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Debating the Adames bunt

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Specifically the second bunt, and specifically the second attempt at the second bunt

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays lost 1-0 to the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday, leaving 13 runners on base and time and time again spoiling potentially great opportunities in what ended up being an 11-inning game.

One of the key moments—one of those “let’s hyper focus on this one moment when in reality there were so many other moments that also mattered” type moments—came in the ninth inning when Willy Adames came up to the plate with runners on first and third and just one out. Adames took strike one (off the plate for what it’s worth; thanks Joe West) and then showed bunt on the second pitch, pulling back for a called ball.

Adames then attempted to bunt twice more, missing both, and the Rays failed to score in the ninth, allowing the game to go to extras where a Chris Ianetta home run gave the Rockies the win.

The Adames attempted bunt caused quite a stir in the DRB slack, so we figured we’d share our thoughts and hear what you lovely readers had to say.

Representing the defense: Ian Malinowski

The Bunts Were a Reasonable Play

First, a note about bunting. We fans of the post-Moneyball generation are programmed to hate bunts. Twenty years ago, there was a culture war over them, and we were right. Bunting the runner over from first to second is not a gritty, selfless, virtuous play. It’s bad baseball, because outs are import. Nowadays, teams understand the base-out states, know the value of multi-run innings, and bunt less often. That doesn’t mean that all bunts are bad. Late in a close game, especially against and with really good pitchers who lower the run environment, a single run becomes more important. In that situation, win probability diverges from run probability, and it becomes more likely that sacrifice bunting is the right call.

BUT WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT BORING, OLD SAC BUNTS!

The first bunt came in the seventh inning, of a 0-0 game. There were two outs, with runners on second and third. A single would score two, while a successful bunt would only score one. So yes, there is a difference between the run values of the possible plays. But with the back of the Rays bullpen pitching like it has been, that difference was pretty small when translated to win expectancy.

Nolan Arenado was playing back, and Willy Adames tried bunting for a base hit. It was a good bunt. Arenado just made a better play. Originally called a hit, the call was overturned on replay and the run was taken off the board.

Yes, Arenado is a great fielder. No, great fielders don’t make the play all the time. This one was really close.

The second bunt came in the bottom of the ninth inning, with Daniel Robertson on third base and Mike Zunino on first. This one was an attempt to sacrifice, but a successful execution brings the win probability to 100%. So once more, not a late-90s culture war situation. The question is only about, “Is Willy Adames more likely to drive the run in trying to bunt, or swinging away?”

Scott Oberg is a tough, right-handed, groundball pitcher. The Rockies played a five-man infield. A ground ball had a decent chance of turning into an inning-ending double play, whereas a normal out (like, from an unsuccessful bunt where the runner is out at home, or a strikeout) brings up the lefty Austin Meadows, with Tommy Pham, the Rays’ best player, following him. Both of those players have a better chance against Oberg than does Adames, so you don’t want to take the bat out of their hands.

Let’s not pretend that the Rockies didn’t know the bunt was a possibility. It was obvious to us. It was obvious to them. They were prepared to defend it, even before Adames showed it. When he did show bunt, he failed badly, bunting through a 1-1 fastball in the zone. Then, with two outs, he tried to bunt again.

Bunting with two strikes is usually a bad call, because a foul bunt means a strikeout, but this situation was mitigated a bit by the fact that Adames wasn’t trying to bunt down the line. Three of the Rockies infielders were on the third base side of the field, and one central, while the first baseman held Zunino on first to keep the double play in order. All Adames was trying to do was push a bunt between the pitcher and the first baseman, hard enough to get by the pitcher. He didn’t need to be fine about it, and he didn’t need to get himself a hit. This wasn’t the type of bunt that rolls foul.

Some might say that, given how badly he looked on the first attempt this at bat, Cash should have taken the sign off, but that’s not Bayesian thinking. If Cash thought Adames had the bunting ability to make that play before the 1-1 attempt, there’s nothing significant in the single whiff that should change his opinion of Adames’s bunting skills. And he’d already shown pretty good bunting skills with the one down the line in the seventh against Marquez, which was a much more difficult bunt to make. Also, Oberg is a good pitcher. Do we think telling Adames to swing away at him, righty-on-righty, starting with a 1-2 count is a recipe for success?

It didn’t work. Sometimes it doesn’t. But this wasn’t an unreasonable tactical decision on Cash’s part.

And for the prosecution: Jim Turvey

The Lack of Adjustment(s) Was Poor

I will cede a few good points to Ian to start this case.

  • Willy Adames’ career groundball rate hovers around 50 percent; against a tough righty with a strong Rockies infield, a double play was certainly possible, and (obviously) far worse than the eventual strikeout.
  • Adames vs. Oberg was a bad matchup. The Rays got unlucky to have one of the worst matchup possibilities of the day right at the very moment they needed it most.

That being said, they didn’t have to compound the issue by ignoring what was right in front of them.

My biggest complaint was not the seventh inning bunt, I was ok with that. I honestly was also ok with (though I didn’t love) the bunt attempt on the 1-1 count in the ninth. It’s really that bunt attempt on the 1-2 count that I hate.

Now, Ian points out that it is not Bayesian thinking for Cash to see Adames’ first attempt and change his mind on whether he could successfully get the bunt down. To which I respond: Dear Thomas Bayes, watch this ish:

One might respond by saying: Sure, that was ugly but did you see the bunt in the seventh, it was gorgeous, so you should weight that one bunt as heavily as you are weighing this one.

That ignores a few key factors, though. In the seventh, Adames was facing German Marquez for the third time in the game. He had gotten a chance to see him a couple times already, and for what it’s worth, the two were teammates for a year-plus in Charlotte. In the ninth, he was facing Scott Oberg, a pitcher he had never seen prior to Wednesday, and likely had no real scouting report on.

There’s also the outcome of the first bunt. Nolan Arenado did his best Brooks Robinson impressive, gobbling up a nice bunt and nabbing Adames on a play so close it had to go to replay. How is that relevant to the bunt in the ninth? Adames is clearly attempting to push the bunt away from Arenado (and the rest of the Rockies left side of the infield).

If his ninth inning first bunt attempt was truly comparable to the seventh in that he was facing Marquez again and they were allowing him to lay it down wherever: OK, I’m in. Even with two strikes. You proved it, Willy. Instead, Cash reportedly asked him to lay it down again, and the result was eerily similar to the first attempt.

Results-based thinking is never a great path to go down. And as pointed out before, this was hardly the only moment the Rays wasted in their 1-0 loss (again: 13 LEFT ON BASE!), but it does sting a little bit more given the moment at which it happened and the final outcome of the game.

So what say ye, DRB readers?

Poll

What do you make of the Adames bunt attempts?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    I have a chest tattoo of Thomas Baynes and am able to calmly approach every situation analytically; it was the right move
    (48 votes)
  • 34%
    I will scream and yell about one minor decision based off one probably-not-telling swing and you’ll like it; it was the wrong move
    (60 votes)
  • 38%
    Don’t drag me into this
    (67 votes)
175 votes total Vote Now