Sunday, August 14, 2011

6 comments An Ode to Bunts: By Murray Chass

I have created Yahoo Fantasy Football and Fantasy College Football Pick 'Em leagues. We need a few more teams in the Fantasy Football league and need quite a few more teams in the College Football Pick 'Em league. Feel free to join up if you care to. The ID and password for the Fantasy Football league is "211530" and the password is "eckstein." The ID and password for the College Football Pick 'Em league is "1724" and the password is "asu." If there isn't room in the NFL league, email me and I will try to make room.

Murray Chass has another post up on his non-blog. Other than "Murder, She Wrote," "Diagnosis: Murder," Fay Vincent and basic math without all those complicated formulas I can't think of anything that Murray Chass likes better than bunting. Today he writes an ode to bunting called "Bunts are a beautiful thing." Even though he makes bunting sound like wonderful combination of flowers, puppies, kittens, and a warm blankie on a cold winter's night, this column is not a beautiful thing. Murray also, as is tradition now, struggles with sample sizes and with the use of numbers overall.

I don't hate bunting, but I am not in favor of saying how great bunting is while ignoring the fact somebody has to drive in a player on-base who has gotten a bunt hit.

If you’re as big on bunting as I am, seeing Juan Pierre pop a bunt over the third baseman’s head for a hit has to be the highlight of the week.

This was written on August 7th. The highlight of Murray's baseball-watching week was a bunt. I'm not sure if I can say anything about this that is funny or clever. Murray's favorite highlight of the week was a bunt. I think that says about everything I could say.

Pierre’s hit against the New York Yankees, though, was only one of four bunts that grabbed my attention last week.

Several bunts grabbed my attention last week as well. Several of these bunt attempts failed or turned into strikeouts. You won't be hearing about these bunts because Murray Chass only focuses on the bunt attempts that work. Apparently there were four of these.

Actually, bunts have been making a comeback recently. You can see at the bottom of this Tom Verducci column bunts are up 8% this year. In other news, poor managing is up 7% this year as well.

I kid of course. Bunts are great in moderation.

It was definitely a good week for bunting, sadly a lost art in today’s homer-happy game.

"Too many players try to hit home runs and drive guys in when they should be bunting to get on-base so another player can drive this player in. Players are too focused on driving players in and not having other players drive them in. I will celebrate the idea of a bunt and ignore the fact a player who bunts can only score if another player drives him in...possibly with a home run. I'm Murray Chass and I hate everything that has happened past 1992."

If Phil Rizzuto, the Yankees’ Hall of Fame shortstop, were alive, he would rejoice alongside me because as a player he was baseball’s master at bunting and in retirement its most ardent advocate.

Certain players should bunt. A player with a career OPS of 0.706 like Rizzuto better be a good bunter. Especially when his hitting career closely reflects another Hall of Fame player, Jose Offerman, and Rizzuto is most similar by age to the always-beloved David Eckstein.

By the way, did we ever figure out how Phil Rizzuto was in the Hall of Fame? It was his defense, right?

Gardner, the Yankees’ leadoff batter, opened a game against the Chicago White Sox with a bunt single, and Jeter duplicated his effort by also bunting for a hit.

The dual hits led to a four-run inning, and the four-run outburst led to an 18-7 win.

What small detail Murray Chass fails to point out while trying to say the bunting led to an 18 run game and a four-run inning is that two of those runs in the 1st inning were scored because of a selfish homer-happy player, Robinson Cano, hitting a three-run homer. Then, as if to spit in the face of all things holy and right in the world, homer-happy Eric Chavez hit a two-run home run later. What a selfish prick.

So while yes, the Yankees got two guys on-base to start the game through bunting, how the hell did those guys get home? Oh yeah, a home run. So home runs aren't so bad. Somebody has to drive those guys who bunt home to score runs, right? Why lift up bunting and take a huge crap all over the home run, which is how the bunters in this case scored? I have no idea why Murray would hate "homer-happy" players, which is a huge generalization. You do this type of thing when you are Murray Chass, that's why.

When is the last time you saw a team start a game with two bunt hits?

Never! Which means it needs to happen more often! When have you last seen a game start off with two players striking out? Well, it happened last week in this one game and the next two batters hit home runs. So basically, as long as two guys strikeout to start the game, the next two batters should hit home runs. This will happen nearly every time.

