Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On the (attempted) Santana bunt

Danny Santana:
A 1-for-5 night
with a failed bunt.
The Twins on Tuesday night, having frittered away a 5-0 lead, came into the bottom of the seventh trailing 7-5. They opened the frame with a pair of infield hits (Eduardo Escobar and Eduardo Nunez). This brought up Danny Santana -- who tried, and failed, to bunt the Eduardos over, then struck out. That was followed by a Brian Dozier popup and a Joe Mauer ground out, inning over.

The Santana bunt is a questionable call on Ron Gardenhire's part. I'm not as critical of it as Derek Wetmore is in this piece, but it certainly ought not be viewed by the manager as an "automatic" decision.

The percentage-based objection to a bunt in that situation -- runners on second and first, no outs -- is that, as Wetmore details in the linked piece above,  it reduces "run expectancy" for that inning from 1.556 runs to 1.447 runs.

The thing about run expectancy charts is that the charts don't know who's hitting or pitching. The run expectancy is the same whether it's Pedro Florimon hitting or Mike Trout, the same whether it's David Price pitching or Trevor May. They are an average, a rough guide to the percentages.

As a general rule, I dislike the sac bunt when trailing by multiple runs. The Twins in this case needed a big inning, and they only had nine outs left. The counter-argument is: They're at home (play for the tie at home, for the win on the road), and if Santana gets the runners over, they need only one single from Dozier or Mauer to tie the game. And Terry Francona, the Cleveland manager, isn't likely to walk either intentionally, because that would put the go-ahead run on base.

So part of the question here is: How good do you really think Santana is?  Off his first 272 major league plate appearances, he's hall-of-fame quality, at least for a shortstop. Off his minor league career, not so much.

Wetmore takes Santana's numbers so far at face value. I suspect that, for once, Gardenhire has a more realistic view of what his skills are. The rookie's not really a .300-plus hitter. On the other hand, he's facing a truly LOOGY (Marc Rzepczynski) with the platoon advantage.

On the whole, I want to go for the big inning there, not play for the tie. But it's not an automatic decision either way, and it ought not be treated as such.


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