Should MLB get rid of the sacrifice bunt?
It’s considered one of the most selfless, and boring, plays in all of professional sports — the sacrifice bunt. The goal is to advance a runner into scoring position by sacrificing an out. It’s the epitome of team play over individual performance. It’s a hallmark of “small ball.” But new evidence suggests bunting actually decreases the chances of a team scoring any runs at all. Plus, it’s boring. Baseball needs to get younger and the kids don’t want to see bunts. What do you think?
Part of the charm of baseball is the battle between math and gut instinct. The math says the sacrifice bunt may be a poor move, but gut instinct motivates manager to call for the sac bunt when pitchers go up to bat (since they often hit poorly against opposing pitchers).
Purists say the sac bunt an important aspect of “small ball,” the ideology that prioritizes putting runners on base and moving them into scoring position — rather than letting players swing for the fences. The sac bunt is consider selfless. It’s an important play.
But the numbers don’t add up. Sacrifice bunts don’t increase the chances of a team scoring any runs in an inning. They’re boring and actually reduce scoring opportunities. And in a league that desperately needs to draw in younger crowds, eliminating the sac bunt might add some much-needed energy to regulation game play.
“At the end of the day, the game is played by guys with heartbeats,” Phillies third baseman Michael Young said. “And a sacrifice bunt puts pressure on the defense and the pitcher. Maybe it’s not always the right move, but I have a problem with saying it’s never the right move. There are no absolutes in this game. If you’re playing against a team that’s struggling and you put a runner in scoring position late in the game, they’re going to feel it a little more.”
READ MORE: To sacrifice or not to sacrifice
If you want to win, the answer is simple: don’t sacrifice bunt. It doesn’t increase your chance of winning, it doesn’t increase your chance of scoring more runs and it’s a poor way to waste an out. It’s time to kill the sacrifice bunt and let baseball players do what baseball players do best — play baseball.
Keith Law, the author of “Smart Baseball: The Story Behind the Old Stats That Are Ruining the Game, the New Ones That Are Running It, and the Right Way to Think About Baseball,” says the way baseball purists think about sac bunts is all wrong.
With a man on first base and no outs, an MLB team’s probability of scoring at least one run in the inning in 2015 was 0.499, or roughly 50-50. Pushing that runner up to second in exchange for an out reduced those odds to 0.447, or just under 45 percent. So not only does the bunt reduce the number of runs the team could expect to score in that inning (from 0.84 to 0.65) but it reduces the team’s odds of scoring any runs at all. Remind me again what the point of the bunt was?
People who argue for eliminating the sacrifice bunt are short-sighted and focused on moving the game in the wrong direction. The problem with aggregate bunt stats is they don’t take into account very specific game time decisions — historic match-up data, on-base speed, etc. Depending on the situation, a sac bunt could be the most logical way to go.
In an era where everyone is overly concerned with individual stats, home runs and high-scoring games, the sac bunt remains of the few tangible traditions left from our baseball elders. Factoring in the out from a sac bunt into an individual batter’s stats will eliminate any incentive to lay down a bunt. And getting rid of it altogether seems draconian. Let it be. Keep tradition alive.
Many coaches have a theory that every hitter should be able to bunt. While most of those coaches are reluctant to have their better hitters lay down a bunt late in a game to advance a runner, it can happen. No matter where a hitter is in the lineup, sacrifice bunting is something that should be in every player’s arsenal. Baseball is a team game after all.
READ MORE: Sacrifice bunt and the art of laying it down
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