When it comes to bunting for hits, though, Pierre is by himself. His bunt hit against the Yankees was his major league-leading 15th bunt hit of the season,

I would love to get a statistic on how many times Juan Pierre has tried to bunt for a base hit and failed. Isn't that the true determinant of how impressive the MLB-leading 15th bunt hit of the season will be? That's what I dislike about Murray. He threws out random statistics and doesn't give them perspective. If Pierre has tried to bunt for a hit 40 times, then a 15th bunt hit is nice. If Pierre has tried 60 times to get a hit by bunting and only succeeded, then it isn't so interesting. That's the problem with Murray Chass, and many people who hate new-age statistics, they want to throw out statistics like RBI's, saves, or hits without giving perspective for the other factors that go into these numbers.

For example, while I was writing this Juan Pierre was at 500 plate appearances this season. Jason Bourgeois is second in MLB with 11 bunt hits. He has 163 plate appearances. So who is really the more impressive bunter? Pierre has 4 more hits in 337 more plate appearances. If Bourgeois had as many plate appearances as Pierre he would have 33 bunt hits at this point.

Perspective, that's what we need before we start fondling Pierre's ass for great bunting.

In his career, which began in 2000, Pierre has 189 bunt hits, including two doubles. Closest to him in that time is Willy Taveras with 122.

Again, plate appearances for each?

Pierre has 7298 plate appearances
Taveras has 2644 plate appearances

Which of these bunters are more impressive? Taveras would have around 337 bunt hits in his career if he had as many plate appearances as Taveras. So Juan Pierre may be a great bunter, but it doesn't seem like he is THE best bunter when compared to other players. By the way, the same goes for Pierre stealing bases. He steals a lot, but gets caught a lot too.

The beauty of Pierre’s bunt against the Yankees was that third baseman Eric Chavez was coming in to protect against a bunt, and Pierre popped the ball over his head, too high for him to intercept, too far behind him to reach back and grab. Chavez was helpless in his effort to snare the ball.

Earlier in that series, and this is beautiful, Eric Chavez swung at a pitch and the outfielder had to watch it go in the seats, helpless in his effort to snare the ball.

Bunts are great. Home runs are great. There is a time and place for each.

“It was set up early in the series with CC pitching,” Pierre said by telephone from Minneapolis Friday, referring to CC Sabathia. “I bunted and Chavez got me out. He made a pretty good play. He was in real close, taking away the bunt down the line.”

So Chavez had gotten Pierre out earlier in the game on a bunt? Murray wants you to overlook this and focus on the fluke bunt that turned into a double. Which of these two things, a bunt for an out or a bunt for a double, happens more often would you think?

Pierre, a left-hand hitter, who turns 34 Sunday, did not claim to be able to pop the ball over the third baseman’s head any time he wanted.

“I wish I could do it regularly,” he said, “because I’d do it all the time. If I get a pitch up and out, I try to hit it over his head. Actually, I want to hit the ball toward the shortstop if he’s charging. I’ve gotten a couple doubles doing that. I’ve been successful with it.”

If a player could pop the ball over the third basemen's head anytime he wanted, he would pretty much do this anytime he wanted, which means he could essentially get a hit anytime he wanted. Just logically, I think every MLB player would love to hit the ball exactly where they wanted to regularly. It would prevent a lot of outs from being made.

Kay and John Flaherty, his partner in the booth, proceeded to debate whether or not Pierre deliberately did what he did.

Interesting debate. I'm kidding, it really isn't interesting.

It was surprising that someone who has been around for Pierre’s entire career would not know of his ability to bunt, using his bat the way a magician uses his wand.

I think the idea of Juan Pierre using his bat like a magician uses his wand is a bit overstated. Pierre is a .296/.346/.363 hitter and as I showed earlier in this post, it isn't like he is the greatest bunter in terms of getting hits while bunting that the majors have ever seen. He's just had more opportunities. If Pierre waves his bat like a wand, I would love to hear the analogy for a player who is a great hitter AND bunts for hits with more effectiveness than Pierre does.

Aybar, the Angels’ shortstop, led off the eighth inning of a game the Tigers were ahead, 3-0, by bunting. Nothing wrong with the leadoff batter trying to get on base in a tight game, right? Except Justin Verlander was pitching a no-hitter and didn’t appreciate Aybar’s attempt to spoil it with a bunt single.

This wasn’t a bush league move in my mind. Bunting is a part of the game of baseball and if Verlander is mowing down hitters why should the batter sit back and not try to change things up? It is Aybar’s job to win the game for his team, so if he thinks he can get a good bunt down, then I have no issue with that. It isn’t like the batter owes it to the pitcher to help him throw a no-hitter.

The pitcher apparently was so unnerved by the bunt that he fielded it and threw the ball away, enabling Aybar to reach second on the two-base error. He went on to score, and the Angels added a second run on Macier Izturis’ single, certainly justifying Aybar’s bunt.

