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.
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.