The bunting ways of Ron Roenicke

Since Ron Roenicke took over as manager in 2011, the Milwaukee Brewers have bunted an MLB-leading 578 times. And if you’re even somewhat acquainted with sabermetric philosophies, you’re aware that sabermaticians frown on bunting, particularly sacrifice bunting.  Now, if we exclude bunts from pitchers, the above number goes down to 380, which is still crazy high and second-most among major league ball clubs. And Lord knows how many of those were suicide squeezes, Roenicke’s go-to move in the late innings.

Of those 380 bunts, 122 of them have gone for a base hit which is not a bad percentage at all, but that also means the Brewers gave the other team 258 “free” outs. That’s 9.5 games worth of outs and a poor way to waste them. If I were a manager — which I, of course, am not qualified to be — I would outlaw bunting from position players. Pitchers should almost always bunt with runners on with less than two outs, but regular hitters? No way. Why give away outs?

To further that point, sacrifice bunting a runner from first to second with zero outs actually decreases your chance of scoring. A team is expected to score 0.831 runs when they have a runner on first base with no outs, but the run expectancy dwindles to 0.644 runs with a runner on second with one out. A manager is sabotaging his own team when he calls for the sacrifice bunt, and that’s what Roenicke has been doing to the Brewers.

However, in Roenicke’s defense. his team drastically cut down on bunts in 2014. Below are the number of bunts by non-pitchers along with how the Brewers stacked up with the rest of the league since 2011.

Year Bunts MLB Rank
2011 81 13th
2012 120 1st
2013 105 1st
2014 74 9th

Even though the sabermetric movement has made its way inside baseball’s front offices, it doesn’t seem like this aspect of it has reached Milwaukee yet. Still, we cannot assume that every bunt by the Brewers was ordered by Roenicke. Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, among others, have both laid down plenty of bunts on their own. We can’t blame Roenicke for that, but at the same time, we actually can. If he gives his players free rein to do what they feel is right at the plate, the end result should and does fall on him.

After the epic collapse of the Milwaukee Brewers last season, I was surprised and a little disappointed Roenicke was retained as manager. And not just because of his love for bunts. If 2015 comes and goes without a postseason trip for the Brewers, he’ll most likely be packing his bags, and hopefully a manager with a sabermetric mind will fill his place. Perhaps Gabe Kapler? I dare to dream.

But in the meantime, let’s just hope he keeps pulling back on the bunts.



3 thoughts on “The bunting ways of Ron Roenicke

  1. Alex

    I think bunts should be part of the arsenal a team uses. Using your data if the position players attempted 380 bunts and got hits 122 of them, that’s a .321 batting average. That sounds pretty good to me. But the other guys getting outs are not giving it away. Some of those guys got on because of error. What’s the OBP for bunting by the Brewers? A .321 average is good for any at bat. On any at bat you are more likely to get an out then get on base (That’s why .321 is considered good), so your comment of “giving away outs” is ridiculous..
    I will not disagree that Roenicke uses bunts much more frequently. What I would like to know is if he uses them more often against poorly fielding teams (poor fielding P/C/3B/1B) or whether he bunts willy nilly. The point is to use a teams weakness to your advantage. If a team has a weak bullpen then the faster you get to it the better your chance to win. If a team is not good at fielding then bunt and watch the runners go, especially if you have speedsters like Gomez who will force bad throws. What is the percentage of bunts being turned into DP vs ground balls in general? My impression is that with bunting you are less likely to get a double play than a ground ball to the infield as long as your batter is decent at bunting. Allow the better bunters and speedsters to bunt to keep rallies going and force the other team to get you out. A bunt is less of a rally killer than a double play, that’s why you agree pitchers should bunt.
    I am wondering if you are saying that a guy like let’s say Mark Reynolds who swings for the fences but also strikes out a bunch is a better at bat than bunting. He had a sub Uecker average this year with a chunk of it as a platoon. Striking out is giving away outs, at least with a bunt the runner advances. If Reynolds hit .321 we wouldn’t have any discussions about the need for a first baseman next year. Maybe Reynolds would have had a better average if he had bunted instead of swinging for the fences.


    1. Justin Schultz Post author

      Let me start by responding to your Mark Reynolds comment. There’s no way in Bernie Brewer’s mustache that Reynolds would have a better batting avergae if he bunted every time up. He’s a terrible bunter and extremely slow.

      Sure, .321 is a good average on bunts, but I don’t care about batting average. wOBA is a much more useful stat and while I don’t have what the Brewers wOBA is on bunts, I can promise you it’s extremely low. Bunting can be the right call on very rare occasions, but should not be used as much as Roenicke calls for it.

      Thanks for your input.


  2. Alex

    So my extreme example of Reynolds is ridiculous, but so is eliminating an arrow from your quiver against a poor fielding team by assuming your fast bunter is going to get an out.
    I admit bunting against the Cardinals is a bad option with Molina behind the plate, but if AJ Pierzinski is in the battery, that sounds like a decent call (when Molina was injured the Cards had him behind the plate most of the time). Sometimes the threat of bunting forces the other team to pull the infield in which increases the chances of getting a ball through the infield. Do your stats reflect when a team has the infield in vs when they are playing at double play depth?
    What I am saying is that the numbers you are using are enlightening and helpful in making decisions, but are an oversimplification of what happens on the field.
    Thank you for your input.



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