Thursday, April 13, 2006


As far as I can remember, it's happened three times this year. You know the situation: 4th or 5th inning, Yankees are tied, and the leadoff man gets on base. Joe Torre decides that one of the Yankees hitters should sacrifice their at bat to advance the runners. The logic? Get a man into scoring position and let the hitters behind you do the work.

The problem? This almost certainly means that the opposing team will be given a free out. Bunting is almost always a bad idea. It's an old tactic left over from dead-ball era baseball. The Yankees have maybe two players - Miguel Cairo and Bubba Crosby - who are so bad at hitting that it is worth giving up that free out for the extra base. Bunting with Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, as both have been called upon once this year to do, is probably the dumbest move that a manager can make, unless it is in a very specific situation, which I will explain later. Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon are not only excellent hitters - both are capable of posting on base percentages of around .400, but they also are both adept at staying out of the double play.

A hit or a walk does the same job as a bunt, but without giving up an extra out. Jeter and Damon have Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, and Jason Giambi following them in the batting order. This helps support what is called the "big inning offense". Essentially, the Yankees, with so many strong hitters, have the opportunity to put 3-4 runs on the board fairly regularly if the middle of the lineup can come up to the plate with men on base. Baseball commentators may like to badmouth the three run home run, but big home runs are a reality when you have a combined 137 home runs between your 3-6 hitters.

What does bunting screw up here? Well, instead of Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, and Alex Rodriguez getting their shot at the big hit, with Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui following them up, one less batter gets a chance at the big swing. Not only that, but the walk heavy middle of the order may a) Get the leadoff man to 2nd without the bunt anyway and b) May end up walking with 2 outs more often, decreasing the value of that hit (Any base hit with 1 or zero out is more likely to lead to a run than one with two outs).

I'd like to close with one simple statistic. Despite the talk of small ball, during the years from 1998-2003 Derek Jeter sacrificed just 3.3 times per year. From 2004-2005, Derek Jeter sacrificed an average of 11.5 times per year. Draw your own conclusions.

Amount remaining on Torre's contract: 12,798,765 dollars