average."
 
As the Bill James dot Com author stated, 2011 wasn't an anomaly.  Bunting for hits = high BA.  You don't need a .400+ average to be successful as a bunter and there's a LONG way to drop from .438 to what would be acceptable.  
Teams each have roughly 5500 AB / 6000 PA so lets just be conservative and say 5000 per team and with 30 teams that 150,000 total opportunities to bunt so with the 850 you are citing that .5% of the opportunities, less than 1% of the AB were bunt opportunities... so yeah that a really really small sample size and combine that with the oddities of AVG that FFP mentioned is a very good reason to be suspicious that this success rate is not sustainable.

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#11 Jorbert Solmora

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 06:43 PM

Just a thought, but couldn't that .438 batting average be viewed as the OBP during "bunt for hit situations" as well? I would think this would be a better comparison for how successful a bunt for hit attempt is. A .430 OBP compared to a league average .320 OBP looks less impressive (still better) than a .430 avg to ~.260 avg.

Good discussion piece.

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#12 Luke

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 08:25 PM

I'm aware of the arguments against sacrifice bunting, but are people seriously arguing somewhere that selectively bunting for a base hit is a bad idea?



#13 Scotti

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 08:42 PM

Just a thought, but couldn't that .438 batting average be viewed as the OBP during "bunt for hit situations" as well? I would think this would be a better comparison for how successful a bunt for hit attempt is. A .430 OBP compared to a league average .320 OBP looks less impressive (still better) than a .430 avg to ~.260 avg.

Good discussion piece.

 

"couldn't that .438 batting average be viewed as the OBP during "bunt for hit situations" as well?"

 

Except that a guy who attempts to bunt for a hit--just like a guy who swings at a pitch and misses--can also walk in that AB.  Swingers likely walk more than bunters but bunters still walk.  They also K, so this isn't just H/AB-K, either.  These are legit numbers.  



#14 Scotti

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 08:57 PM

 

 

It's the sample size issue that has me not buying into this .400+ AVG, to think that is all teams started to bunt more and were better trained we'd see this AVG continue is a big IF.

 
To LARGE of a sample size for you, Goat?  
 
"...there were 850 bunts put into play in a non-sacrifice situation (in 2011), with 372 going for hits, making for a .438 batting average."
 
As the Bill James dot Com author stated, 2011 wasn't an anomaly.  Bunting for hits = high BA.  You don't need a .400+ average to be successful as a bunter and there's a LONG way to drop from .438 to what would be acceptable.  
Teams each have roughly 5500 AB / 6000 PA so lets just be conservative and say 5000 per team and with 30 teams that 150,000 total opportunities to bunt so with the 850 you are citing that .5% of the opportunities, less than 1% of the AB were bunt opportunities... so yeah that a really really small sample size and combine that with the oddities of AVG that FFP mentioned is a very good reason to be suspicious that this success rate is not sustainable.

 

 

"...is a very good reason to be suspicious that this success rate is not sustainable. "

 

As long as you forget the fact that the author mentioned that it isn't an outlier at all and that similar figures are repeated year after year, sure.  The author mentioned that they have been tracking it since the 90's.  The article on Bill James dot Com wasn't about "Dear Lord, look at that insane BA" it was about "We know that bunting for hits has a very high BA so we took it upon ourselves to segregate the BA by area bunted into."  The fact that the BA for bunts for hits was .438 was of no consequence to the author (Dewan) but, rather, a ho hum deal:

 

"On the other hand, there were 850 bunts put into play in a non-sacrifice situation last year, with 372 going for hits, making for a .438 batting average.

 
"We’ve pointed this out before: bunting for a hit in non-sacrifice situations has been an effective strategy for many players since we started tracking this in the early 1990s.  The best bunters hit well over .500 when bunting for a hit."
 
Dewan segregated the bunt hit attempts out from sacrifice attempts along with the rare bunt hit during a SAC.  As you can see from his article, that actually raises the BA on H/BHA because, while SAC isn't counted as an AB, a failed SAC attempt is counted
 
So, here (with failed SAC attempts and the occasional hits) are seasons 2004-2013.  What do we see?  A very steady rate.  In fact, over the last four years not a single year varies more than .004 (.389-.393).  The lowest year (again, including SAC that lowers the BA (and the segregated is what we're really after--I just don't know a site that has compiled that)) was .369.  If we extrapolate the same "loss" in BA as 2011 (.438-.392=.046), that .369 would look like .415 in real bunts for base hits BA.  So, easily, well north of .400.  
 
 
Another interesting thing to note is the occasional bunt double which are an actual thing.     
 
So, forget the small sample size argument.  It doesn't exist.  Bunting for hits was not an anomaly in 2011.  2004-2013 proves it.  


#15 Scotti

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Posted 25 November 2013 - 08:58 PM

I'm aware of the arguments against sacrifice bunting, but are people seriously arguing somewhere that selectively bunting for a base hit is a bad idea?

 

In fairness, I don't read "bad" idea.  Just that some are saying it's over-rated (i.e. can't believe the numbers).  






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