After Sunday afternoon’s 6-0 loss to the Binghamton Mets, Senators manager Matt LeCroy brought up the extremes he may have to go to generate runs with his struggling offense, “Right now I’m in a situation where I may have to start doing the ‘Gene Mauch way’. As soon as you get on first, you go to second with a bunt. Even with one out, maybe just to get them out there where you have a chance.”
LeCroy lived up to his promise on Tuesday night as Harrisburg attempted three sacrifice bunts and successfully advanced runners twice. Mauch would have been proud of the Senators’ small ball efforts as his teams led their league in sacrifice bunts 15 of his 26 seasons and his 1979 Twins squad had the most, 142, of any team during a 162-game schedule.
But over time, Mauch’s style of managing has gone the way of the old guard. The sacrifice bunt has been fading as a weapon of choice from the manager’s toolbox due to the designated hitter, interleague play, and the rise of sabermetrics.
Famed Orioles’ manager Earl Weaver was one of the first to eschew the strategy, “There is a place for the sacrifice bunt and it’s deep in your closet.” He also famously spoke of an offense’s “most precious possessions”, their 27 outs, that many sabermetricians have taken to heart.
But in his 1983 Baseball Abstract, the father of advanced statistics Bill James also posited, “Several sabermetricians have concluded that the sacrifice bunt is not a very good play, that generally speaking you’ll score more runs if you don’t bunt much than you will if you do…My problems with the studies is that they miss a key point…most managers already know that, and thus don’t use the bunt to try to increase their offensive production, but rather to try to preserve it through a weak spot in the batting order…It seems obvious, but the people who have tried to refute the logic of a sac bunt too often haven’t dealt with it. Managers don’t bunt with the middle of their lineup.”
With 26 games left in the season, something needs to be done to kickstart the Senators’ dormant offense to provide the final push to the playoffs. Giving outs away with sacrifice bunts can’t be any worse than giving outs away with terrible approaches and worse at-bats.