Yesterday, Dustin Pedroia came up with men on first and second and no outs. Following Pedroia in the lineup were Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis. Ignore the last month’s worth of data. This is one of the best, if not the best, three hitters in a row in baseball. The Red Sox manager, Terry Francona, asked Pedroia to sacrifice bunt. Twice. Pedroia failed twice and actually ended up walking. But it’s the attempt that bothers me. I don’t spend much time complaining about the manager in this space, mostly because Francona has more and better information than I do and has a track record of deploying his players in as close to an optimum manner as any manager in baseball.
But asking Dustin Pedroia to sacrifice bunt with two on and no outs in the fifth inning against Doug Fister? The idea makes me nauseous.
According to Tango Tiger, the Red Sox could expect to score 1.556 runs in that situation (men on 1st and 2nd, 0 outs). Their chances of scoring one run were 64%. If Pedroia had successfully bunted, which considering his history wasn’t exactly a sure thing, the Red Sox could have expected to score 1.447 runs in the inning. In other words, on average over the last eighteen years, a successful bunt is a negative play. The Red Sox lose 0.109 runs, and that is if Pedroia bunts successfully.
The chances the Red Sox score at all after a successful bunt do increase from 64% to 70%. In other words, These numbers aren’t absolutes. The specifics of the situation matter, of course, but it’s pretty clear that Francona was employing a one run strategy, at best. Calling for the bunt in that situation seems to say, ‘I think you guys aren’t going to be able to score without some help’. That idea is disconcerting.
The Red Sox are going to hit. Their talent will win out in the end. The previous two sentences are statements of fact. Whether it’s too late to win anything in 2011 remains to be seen, but Francona’s strategy is concerning insofar as what it says about his confidence in the team. If Francona has shown anything, it’s faith in his players’ talent. Asking Pedroia to bunt in the fifth inning with no outs against Doug Fister seems to go against that faith.