Los Angeles Dodgers: To Bunt or Not to Bunt?
The stage was set for another late-inning Dodgers comeback.
With runners at first and second and nobody out, the Dodgers sent Jerry Hairston to the plate in hopes that a successful sacrifice bunt would advance both runners. The key word there being "successful."
Unfortunately, after fouling off a pair of bunt attempts, Hairston was left to swing the bat with two strikes as he promptly grounded the ball up the middle for a routine double play.
Now with two outs and a runner at third, James Loney stepped into the batters box hoping to become the latest in a string of ninth inning heroes. Those hopes were dashed, however, as Loney sent a slow liner to the shortstop, who made the easy play to first, ending the game.
As with any excruciating loss like the one Tuesday night, the questions immediately shifted to a myriad of "what if..." scenarios, the most common being, "what if Hairston hadn't tried to bunt at all?"
So as Twitter was set ablaze with debate regarding the ideology behind a sacrifice bunt, I decided to evaluate the various options.
So here's the situation that faced manager Don Mattingly:
With good speed on the base paths (Kemp at second, Ethier at first), Mattingly had Hairston, Loney and A.J. Ellis due up.
If you were Don Mattingly during Tuesday night's game, would you have told Jerry Hairston to bunt?
The pitcher on the mound was John Axford, who had converted eight of his nine save opportunities this season with an ERA of 3.63.
First up to bat is Hairston, with the only true opportunity to sacrifice (assuming the Dodgers wouldn't let Hairston swing and then ask Loney to bunt). In 81 plate appearances this season, Hairston has hit .371 with a .450 on-base percentage. He also has one sacrifice bunt on the season and had grounded into one double play.
In one career plate appearance against Axford, Hairston was 0/1.
After Hairston was James Loney, who is hitting .252 on the season and was 0/3 career against Axford. Following Loney was Ellis, who is hitting .315 on the season and has had two walk-offs in the past two weeks.
Heading into the ninth, both Hairtson and Loney were 0/3, while Ellis was 1/3.
If Mattingly decided to bunt (which he did), the goal would be to break up the double play opportunity and move the go-ahead run into scoring position. If executed successfully, in theory, both Loney and Ellis would have had chances to win the game.
If Mattingly decided not to bunt, the Dodgers would have three opportunities (barring a double play) to knock in some runs instead of two.
While in most cases the decision to bunt here seems like an obvious one, what complicates the situation is the batters due up. Sacrificing the at-bat of Hairston, who has been one of the team's best hitters all season, to bring up Loney, who has been one of the most frustrating hitters, is where the rub lies.
The reason, however, that I would advocate for bunting in this situation is the presence of Ellis.
If Hairston is able to lay down a successful bunt (which should be expected of any major league hitter), all Loney needs to do is put a fly ball into the outfield at the very least.
If the bunt were successful and Loney was unable to score the run, that still leaves the Dodgers with Ellis due up—arguably the best hitter on the team outside of Kemp and Ethier.
Of course, the presence of Ellis could allow the Brewers to intentionally walk Ellis, bringing up Dee Gordon, but even Gordon has notched a walk-off single already this season.
Regardless of how things would have played out, the decision to bunt in that situation is the right one. If Hairston had successfully executed the sacrifice, the Dodgers would have put themselves in the best possible situation to not only tie the game, but to win.
Then again, at least his inability to bunt gave us something to talk about today.
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