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.