A Bunting ManuelBy: Sean Pidgeon
Willie Harris’ game ending web gem was deflating to watch. That catch was literally the difference between victory and defeat. If Rod Barajas’ smoking line drive hits turf, Reyes and Wright score and the Mets win. But thanks to Karma, Harris snared that ball in a full extension dive, preserving the Nats 4-3 lead and ending the game.
Yes, Karma beat the Mets. It was Jerry Manuel’s fault. The baseball gods could not let the Mets win and excuse Manuel’s boneheaded managing. Manuel lost the game twice, in the 8th and 9th, on wasteful sacrifice bunts.
The headline in the Post claims, “Clutch Hits Elude Mets.” If a manager wants his players to get clutch hits, he should maximize the number of at-bats with runners on base. The Mets had two less outs to work with in the 8th and 9th because Jerry gave them away to Washington with useless bunts (and the first on a 3-1 count, no less).
If this game is remembered (which it won’t be), Mets fans will remember it for two things on the field (Jose Reyes’ return is the big story, but that is outside the box score). Fans will remember Harris’ heartbreaking catch and Jeff Francoeur’s double play groundout in the 3rd with the bases loaded and no outs. And Frenchy’s at-bat was awful! Tommy Bennett of Baseball Prospectus tweeted, “Mets win expectancy went from 73.3% to 56.6% after Francouer’s plate appearance.”
But I can forgive Frenchy. Frenchy’s been hitting the crap out of the ball so far, and even taking some walks, which he did in the 9th right before Barajas’ at-bat. Yeah, Frenchy swung at a couple bad pitches in the 3rd. Sure, I want him to have a better batting eye, but that takes practice and skill. I played baseball (albeit only up to the collegiate level), and it’s hard to lay off pitches floating out of the strike zone. But Manuel’s decision making takes no athletic skill. By making his team bunt, behind by one run, with a man on first and no outs in both the 8th and 9th innings, Manuel blew the game through sheer stupidity.
In Chapter 4-2 of the Jonah Keri-edited Baseball Between the Numbers, James Click charts the changes in Win Expectancy after sacrificing with a man on first and no outs.* When a team bunts the runner over in the 8th with a one run deficit, their win expectancy goes down about 3.8%!** And in the 9th inning, that bunt drops the win expectancy by about 4.8%! A manager who makes his team bunt in these situations is making it harder for his team to win.
And just think; if Willie Harris doesn’t replace Adam Dunn in left, Barajas’ hit falls in, Alex Cora gets verbally felated for doing the Little Things and being a Team Player who pushes the runner over, and Manuel gets praised for his brilliant managerial strategy.
*This chart is on page 131, if you have the book or wish to buy it (or maybe borrow it from a library).
**Unfortunately, I did not find any charts further extrapolating Win Expectancy based on counts. When Fernando Tatis bunted in the 8th, the count was 3-1. I don’t have the statistics, but I’m sure they’d show sacrificing ahead in the count is even worse than sacrificing behind in the count.