Aybar’s bunt was justified in that he has an obligation to get on-base for his teammates so they can win the game. Whether a run scored because of his bunt or not is irrelevant. He had a right to bunt because he has an obligation to help his team win the game.

If the game had been one-sided, I would agree that bunting to break up a no-hitter is a poor play.

I would absolutely disagree. I don’t have a problem with a player bunting to break up a no-hitter. It sounds like a bitch move, but at what point does a team getting no-hit concede the game and stop doing everything they can do to win the game? In the 6th inning does the team not bunt in some effort to help ensure the odds of them being no-hit are greater? Why would they do that?

I think a team should do whatever it took to not get no-hit. Maybe this is one of the unofficial rules of baseball I don’t understand, but I don’t get why a team in the 7th, 8th, or 9th inning should just accept they need to take fewer steps in order to ensure they don't get no-hit. It makes not of sense to me. I believe a team should take pride in not getting no-hit, which means not laying down.

Not in this instance, however. Pitchers can’t expect the opposing team to accept its fate and lay down its weapons.

Look, any team can accept their fate that they will lose a game, but I think a team should have pride they don’t get no-hit. In football, a team that is getting shut out doesn’t stop throwing the ball to ensure the other team shuts them out. In basketball, a team doesn’t try to stop guarding a player simply because he is hot and scoring a ton of points. Or at least a team shouldn’t do this.

In 1978, the Atlanta Braves stopped Pete Rose’s record-threatening hitting streak at 44 games, and Rose complained bitterly that the Braves’ pitchers did not challenge him with fastballs but instead threw him off-speed stuff. Well, they were trying to get him out, and if he couldn’t handle off-speed pitches, they chose the right strategy.

Pete Rose is probably just angry he lost money. He probably had $500 that his hitting streak would get past 45 games. Would he have preferred it more if the Braves pitchers threw him underhand?

How is throwing off-speed stuff not challenging a hitter who can’t hit off-speed stuff? If he can’t hit the ball, isn’t that challenging?

Verlander would have preferred that Aybar swing away, but his bunt triggered a rally that nearly pulled the game out for the Angels. You can’t legitimately argue with that strategy.

I agree with Murray’s point, but his logic is a bit off. Verlander was angry AT THE TIME the bunt happened. This is why Verlander's concentration was sort of shaken. Verlander, unless I haven’t heard about this ability of his, can not predict the future, so he had no way of knowing the Angels would almost win the game partially because of this bunt. So Verlander was arguing with the strategy of bunting AT ALL in this situation, not knowing the effect on the game.

Sure, it is easy in hindsight to look back and say it was a great move, which it was. But Murray can’t assume Verlander can predict the future. So his criticism of Verlander is correct in that he should have been fine with the bunt, but Verlander probably hated the strategy BEFORE he knew the effect on the outcome of the game. So Verlander shouldn't be criticized for not liking the bunt attempt after it immediately happened, since he didn't know it would help the Angels make it back in the game. He only knew it blew his no-hitter.

Then Murray talks about Alex Rodriguez with the most moral man he knows. It’s not anyone that would immediately come to mind of course. Anyone who follows Murray Chass knows who this is…

I posed that question to Fay Vincent, the former baseball commissioner and the most moral man I know. He provided a good answer, as he usually does.

Murray Chass’s blog seems to be co-written by Fay Vincent. Any time Murray needs to do research he asks Fay Vincent.

“No matter how wealthy someone is,” Vincent said, “a gambler can get to him. Say the player owes him $100,000. He says to the player, ‘Forget what you owe. The next time you know something about the team, an injury, a player going through a tough time, call me and let me know.’ The gambler is looking for an edge.”

What words of brilliance/common sense from Fay Vincent. I think at this point Murray just wants an excuse to put a quote from Fay Vincent in his columns.

I guess we should just be happy Murray didn’t take on Sabermetrics head-on with Fay Vincent. Actually, I sort of enjoy hearing outdated and poorly researched opinions, which is probably why I give Murray Chass hits on his non-blog.


Pat said...

“No matter how wealthy someone is,” Vincent said, “a gambler can get to him. Say the player owes him $100,000. He says to the player, ‘Forget what you owe. The next time you know something about the team, an injury, a player going through a tough time, call me and let me know.’ The gambler is looking for an edge.”

I'm sorry but if I'm Alex Rodriguez and I make roughly $28-30 million a year I'm fine paying the $100,000. More importantly, that would be one really shitty high stakes gambler to pass on a guaranteed $100,000 for information about a sore quad or a shaky relationship considering the deluge of information about injuries and sports thanks to ESPN make me feel as though I could rival Dr. James Andrews and Deadspin give me greater access to players and their, ahem, gifts with cellphone cameras so to speak.

Pat said...

