Last night’s Yankee game was as frustrating a game as I can remember in a very, very long time. Between the “glovework” of Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Aaron Hicks, the non-call on Anthony Rizzo’s HBP, and the bunting…oh, the bunting…
Specifically, there’s a lot to unpack with the mind-numbing decision-making with Jose Trevino’s fourth-inning bunt, however, so let’s skip the preamble and get right to it:
Situation: Yankees are batting in the bottom of the fourth inning, with nobody out and runners on first and second bases. Jose Trevino is batting against the Rays’ Ryan Yarbrough. Trevino bunts the first pitch right in front of home plate, where Rays’ catcher Francisco Mejía picks it up and throws to third base for the force out there.
You know how people say when you feel like you’re going to explode, take a breath and slowly count to ten because ten seconds and slow breathing will calm you down? Well after that play I was so ticked off that I asked Alexa to count to ten for me because I couldn’t do it.
Let’s start with the numbers without variables. Don’t worry – I’ll come back to the variables that everyone wants to talk about when they yell “Nerd!” at people for understanding fourth-grade math. You’re going to want to stick around for that part…
Run expectancy with runners on first and second with no out is 1.54. Run expectancy with runners on second and third with one out is 1.37. So if Trevino’s bunt attempt is “successful”, the average number of runs you can expect in that situation just dropped. Well played. (Pinches bridge of nose.)
Let’s talk about success. Bunt attempts in MLB this year are successful 55% of the time, and Trevino is five out of nine in his career (55%) on bunt attempts. So 45% percent – almost half – of the time, you’re going to be stuck with runners at first and second base and one out after giving away an out on a failed bunt attempt*. The run expectancy for runners at first and second with one out is 0.97.
(*Those numbers don’t count when a batter misses a bunt attempt, then decides to swing the bat after now being behind in the count – so the failure numbers are actually worse than that.)
Just so we’re clear, you’re starting with an average run expectancy of 1.54. Your plan is to implement a strategy that 55% of the time will drop it to 1.37, and 45% of the time will drop it to 0.97.
Make it make sense.
There’s no clock in baseball, there are outs – when you run out of outs, you run out of time. Bunting away an out is like if a basketball team that was losing, just willfully hung on to the ball for 24 seconds without taking a shot. You’re literally reducing your own opportunities to come back and win.
OK, but there may have been other variables or circumstances that may alter the decision making right?
Yes, there were, but they make this discussion even uglier.
In general (I’ve written about this before, so I’m not going to completely rehash it now, but…) if you’re the home team batting in the bottom of the ninth or later in a tie game, you might (might) be able to justify playing for one just run. In every other scenario in baseball, you should be playing to score as many runs as possible. In this instance, it was only the fourth damn inning and the Yankees were trailing.
Far more specifically, Jose Trevino in 2022 has a .300 OBP and .436 SLG with an OPS+ of 108 – which is to say he’s been a better-than-league-average hitter. The .436 SLG is well above league average and 31% of his hits this season have been for extra bases. With a .300 OBP his chances of success are about 30% (we’ll come back to this) but when he does succeed runs will likely be scored, and just as importantly, his team will be set up to score even more runs.
Actually, his chances of success were better than 30%. Ryan Yarbrough has yielded a .362 OBP and .497 SLG against right-handed batters this season – i.e., an average right-handed batter is far above average against Yarbrough. Speaking of far above average…
Trevino has posted a .386/.650 OBP/SLG line when facing lefties in 2022 – for perspective, Aaron Judge this season has a .397/.674 OBP/SLG line. So a good hitter, who’s much better against left-handed pitching, is facing a left-handed pitcher, who’s awful against right-handed batters, what do you do?
“But the eight and nine hitters were due up – at that point, you may just want to move runners along and hopefully something good will happen.”
Wrong. IKF, who is a below-average hitter was due up next, but again – against Yarbrough, he’d be essentially league average. After that was the switch-hitting Hicks who’s always been a better right-handed hitter. The odds of Yarbrough getting Trevino, IKF, and Hicks in order was very small – it was more likely that Gleyber Torres and Aaron Judge would get an at-bat with runners on (unless you give away an out, of course).
“At least they avoided a back-breaking double play.”
Trevino has hit into a double play three times in 54 opportunities this season (5%). His home run percentage is 4%. Stop.
The Yankees were shut out again and lost a winnable game again. That is annoying in and of itself but when opportunities for big innings are passed over – not, “hey we tried and it didn’t work out” – the opportunity was literally ceded, it becomes mind-numbingly annoying, regardless of whether it was a managerial or player decision.
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