The bunt that broke my heart

Dear John, I think you're great, but ...

 

So it has been an interesting few days in Blue Jay land. Immediately following Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the Rays, I had started writing up an angered post about how John Farrel’s questionable-at-best decision to bunt with Travis Snider to get set the table for John MacDonald and Mike McCoy likely cost the Jays a chance to win the game. I won’t bother detailing the exact situation and what led up to it, because either you saw the game and you know what I’m talking about, or you didn’t and likely don’t care.

Regardless, I think it was John Farrell’s worst decision by far as a manager and there are a number of reasons why. But before I say that, I will mention that it is positively inconsequential that Travis Snider appeared to beat out the bunt. That does not make the decision any more defendable. When you sacrifice bunt you aren’t doing it with the thought that you are likely to reach base safely.

At any rate, I will say again that I am not being results oriented and only lashing out because the strategy didn’t work. The exact second Snider turned to bunt I was upset and a tirade of swearing and yelling followed. My parents and girlfriend, who watched the game with me and all told me to calm down, can attest to that.

Now, on to the reason why this was – in my opinion – by far the worst decision that John Farrell has made at the helm.

  • The Rays are absolutely hurting to get outs. They started the inning with a four-run lead and have now brought the winning run to the plate with two runners on. They need three outs to win the baseball game, before at least two more runs are scored. Momentum is hugely on the Jays side and those three outs needed are looming large. A sacrifice bunt effectively gives Tampa Bay an out, getting them 1/3rd of the way to their goal and slowing some of Toronto’s momentum.
  • As Mike Wilner of Jays Talk fame is always quick to point out, sacrifice bunts don’t always work. People are always quick to suggest the runners should be moved over, as if it’s some automatic thing that will always achieve the desired results. The fact is, a lot of sacrifice bunt attempts end in very detrimental fashion, such as a hitter fouling off two attempts and going down 0-2, a hitter popping one up, or a hitter putting down a bad bunt that forces out the lead runner.
  • John MacDonald and Mike McCoy were the next two hitters up. With all due respect to Johnny McHomer, who played hero the night before, these are not good major league hitters. Now you can make the argument that Snider and his below-the-Mendoza-line batting average is not exactly a fearful sight either, but through his major league career, Snider’s OPS is .739. Against right handers (which Kyle Farnsworth is) it is .764. McDonald’s career OPS against right handers is .590. McCoy’s is .433. Now, whose bat do you want the game to depend on again?
  • Yes, you can make the argument that a sac bunt (should it work) takes you out of the double play, which is one benefit, but should it not also be considered that it takes you out of the realm of hitters who have any likelihood of ending the game via a homerun? (again, my respects to JMac who did exactly that the night prior) In my opinion, as soon as you bunt the two runners over and give up an out to do so, you are now only playing for those two runs, only playing to tie the game. That’s all well and good, as you need to at least tie the game for things to continue, but in that situation, with a team on the ropes, I want the manager to play for the best chance to win the game and that is without dispute Travis Snider’s bat.
  • Some food for thought for those who want to “stay out of the double play” by bunting with Snider. Travis Snider has hit into 10 double plays in his career, over 761 career plate appearances, meaning that has been the result of 1.3 per cent of his career at bats. He has homered 26 times, for 3.4 per cent of his career at bats and had an extra base hit (which would have effectively ended the game)  in just shy of 6 per cent of his major league at bats. Now, yes, I know that in many of his career at bats, Snider wouldn’t have the opportunity to hit into a double play (whereas he does have the opportunity to hit a homerun or extra base hit every time), but I’m just using it as a basis for comparison. The ultimate point being, that as much as there was an opportunity for him to hit into a double play and kill the rally (yet the tying run still would have had a chance to come to the plate with two outs), there was at least an equal chance he would have ended the game.
  • Not that I put too much stock into pitcher/hitter matchups over small samples sizes, but it seems Farrell does, so it was especially shocking to me to see the move made when it flashed up the graphic that showed MacDonald is 0-for-7 lifetime against Farnsworth.

At any rate, after sulking around for the better part of Saturday evening over it, I eventually calmed down, but I still can’t deal well with losses like that. I spent the last few years watching the Jays try to win in spite of Cito Gaston’s best efforts and I truly thought things would be different with Farrell. However, in that situation and in some instances where runners have still had the green light despite all reasons that they should not be stealing, it seems there might still be some managerial hiccups throughout the season.

Now, a couple more points in brief, on happier notes:

  • It’s nice to see that Juan Rivera can, in fact, hit a ball hard. He seems to be heating up a little more lately and hopefully he can clear things up on this homestand, as it would be nice to have another bat someone other than Jose Bautista swinging it well.
  • On that note, Jose Bautista is an inspiration. All early indications seem to be showing that he’s a lot closer to the 54 homerun masher we saw last year than he is to the journeyman utility player we had seen throughout his career. It’s amazing to think that someone who previously had been just average or slightly above can make some tweaks and put in the hard work and become one of baseball’s best hitters. It gives me hope for my men’s league this summer, that maybe I’ll make some adjustments, start my load sooner and become a homerun hitting machine. Ummm, yeah, OK, maybe I’ll just hope I can hit an occasional double. 
  • It’s sure nice to have Morrow back. It adds another power arm to a rotation that previously had been filled with too much finnesse pitching. Hopefully he can have the season everyone expects him to contribute
  • I had originally titled this post “Blue Jays in brief,” but 1,200 words later, I think I need to retitle.
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3 thoughts on “The bunt that broke my heart

  1. I don’t think that saying “…but I’m just using it as a basis for comparison” suddenly lets you compare apples to oranges. Case in point: odds of flopping quads (9799 to 1) vs. odds of flopping quads with a pocket pair (407 to 1). You’re basically quoting the 9799 to 1 when you should be quoting 407 to 1. Sometimes in can make a big difference.

    Nevertheless, keep up the good work, I enjoy reading your posts.

  2. Marc, thanks for your post and insight. You are right, my comparison isn’t entirely justifiable, but … The main point was to point out that Travis Snider isn’t exactly a huge double play candidate.

    I am not sure exactly how to find out how many at bats Snider has had in his career with runners on 1st, runners on 1st and 2nd or bases loaded, with less than two outs (which would be a quantifier for a double play to be a possibility), but let’s assume of his 761 career plate appearances, 100 of them have come under the afforementioned circumstances (I would think this is a low estimate, I would imagine he’s had at least 100 at bats where he had the chance to hit into a double play, likely many more).

    So, he has hit into 10 double plays in 100 career at bats in a double play scenario, which is 10 per cent of the time. As I had previously quoted, he has homered 3.4 per cent of the time (and that number surely goes up to a higher percentage historically when there are runners on and a pitcher is forced to throw more strikes) and he has hit an extra base hit around 6 per cent of the time (again, likely higher with runners on base when a pitcher can’t nibble as much).

    So 6 + 3.4 = 9.4 per cent of the time.

    So, even under an extreme circumstance of Snider only having come up to the plate 100 times with a chance to hit into a DP, the argument still stands that he would do something tie/win the game (extra base hit or homerun) just as often as he would ground into a doubleplay.

    Anyway, some more food for thought. Thanks for keeping me in line though, hope you keep commenting!

    And, come visit me in Toronto when I am there, you punk.

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