And please excuse the hideous grammar in that last post. I am tired.

rich said...

Pat, the issue is two-fold from my perspective.

1) Athletes are born competitors, they're driven to win. If they're down 100 grand, whatever, they'll just keep pushing until they win. The fact that the guy makes 30M is actually worse because it means that he can keep mindlessly blowing through his money with reckless abandon? "Oh, I'm down 250 grand, meh, whatever" repeated a couple times and that's a problem.

2) It's not about the Arod's of the world, it's about the guys who aren't making ridiculous bank. If you allow ARod to gamble, then you absolutely have to allow everyone to. That's where the problem lies. ARod can afford to have a gambling problem. The utility infielder can't. Yes, I am aware that players like ARod have a much larger impact on the game, but lets say Matt Stairs is in deep with gambling debt during the Phillies NLCS runs and he's asked to strike out every time at bat? Or last year with Cody Ross?

There are plenty of guys who could get into serious trouble with gambling, so it's just easier to ban it altogether. If you make 30M you should be able to find ways to occupy your time.

rich said...

Pierre is by himself. His bunt hit against the Yankees was his major league-leading 15th bunt hit of the season

Pierre has an incredibly 0.335 slugging percentage. He's more likely to hit a HR off a bunt than he is actually by swinging the bat.

Kay and John Flaherty, his partner in the booth, proceeded to debate whether or not Pierre deliberately did what he did.

The answer is no. He went to bunt and got lucky. I'm not taking away from Pierre's ability to bunt at all, but the difference between a bloop bunt over the third baseman's head and fouling it back to the catcher is incredibly small. Pierre probably meant to bunt down the third baseline, but got lucky that it went in the air.

You can’t legitimately argue with that strategy.

Here's why I hate "journalists." Chass points to the end result and says you can't argue with the strategy. Would I argue with the bunt in that situation? No, but it has nothing to do with the end result. If that play ends up as a routine out, then Chass' argument is gone and yet the bunt attempt is still completely justifiable. Using hindsight to justify a the logic to make a decision is stupid and naive.

"Hey I drove down the wrong side of the road and got home 5 minutes faster, that was a great decision."

I posed that question to Fay Vincent

To be fair to Chass, this time it actually made sense to talk to Vincent as he had to deal with the Pete Rose gambling situation and actually has something valuable to say on the issue. Did he? No, but I think that's because Chass is a moron who just didn't ask the right question.

Anonymous said...

And just to prove that Murray isn't "old-school" or "traditional" in regard to stats, he's just bad at math when he says in this weeks blog:

“The wild-card teams would have to use their best pitchers against each other and therefore not have them available early in the Division Series. Scheduling and travel requirements could also work against the wild cards.
From that standpoint alone, the players’ thinking makes sense. But there’s another way to look at it. Under the existing format, 25 percent of the post-season teams (two of eight) are wild cards. If another wild card is added to each league’s playoff, 40 percent of the post-season teams (four of ten) would be wild cards.
In other words, despite the obvious pitching problems, would the addition of wild cards enhance the chances of the World Series winner being a wild card based on simple math?”

No, it wouldn’t, based on “simple” math. Hate to break it to you Murray, but if the two wildcards play each other first, there is STILL a 25% (2 of 8) wildcards left after they play. The math doesn’t change.

Then he goes on making fun of "neo-numbers", whatever that is...

JJJJShabado said...

Fangraphs has butting percentages. I'm going to restrict to those who have 4 or more bunt hits [I want to expand for a decent enough sample size. This is a total of 23.]

1) Howie Kendrick: 85.7% (6)
2) Jimmy Rollins: 80.0% (4)
3) Melky Cabrera: 70.0% (7)
4) Carlos Pena: 66.7% (4)
5) Jose Reyes: 62.5% (5)
6) Adam Jones: 50.0% (6)
7) Ichiro Suzuki: 50.0% (4)
8) Michael Bourn: 47.8% (11)
9) Coco Crisp: 44.4% (4)
10) Peter Bourjos: 44.0% (11)
11) Austin Jackson: 41.7% (10)
12) Cameron Maybin: 41.7% (5)
13) Danny Espinosa: 40.0% (8)
14) Juan Pierre: 38.3% (18)
15) Brendan Ryan: 36.4% (4)
16) Emilio Bonifacio: 34.4% (11)
17) Brett Gardner: 30.4% (7)
18) Omar Infante: 28.6% (4)
19) Chris Getz: 26.9% (7)
20) Erick Aybar: 26.5% (9)
21) Alcides Escobar: 25.0% (6)
22) Ian Desmond: 25.0% (4)
23) Elvis Andrus: 17.9% (5)

So he's slightly below average in terms of bunt percentage.