The bunt is off in Detroit

Most of the teams with few sacrifice bunts are sabermetrically inclined, like the A's or Yankees. And there is Luis Pujols and the Detroit Tigers.

Originally Published: August 19, 2002
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

Yesterday I was watching the Reds-Astros game and one of the Reds broadcasters -- who shall remain nameless because I like him -- suggested that Bob Boone subscribes to the "Billy Beane theory" of not wasting valuable outs on sacrifice bunts.

This came as a surprise to me, because when Boone managed the Royals a few years back, he loved the bunt. In 1996, Boone's last full season in Kansas City, the Royals led the American League with 66 sacrifice hits.

So I checked this season. And wouldn't you know it, Bob Boone's Cincinnati Reds have laid down 72 sacrifice hits this season, second only to Montreal in the National League. So no, Boone hasn't changed his stripes, and it's difficult to find any meaningful connection between Boone's theories and Billy Beane's.

In terms of sacrifice hits, there's only one National League team that stands out; the San Diego Padres have only 31 sacrifice hits this season. And wouldn't you know it, Billy Beane and Padres GM Kevin Towers are pretty good friends.

And what about Beane's Athletics? They are, indeed, at the very bottom with 15 sacrifices all season. The A's aren't alone, though:

    Athletics  15
    Blue Jays  17
    Yankees    18
    Red Sox    18
    Tigers     20
    

Let's see, here ... after the Athletics you've got the Blue Jays, general managed by J.P. Ricciardi, one of Billy Beane's best friends. After the Blue Jays you've got the Yankees and the Red Sox. The Yankees are general managed by Brian Cashman, who's a big believer in sabermetrics, and the Red Sox are owned by John Henry, who frequently amuses himself by reading Bill James' books. And after the Red Sox you've got ... the Tigers?

The Tigers are not generally considered one of baseball's "sabermetrically aware" franchises. While Dave Dombrowski is generally considered one of baseball's best general managers, it's not likely that he's wearing out his library card, checking out old Baseball Abstracts.

What's more, if you were going to use up valuable outs on the sacrifice bunt, isn't Comerica Park where you'd do it? The more difficult it is to score runs, the more sense it makes to invest outs in one-run strategies. Not that it does make sense ... but if it did, it would be at Comerica.

Curious, I contacted Dombrowski. In short order, he 1) told me that sacrifice bunts are "solely a managerial decision," and 2) referred me to Luis Pujols, who makes those decisions.

Managers are busy guys, though, and at press time I hadn't heard back from Pujols (if and when I do, I'll replace this paragraph with his comments).

But does the bunt make sense, ever? Yeah, it can. When you've got a pitcher batting. A weak-hitting pitcher. Otherwise, it rarely makes sense. And I'm basing this contention not on some abstract statistical formula, but on a completely practical application. Tom Tippett, the wizard behind Diamond Mind Baseball, looked at actual play-by-play data to see if sacrifice bunts increased or decreased a team's chances of scoring runs.

He found that sacrifices -- whether successful or not -- actually decrease a team's chances of scoring runs. And further, that a sacrifice usually decreases a team's chance of scoring one run. So why do it?

I'd like to get Bob Boone and Luis Pujols together in a room, and ask them.

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