Joe Maddon: “I think the bunt is an overrated play”

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The Rays are having trouble scoring runs. The Joe Maddon-led bunch entered this afternoon’s game with the Red Sox having scored 32 in nine games, the third-worst rate in the American League. The Rays managed just one more run in ten innings against Jon Lester and the Sox bullpen today.

In the top of the ninth inning, the Rays put runners on first and second with no outs. Most managers would bunt in that situation to put two runners in scoring position, but Maddon opted to let James Loney swing away. He eventually struck out, and Yunel Escobar and Ryan Roberts followed up with outs of their own. Asked after the game if he regretted his decision not to bunt, Maddon said:

“For that group of people out there that want guys to bunt all the time, you don’t know the outcome when you choose to do that,” Maddon said, of choosing not to bunt with two runners on base and no outs in the ninth inning, and again following a leadoff double in the 10th. “I think the bunt is an overrated play.”

Using the expected runs matrix at Baseball Prospectus (using 2012 data), runners on first and second with no outs yields 1.44 expected runs, while runners on second and third with one out yields 1.29 expected runs. Theoretically, one would slightly reduce run expectancy by bunting. However, the certainty of scoring that one run goes up. Furthermore, bunting creates a more realistic opportunity for production than letting Loney, who posted a .630 OPS last season, swing away. Though I, like Maddon, think that bunting is overrated in many circumstances, that was not one of those situations.

Yankees acquire James Paxton from Mariners

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The Yankees announced that the club has acquired starter James Paxton from the Mariners in exchange for three prospects: pitcher Justus Sheffield, outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams, and pitcher Erik Swanson.

Paxton, 30, has been among the game’s better starters over the past few years. In 2018, he went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA and a 208/42 K/BB ratio in 160 1/3 innings. The lefty has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining after earning $4.9 million this past season.

Sheffield, 22, is the headliner in the Mariners’ return. He made his major league debut in September for the Yankees, pitching 2 2/3 innings across three appearances. Two of those appearances were scoreless; in the third, he gave up a three-run home run to J.D. Martinez, certainly not an uncommon result among pitchers. MLB Pipeline rates Sheffield as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect and No. 31 overall in baseball.

Thompson-Williams, 23, was selected by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. This past season, between Single-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, he hit .299/.363/.546 with 22 home runs, 74 RBI, 63 runs scored, and 20 stolen bases in 415 plate appearances. He was not among the Yankees’ top-30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline.

Swanson, 25, was selected by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 2014 draft. He spent most of his 2018 campaign between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Overall, he posted a 2.66 ERA with a 139/29 K/BB ratio in 121 2/3 innings. MLB Pipeline rated him No. 22 in the Yankees’ system.

This trade comes as no surprise as the Yankees clearly wanted to upgrade the starting rotation and the Mariners seemed motivated to trade Paxton this offseason. To the Mariners’ credit, they got a solid return for Paxton, as Sheffield likely becomes the organization’s No. 1 prospect. The only worries about this trade for the Yankees is how Paxton will fare in the more hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium compared to the spacious Safeco Field, and Paxton’s durability. Paxton has made more than 20 starts in a season just twice in his career — the last two years (24 and 28). The Yankees are likely not done adding, however. Expect even more new faces before the start of spring training.