The return of evil bunts

If you’re Joe Girardi, the answer couldn’t be more obvious; BUNT!

Yes, once again, the supposedly numbers-savvy manager of the Yankees, with his binder full of notes and numbers and so on, decided to give away an out in one of the most inopportune moments possible. For one thing, the Yankees gave the Athletics one of their three remaining outs at a point when it looked like their closer, Andrew Bailey, was really scuffling against the Yankees’ hitters. For another, because the Athletics pitched around Curtis Granderson, throwing a steady diet of pitches away and only challenging him once in eight pitches, Girardi’s decision effectively took the bat out of the Yankees’ two best hitters right now.

And sure enough, it didn’t pay off. Mark Teixeira weakly popped up a fastball to the third baseman (though to be fair, the outcome of that at bat may well have been different if the first pitch of the at bat had been called a ball instead of a strike), Robinson Cano walked to move the tying run to third and the winning run to second, but with two outs Nick Swisher‘s fly ball did them no good as Coco Crisp caught it to end the game, and the Yankees came up one out short of tying the game.

One out. It’s a running theme for the Yankees’ this season, as their manager proves over and over that he simply does not understand the value of an out. After the game, Girardi said the decision to bunt was based on “factors,” namely a desire to stay out of the double play. That sound you just heard was my keyboard being thrown through the wall. Aside from the problem with managing from a position of fear of a somewhat random outcome, once Granderson walks, the double play is back in order! So even on Girardi’s own terms this doesn’t make sense, and really makes even less sense, given that with Teixeira at the plate, the double play is set up with one out and a slower runner at the plate, with a batter who’s not hitting as well as Jeter right now.

Now obviously there’s no guarantee the Yankees come back to win that game in the counter-factual in which Jeter swings away, but in either event the decision to give away an out clearly cost the Yankees last night. It’s not at all unfair to say Girardi cost the team a game last night, and once again, his answers after the game raise as many, or more, questions about his decision making as the actual decisions do. Which is only logical, because there’s just no defense for that decision.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

30 thoughts on “The return of evil bunts

  1. long live small-ball! in the AL East. with the league leading offense and a resurgent hall-of-famer batting.

    ::shudders::

  2. Such is the life of a manager. If Jeter hits into a double-play, he is asked why Jeter wasn't bunting. <shrug>

  3. and if Jeter had hit into one of his patented (and likely trademarked) double plays, every blogger on earth would have crept out from under a rock and screamed at Joe for not bunting. "IDIOT – everyone KNOWS Jeter hits into double plays." Or something to that effect.

    Really – why not go into the spectacular display of hitting prowess that came after. One could easily make a case for Grandy, Tex, Cano, or Swisher doing SOMETHING. (not yelling, but can't find italics for emphasis.) I know – DJ has been hot lately – but so have Cano, Grandy, and to a lesser extent Swish. I'm still tempted to stick with my characterization of Tex as a black hole – he either hits a bomb or looks like a buffoon. Trouble is, more at bats end up buffoon than bomb. That "no-trade" clause of his is starting to look as nearly as bad as A-rod's 17 year contract.

  4. It's called managing "not to lose" rather than managing to win. Letting Jeter swing away there would have been a gutsy call, but had he hit into a double play (which is not quite the random outcome referred to here), Girardi would have been killed for allowing that happen. That being said, it's worth the risk. By all appearances, the Jeter of 2009 has returned for the moment. Might as well try to see if the magic could have been extended.

  5. I agreed with the decision to bunt. You move the tying run into scoring position with 1 out and the middle of your lineup about to come up. That sounds like a scenario that will produce wins more than losses .

  6. I guess the bottom line is that the before the bunt, the Yankees' win probability was around 37 percent and went down to around 32 percent after the bunt. Fair enough.

  7. One additional thing: neither Granderson nor Teixeira are high-average hitters–much of their value is from walks and extra-base hits. But if either walks, the bunt offers no advantage becuase the runners would have moved up anyway. If either gets an extra-base hit, the bunt offers no advantage, because the runners would have scored anyway.

    On the season, Granderson has 65 singles, 65 extra-base hits, and 68 walks. So one two-thirds of the possible positive outcomes of Granderson's plate appearance, you've given up an out for nothing. That has to affect the calculations.

  8. Also Tex has grounded into more double plays (11) than Jeter (9) this year. And Jeter was a much hotter hitter. Personally I was screaming at the TV for Girardi not to bunt [sigh].

  9. Joe Girardi was managing scared. He did it to "avoid a double play." He wanted to let his better hitters knock in the run? Oh really? By giving up one of your chances youve taken the bat out of Grandersons hand and put it in the hand of a guy who grounds into double plays with a higher frequency than Jeter. This is so self defeating its maddening. Not only did he not lower the chances of his batter hitting into a double play, he increased them by putting a slower runner on first and at the plate. Taking the bat out of Grandersons hands is just not smart either. I dunno this guy makes no logical sense. And his explanations are what earns him the moniker of Joe Ritardi.

  10. Oh i think the Yankees are now 7th in the AL in sacrifice bunts. All Hail NL Style Ball!!

  11. I absolutely hated the decision to bunt, for many reasons. But I didn't even think about the excellent point you made regarding the double play being back in order once Granderson walked. You have to figure the A's will probably pitch around Granderson both to set up the double play and because he's the best hitter on the Yankees this season. And they did. Obviously, if Teixeira had hit into a DP, it would have been worse than if Jeter had. At least if Jeter had, you still would've had your best hitter up as the tying run. So the Fear of the DP excuse is not only stupid, but doesn't even fit the situation.

    If the bunt had been in, say, the 7th inning rather than the 9th, I could have stomached it better. I still would be against it, because I'm very anti-bunting, but it wouldn't throw me into the same type of rage. I just don't think it is ever acceptable to willingly give up an out in the 9th inning when you are trailing, period.

  12. Sadly, what we think about Giardi's strategy for when to bunt seems to have no noticeable impact to how he manages the game. Frustrating? Yes. Maddening? Yes.

    Chances of his altering his strategy any time soon? Very likely none.

    The only slight silver-lining is that at least Jeter's at-bat produced a productive out. But considering the game circumstances, that probably isn't enough of a justification to try it (imho).

  13. Um … haven't we covered this ground before? The first and second, no out bunt attempt is often a good idea. I won't repeat the arguments I've made on this point, many times before, supported by the sabermetric studies. For example see here: http://bit.ly/iM49wp.

    The move that's more difficult to defend is the intentional walk. If bunting provoked the intentional walk, then on average that's a good thing.

    The knee-jerk criticism of every decision to bunt, a reaction that's popular here, is simply wrong. The thought that this reaction is supported by sabermetrics is equally wrong. The decision to bunt with first and second, none out, is at worst DEBATABLE, meaning that respectable arguments can be made on both sides.