Myself and several others have been frustrated with the frequency of sacrifice bunt attempts this season. Watching the team with Ozzie Guillen as a manager for over five years, it's not like we can say we're surprised. Most of us believe there are proper situations where the bunt is a good strategy, namely late in the game playing for one run. Guillen feels the bunt is necessary more often than that.
According to this baseball-reference page, the White Sox currently lead the majors with 15 sacrifice bunt attempts, and are on pace to attempt the sac bunt 66% more often than the next closest AL team (Detroit, led by Leyland who spent most of his time managing in the NL). For a team getting so much practice attempting the sac bunt, the White Sox are bottom-five in the AL for success rate. Teams with known SABR-oriented front offices like Oakland and Boston have just two and three sacrifice bunt attempts respectively. Baltimore is honoring the legend of Earl Weaver quite proper by not having attempted a sacrifice bunt yet this season.
I decided to go through the game logs and record every bunt attempt (both sacrifice and for base hit) to see the impact on our runs scored. Included is the game date and result, inning, baserunners, bunt attempt, and what happened following the attempt. Results and analysis are below.
2nd ---: Pierre bunt-for-hit attempt foul on 0-0. AB result is strikeout.
2nd 12-: Morel sac bunt attempt on 0-0, lead runner forced out at 3rd.
4th ---: Pierre bunt-for-hit attempt foul on 1-0. AB result is groundout.
1st ---: Pierre bunt-for-hit attempt foul on 0-0. AB result is groundout.
4th 12-: Ramirez sac bunt attempt foul on 0-0. Sac bunt attempt on 0-1, popped into triple play.
5th 1--: Pierre sac bunt on 1-0, lead runner to 2nd. Lead runner stranded.
2nd ---: Morel bunt-for-hit attempt foul on 0-0. AB result is flyout.
6th --3: Morel squeeze bunt attempt foul on 2-1. AB result is strikeout.
10th 1--: Pierzynski sac bunt on 0-0, lead runner to 2nd. Lead runner stranded.
12th -2-: Ramirez sac bunt attempt on 0-0, singles, lead runner to 3rd. Lead runner later scores.
2nd ---: Lillibridge bunt-for-hit attempt foul on 0-0. AB result is flyout.
4th 1--: Lillibridge sac bunt on 0-0, lead runner to 2nd. Lead runner stranded.
8th 1--: Pierzynski sac bunt attempt foul on 0-0. Sac bunt attempt foul on 0-1. Sac bunt attempt popped out on 0-2.
2nd ---: Ramirez bunt-for-hit attempt foul on 1-1. AB result is groundout.
3rd ---: Pierre bunt-for-hit attempt foul on 1-1. AB result is lineout.
7th 1--: Pierre sac bunt on 1-0, lead runner to 2nd. Pierre safe at 1st on error, lead runner to 3rd. Lead runner out trying to score on wild pitch.
3rd -2-: Pierre sac bunt on 0-0, lead runner to 3rd. Lead runner later scores.
2nd ---: Ramirez bunt-for-hit attempt foul on 1-1. AB result is flyout.
8th ---: Pierre bunt-for-hit attempt foul on 0-0. AB result is lineout.
1st ---: Pierre bunt single on 1-0. Pierre caught stealing 2nd.
6th 1-3: Morel squeeze bunt on 0-0. Lead runner scores, runner advanced to 2nd.
3rd 1--: Ramirez sac bunt attempt foul on 0-0. AB result is single. Lead runner later scores.
3rd 12-: Morel sac bunt attempt popped out on 0-0.
7th ---: Ramirez bunt-for-hit attempt foul on 0-1. AB result is flyout.
8th 1--: Beckham sac bunt attempt on 0-0, lead runner forced out at 2nd.
3rd 1--: Pierre sac bunt attempt foul on 2-1. AB result is fielder’s choice, lead runner out.
9th 12-: Pierzynski sac bunt on 0-0. Runners to 2nd and 3rd. Runners stranded.
6th ---: Pierre bunt-for-hit attempt foul on 1-0. AB result is strikeout.
9th 1--: Beckham sac bunt on 0-0. Runner to 2nd. Runner stranded.
First, I'll mention the bunt-for-hit attempts (bunts when no one was on base). There were 12 total. On 11 of those attempts, the ball went foul. Success rate = .083. In all 11 of those instances, the batter recorded an out later in the AB. Being 0-fer after the foul bunt is in part due to bad luck, but also in part because the batter is surrendering a strike attempting a low-percentage single. One of the bunt single attempts with no one on was successful, but Pierre was immediately thrown out trying to steal second.
Next, the sacrifice bunt attempts. There were 17 total. Eight times, the sac bunt did not work. Six of those times, the bunt itself caused an out without the runner(s) advancing, or worse. One time, the batter struck out after failing to get the bunt down. On the other time, the batter singled after failing to get the bunt down.
This means there were nine instances in which the sacrifice bunt led to advancing runners, or better (single, error). Five of these times, the advanced runner(s) were stranded. One instance led to the advanced runner getting thrown out at home on a pass ball (bad luck). Three times, the runner was successfully brought home after being advanced. In total, the lead runner scored just four of the 17 times a sac bunt was attempted while he was on base. Success rate = .235. There is an argument that the Sox wouldn't have done any better had they not attempted sacrifices in the same situations. My response is that letting a pitcher have a 1 or 2-pitch out reduces his fatigue for the rest of the inning, and that last season MLB hitters had an OPS 40 points higher against pitchers with men on base. Is the chance of advancing the runner worth taking the bat out of a hitters' hand with the advantage of the pitcher being in the stretch?
Using Baseball Prospectus' run expectancy matrix, I calculated our expected runs both before and after each AB in which our hitters put a sac bunt in play. Our expected runs before the sac bunt were 13.20, and 11.24 after. The difference of 1.96 runs does not seem like much. But this difference extrapolated for the rest of our season would be almost 19 runs. Roughly 2 wins lost due to excessive and sub-par bunting.
It seems futile to keep bringing up the topic of bunting while Ozzie is at the helm. I hope the struggles some of our players have had lead Guillen to be more selective with the call, and that those who are a lock to bunt in certain situations at least continue to and hopefully improve in moving the runner along successfully.