Alcides Escobar and the Worst Bunt Ever
By Aaron Reese
Even though it was the final game of the World Series, it wouldn’t be a complete Royals game without some Monday-morning quarterbacking. Maybe some of you are still reeling from the loss and need some good-old-fashioned nitpicking to lighten your mood. It will be theraputic.
First off, I’m not anti-bunt. Bunting is a tool that can be wielded to great effect. Research suggests that there are good times for bunting, when it increases the chances of scoring in a half inning. Bunting can be useful, but its effectiveness depends heavily on game variables. It is highly situational and every thrown pitch changes how useful a sacrifice bunt can be. Because of the surrounding variables in Alcides Escobar’s sacrifice bunt in the fifth inning of game seven, it was the worst bunt I’ve ever seen.
Madison Bumgarner relieved Jeremy Affeldt and it was quickly apparent that he was not yet comfortable. He couldn’t throw a first pitch strike. Even later in the inning against Lorenzo Cain, on the only first-pitch strike call that Bumgarner got, the pitch was outside and four inches low. Omar Infante singled to lead off the inning after taking a pitch high and outside and then an accidental strike that missed Posey’s target.
When Alcides Escobar came up, he immediately squared for a bunt. Bumgarner threw a curveball way outside that bounced in the dirt. Again, Escobar squared to bunt. This time Bumgarner threw a slider than ran in, just missing Escobar, knocking him to the ground. After this, Escobar incredulously squared for a bunt again.
A double play was unlikely. Baseball-Reference.com shows that Escobar rarely costs his team runs with double plays (+6 career Rdp). He hit .310 in the World Series with three doubles. The count forced Bumgarner to throw a “get-me-over” fastball, but, again, it missed Posey’s target and he put a big, fat, juicy meatball right down the middle.
On 2-0 counts, Alcides Escobar hits .309 with a .603 SLG against fastballs. He knew he’d get a fastball. Ned Yost knew Bumgarner would throw a fastball. I, sitting on a couch at my friend’s house, knew that Bumgarner had to throw a fastball. For once, Bumgarner was wild and giving up line drives. Escobar sac-bunted anyway.
Escobar vs. Bumgarner
Escobar had a good chance of hitting a line drive on the last pitch he was thrown, which would have given him a 62% chance of getting a hit. This would have sent Omar Infante to third or even home. Even if the speedy Escobar hit a groundball, he could have moved Infante up without bunting, or replaced him on the basepaths (an upgrade). Bunting in that situation subtracted too many beneficial outcomes.
This left the Royals with only two outs to work with and giving away an out increases the influence that luck can have on an inning. Nori Aoki sliced a hard liner to left (50/50 shot at a hit), but Juan Perez was just fast enough to haul it in. Madison Bumgarner’s wildness was helped by a bad strike call by the home plate umpire against Lorenzo Cain. It changed the complexion of the plate appearance and ended in a strike out. If Escobar swung at that fastball the odds of scoring during the inning dramatically improved.
Maybe Escobar would have lined out and it wouldn’t matter. It is baseball, after all. But wasting that opportunity was unforgivable. After the inning, Madison Bumgarner settled in and the Royals were helpless against him.