Mike Scioscia hurting Angels with his sacrifice bunt-happy ways
The Los Angeles Angels have gone 1-2 to start the season. People like to say it’s too early to overreact, but it’s not too early for me to point out some poor decisions by Scioscia. Twice in three games Scioscia has taken away the team’s best chances at scoring runs by having some of his better hitters sacrifice bunt.
First Instance: The Angels and Reds were tied 1-1 in the 7th on Opening Day Monday. Josh Hamilton walked and Mark Trumbo singled to start the inning. It looked like the Angels were going to have a big inning to break open the game … until Scioscia decided to bunt Howie Kendrick. Kendrick, keep in mind, crushed the ball in spring training batting .435. with a 1.204 OPS. Kendrick sacrifices to move Hamilton and Trumbo to second and third with one out and 7-8-9 coming up. The Reds intentionally walked Alberto Callaspo to load the bases, Chris Iannetta struck out, and Jered Weaver was coming up next. Scioscia pinch hit for Weaver with J.B. Shuck, who also struck out.
The game went scoreless until the 13th when Iannetta hit a 2-run single to put the Angels up. They won 3-1, but they could have been up by that margin in the seventh if Scioscia let Howie hit.
Second Instance: The Angels were down 5-4 with nobody out in the top of the 9th Thursday. Mike Trout laced a single to left off Aroldis Chapman to lead off the inning. Erick Aybar, who was 3-for-4 in the game and stung the ball in his previous at-bat (Brandon Phillips made a diving stop on him), was up. Scioscia had him sacrifice bunt to move Trout to second. The Angels then had Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton coming up with one out, Trout on second, and Chapman pitching. Pujols lined out to right, and Hamilton struck out to end the game. Angels lose 5-4.
The Angels have one of the best lineups in baseball, but it’s hard to maximize the team’s potential when Scioscia takes the bat out of his hitters’ hands. Each time I saw Scioscia bunt with a good hitter, I recalled the classic Jimmy Dugan line from “A League of Their Own” when he tells Dottie Henson, “You’ve got a squeeze bunt with our best hitter? Stop thinking with your tits if you want a big inning here.”
My greatest skill when I played was the ability to lay down a bunt with precision, so it’s not easy for me to admit that bunting is often a bad baseball play, but the stats are undeniable.
Via Baseball-Reference.com, this excellent chart shows the run expectancy for every situation. The data was compiled by analyzing what happened in every game from 1999-2002 (expressed in the chart as Tango); 1963, 1967, 1968, 1971 and 1972 (expressed as boli_low); and 1994, 1996, 1999, and 2000 (expressed as boli_high).
As you can see in the chart, a team would be much more likely to score a run (or two) with a runner on first and nobody out than if they had a runner on second and one out. A team would be expected to score nearly two runs with runners on first and second and nobody out, whereas 1.5 runs would be expected with runners on second and third one out. Remember that the Angels had Aybar and Kendrick up in the situations, both of whom are good hitters. If we were talking about sacrificing with the pitcher, I could understand that. But not hitters like Aybar and Kendrick.
Mike Scioscia is not playing the numbers that favor the team. In a 162-game season, not maximizing these opportunities is costly. He should be playing for the most runs possible at all times, not just playing to get one run to tie a game or take a one-run lead. He needs to play to win and win big.