Brewers manager Craig Counsell received criticism after Sunday’s 2-1 walk-off loss to the Rays. The Brewers had runners on first and second and no outs, but Counsell chose not to have Manny Pina lay down a sacrifice bunt. Pina grounded into a double play, and then Keon Broxton grounded out to end a zero-run inning.
Counsell didn’t back down from his decision to let Pina swing away. Per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Counsell said, “There are places to try something different and there are places to be consistent. Overall, if we’re trying to score runs, I don’t think bunting is the way to score a lot of runs.”
Counsell elaborated. “First of all, the bunt is not a guaranteed success. You put on a bunt sign, and it’s not 100% guaranteed success. People say, ‘He’s a big-league player, so he should be able to bunt.’ I don’t think that’s a fair thing to say, and it’s just not true. I can’t make a decision on something that’s not true. The players who are coming up next factor into the decision. The player up at bat factors in the decision. The thing we were mad about yesterday was the result. Manny hit a ball very hard. … He just hit the ball really hard at somebody. I understand one run is far more impactful late in the game. But we still have to put people in position to succeed. In that situation, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”
He’s right. Playing for one run is to play for a tie; playing for two or more runs is to play for a win. Furthermore, according to Baseball Prospectus, the runs expected from having runners on first and second with no outs is 1.48. With runners on second and third and one out, it’s 1.37. It doesn’t seem like much, but if one often chooses to bunt in these situations, the lost runs add up over time.
Fans also tend to remember bad outcomes over good outcomes. So, they vividly remember when Counsell chose not to bunt and it backfired, but they don’t remember when Counsell had his batter swing away and it led to a three-run inning.