Pirates are Actually Terrible Bunters

Bunting is a relatively big talking point in baseball circles. Saberists continue to point to data that shows bunting does more harm than good except in very specific situations.  Elsewhere, many have advocated bunting as a method of beating the shift.  And of course, botched bunts are always a popular subject for post game rage.

Pirates fans have plenty to complain about when it comes to bunting. As outlined on this very site last year, Clint Hurdle and the Pirates are not very good at deciding when to bunt. As it turns out, the Pirates are also not very good at bunting in general.

In 2005, current Pirates Director of Baseball Systems Development, Dan Fox, wrote a piece on bunting in the Hardball Times.  Among the many fascinating findings in the article, was research on how often sacrifice bunts were successful.  Success meant that the play resulted in a sacrifice, a hit, a fielder’s choice-all safe, an error, or other rarer possibilities. Fielder’s choices, double plays, pop-ups, foul-outs, and strikeouts on bunt attempts were all considered failures.

By looking through play-by-play data, he found a league-wide success rate of 76.2%. So how well do the 2014 Pirates stack up? Using the same methodology as Fox, I found the team’s success rate to be just 52.9%. That’s 18 successes out of 34 attempts.

Jeff Sullivan from Fangraphs looked at bunting from a slightly different perspective earlier this year. His research was mostly focused on whether bunting would be a viable strategy for beating the shift.  The theory was that getting a hit against the shift mostly just required a batter to bunt the ball at a target the size of roughly half of the infield.  So he looked at how often batters were able to get a bunt attempt into fair territory.

Using pitch-by-pitch data, Jeff looked at all pitches where any bunt (sacrifice or not) attempt was a) put in play, b) fouled off, or c) missed for a strike.  This method does leave out situations where the batter pulls back the bat and takes either a ball or called strike, but unfortunately that data just does not exist for those plays. What he found was that just bunting a ball fair was harder than you may have thought. The league-average “success” rate was only 49%.  Remember, success does not mean a positive outcome, just that the ball was bunted into fair territory.  Pitchers and non-pitchers showed practically no difference, as neither was able to bunt fairy even half of the time.

So how did Pittsburgh bunters do using this metric? Not very well at all.  The club was only able to put 30.9% of pitches on which a bunt was attempted into play.  Again, that’s using the same methodology as Sullivan, looking at 104 pitches worth of data in total.  That’s a ridiculously anemic total. Here’s a breakdown of what happened when the Pirates attempted to bunt:

 

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Unsurprisingly, no one has researched how much random variation are in these statistics, so we don’t know how much these numbers will regress, if at all.  But we can be pretty confident the Pirates have assembled a roster that is very poor at bunting.

Stats current as of 6/6/14.

Author: Max Fogle

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  • leadoff

    IMO, there will be coaching changes at the end of the season for various
    reasons and bunting will be one of them. Overall the Pirates coaching
    staff has not done a very good job this year. The pitching coach
    probably safe, after that I don’t think any of them are safe.

  • DG Lewis

    In other news, water is wet, the Pope is Catholic, and the sun is expected to rise in the east.

    • Lee Young

      lol…now if only Hurdle would post this article on his wall….and READ IT EVERYDAY!!!!!

  • FrankRestly

    To fix the bunting situation, make the following changes:
    Everyone on the team uses the same team bunting bat, this does a couple things:
    1. The length and shape of the bat makes a difference when you are trying to bunt, ultimately you want as much barrel as possible with the shortest handle possible, in essence a rolling pin bat
    2. It simplifies the teaching process
    3. It enforces the team concept
    Everyone on the team positions themselves in the batters box the same way when bunting. When bunting, you want to be on the front side of the batters box as close as comfortable to the plate.

    • Lee Young

      quick….email that to Hurdle.

    • leadoff

      And everyone gets exactly the same pitch to bunt!

    • leadoff

      And everyone gets exactly the same pitch to bunt!

      • FrankRestly

        Yes, a strike. Standing at the front of the batters box and close to the plate lets you get to curve balls mid break and sliders on the outside corner with a bunt. The long barrel reduces the chance of hitting the ball with the handle on inside pitches. The only pitch you then have to be careful of is the high fastball intended to induce a pop up.

    • smurph

      Good one, frank. Haha!

    • bucsws2014

      Are cricket bats legal?

      • FrankRestly

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball_bat

        In the American major leagues, Rule 1.10(a) states, “The bat shall be a smooth, round stick not more than 2.61 inches in diameter at the thickest part and not more than 42 inches in length. The bat shall be one piece of solid wood.”

  • smurph

    Let’s take it one step further. Pirates are not good in pretty much every category under the heading “fundamentals”. 1. Bunting – AL teams don’t bunt much, but the Pirates would certainly be one of the worst bunting teams in the NL. 2. Baserunning – I never thought I would see a worse baserunner than Ronny Cedeno. Tabata has been bad, though not as bad the last year. Marte has been thrown out on the bases 3 times in the last 2 games. In fact he set a major league record by being the first player to be doubled off base on an infield popup in 2 consecutive games. Polanco also with a bonehead play last night. 3. Pitchers holding baserunners on – Pirates are certainly one of the worst. 4. Scoring runners from 3rd base with less than 2 outs. You should have about a 65-70% success rate. Pirates don’t have close to that.

