Joe Girardi’s use of the bullpen, or lack thereof, has drawn considerable scrutiny over the last 12 hours, and with good reason. Being overlooked, however, has been his use, or misuse, of the bunt.
Let’s rewind back to Friday night. With the game tied 5-5 in the top of the 12th, Chad Moeller led off the inning with a double. Up next was Brett Gardner, who promptly bunted to advance Moeller to third. Not surprisingly, Derek Jeter followed with a weak groundout that didn’t score the run, after which Colin Curtis struck out to end the potential rally.
Was it a smart decision to bunt in that situation? Thanks to Baseball Prospectus’ run expectancy matrix for 2010, we can take a look at how Girardi’s decision measured up in a context neutral environment.
2010 Run Expectancy Matrix
|Runners On:||No Outs||One Out||Two Outs|
|No Men On||0.49||0.26||0.11|
|Second and Third||1.99||1.39||0.59|
|First and Third||1.83||1.10||0.47|
|First and Second||1.43||0.87||0.45|
Based on the above chart, we can see that advancing the runner from second to third actually decreased the Yankees’ expected run output from 1.11 to 0.93. Of course, there is something to be said for having Gardner bunt against the lefty Oliver to set up Jeter, who has hit well against southpaws. Of course, because context is being considered, you could also throw in Jeter’s struggles on the road, high propensity for hitting ground balls as well as the very poor look to his at bats that evening. Still, this one is debatable, so you can give Girardi a pass.
The next night, the Yankees found themselves nursing a 6-5 lead in the top of the ninth when a single and stolen base by Eduardo Nunez once again gave them a runner of second with no outs. The batter was Cervelli, so the idea of bunting wouldn’t have been outlandish. However, Alexi Ogando quickly fell behind 3-0. So, naturally, Cervelli would at least be taking a pitch, right? Not so, according to Girardi, who had his catcher lay down a sacrifice in spite of being far ahead in the count.
Looking back to the matrix, we can see that not only is a man on second with no outs better than a man on third with one out, but having runners on first and second with one out also leads to a higher run expectancy. In other words, bunting 3-0 was the height of folly.
After the game, Girardi tried to reason that 3-0 was a perfect time to bunt because Cervelli could be sure of a strike. That line of thinking seems to imply that Ogando wasn’t trying to throw the 2-0 pitch over the plate, and wouldn’t have done the same on 3-1. Regardless, the chances of scoring would have been greatly enhanced by a Cervelli walk, so not having him take a pitch defies justification. What’s more, with Golson on deck, Girardi could have then sacrificed the runners to second and third for the switch hitting Swisher and Teixeira.
Finally, there is the bunt from last night’s game to consider. This time around, the Yankees and Rays were locked in a scoreless tie when Austin Kearns led off the 11th inning with a single against the righty Grant Balfour. Curtis Granderson, who entered the game with an .818 OPS against right handers, then worked the count to 2-0 before being asked to sacrifice. Coincidentally, following Granderson were the same two hitters, Jeter and Curtis, who failed to get the job done in the aforementioned situation from Friday’s game. This time, however, the bunt only moved the runner to second and Jeter had to face a right hander (.609 OPS split this season). Basically, Girardi opted to have Granderson, a legitimate power threat against righties who had worked himself to a hitter’s count, give his at bat away so a rookie and a struggling Jeter could shoot for a go ahead single. Once again, the Yankees’ rally was thwarted in no small part because of the strategy employed by their manager.
Over the final three weeks of the season, and into the post season, better game strategy and bullpen management could wind up being vital to the Yankees chances of repeating. Based on the events of the last week, it’s hard to have too much confidence.