    • leadoff

      I don’t put all the baserunning gafs on Marte that happens to him, some of that is from a team that does not know what they want to do with him. If they want him to stay put and nothing happens they can stop him, if they want a fast gambling type player they have to accept the consequences. The Pirates have never had a player with Marte’s talent and I don’t believe they know how to handle it and I don’t believe Marte has the players around him to execute his talent. Marte is so quick that a couple of steps takes him a long way and that makes him easy to pick off, on steals he is already in no mans land when the ball is hit, that is because of his speed, other players don’t get as far and can get back easily. Also we don’t have media people that are smart enough to ask simple questions like with the pop up that he could not get back to first base on: 1. Was it a run and hit, 2. Was it a hit and run, 3 When he could not find the ball and looked for help, why no coaching help? I have stolen bases in my life, when you take off for 2nd base you look at the base, no where else, when a ball is hit you don’t know where it is and believe me as fast as Marte is he was just about to second base when that ball was in the air not many players are going to be in that situation.
      Marte has not learned what McCutchen learned a while back, play safe, if you win thats great, if you lose, you are not the goat, could be that because their is so much bashing on Marte that he will stop running and just stay at first base instead of gambling and winding up on 2nd and 3rd as often as he does.
      Don’t forget this is a station to station team with the exception of one.
      When you have a Thoroughbred you can either let him run or keep him in the barn, I don’t know if the Pirates know what they want to do with this horse, but benching him is not the answer. I have watched other broadcasts and announcers rave about Marte, I have a feeling if Pittsburgh does not want him, he might find a home somewhere else pretty fast, I also believe Huntington is not buying all of Martes faults as faults that cannot be corrected or should have been corrected by now.

      • bucsws2014

        Please stop making excuses for Marte. He’s had his head firmly up his butt on most of the plays where he’s been an out.

        I stole bases too. And I was taught to make sure I knew either where the ball was or where the play was going and to watch the 3b coach. Yes, Leyva should’ve been screaming. I have no evidence that he wasn’t.

  • smurph

    Let’s take it one step further. Pirates are not good in pretty much every category under the heading “fundamentals”. 1. Bunting – AL teams don’t bunt much, but the Pirates would certainly be one of the worst bunting teams in the NL. 2. Baserunning – I never thought I would see a worse baserunner than Ronny Cedeno. Tabata has been bad, though not as bad the last year. Marte has been thrown out on the bases 3 times in the last 2 games. In fact he set a major league record by being the first player to be doubled off base on an infield popup in 2 consecutive games. Polanco also with a bonehead play last night. 3. Pitchers holding baserunners on – Pirates are certainly one of the worst. 4. Scoring runners from 3rd base with less than 2 outs. You should have about a 65-70% success rate. Pirates don’t have close to that.

  • Lee Young

    Do these stats take into account the times they’ve tried to bunt, and then ended up swinging away?

  • Lee Young

    Do these stats take into account the times they’ve tried to bunt, and then ended up swinging away?

    • Max Fogle

      No, once the batter pulls the bunt back, it doesn’t show up as “bunt” on the pitch-by-pitch data. I would have liked to have looked at those situations too, but there’s no way to do that without watching the video.

  • deacs

    I almost have to turn the TV off when there’s a bunting situation. Bunting is a smaller part of baseball but what’s so confusing about the Pirates is they make it look not difficult, but almost impossible.

  • Andrew

    Max, excellent article. Does this include pitchers and non-pitchers?

    • Max Fogle

      Yes it does. Overall there wasn’t a huge difference between the two groups. But since you asked, here is the breakdown for each using the second methodology:

      Hitters: In Play: 32.8%, Not In Play: 67.2%
      Pitchers: In Play: 28.3%, Not In Play 71.7%

    • Max Fogle

      Actually by the first methodology, there is a somewhat larger difference between pitchers and hitters. So looking at the success rate for sacrifice bunts we have:

      Hitters: 8/13, 61.5% success rate
      Pitchers: 10/21, 47.6% success rate

      So both have been bad, but the pitchers have been particularly bad at sacrificing.

      • Andrew

        Thanks. For me the occasionally maddening thing is not that the Pirates have been deciding bunts, but they seem to not have accurately evaluated the individual batter’s chance of success. It is like the series in LA, when they kept sending runners to steal second with 2 outs. Yes the break even point is lower but what is the chance of Ike Davis being successful,

  • Monsoon Harvard

    I feel that if a batter is known to be a poor bunter, he should not be made to bunt. Worse things usually happen when they try to bunt. It is rare for a bad bunter to execute the task successfully. It just screws things up worse. I wish they would just let the guy swing away and take their chances.

    • Y2JGQ2

      problem with being in the NL, is that starting pitchers are expected to be good at bunting, regardless of how bad they hit. I agree with this philosophy. There needs to be some accountability with our pitchers getting down bunts. at least a hitter with 2 strikes has some chance of doing something useful, a pitcher doesn’t really have that