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St. Louis Cardinals bunting – 2000 to present

One of the challenges in trying to have a general, but meaningful discussion of bunting by the St. Louis Cardinals – or any other Major League Baseball team for that matter – is a lack of good data. While play-by-play detail from every game exists, how might that huge volume of raw data be mined for this specific information?

I asked researcher Tom Orf that question, and is seemingly always the case, he was up for the challenge. Tom extracted all 1,731 bunt plays by the Cardinals since the opening of the 2000 season and summarized them by year.

Before I show the summary data, some explanation is required.

This data is not the be-all, end-all. It is sourced from all plays that mention “bunt” in the play description. For example, if a player had to switch off from the bunt because he was unable to get it down, it would not be included.

The key columns are highlighted. They are PA (plate appearances), AB (at-bats) and SH (sacrifice hits or more appropriately, sacrifice bunts).  Because of the goose eggs in several other columns, a simple formula can be used: PA = AB + SH, where AB is not a sacrifice bunt and SH is a successful sacrifice bunt, advancing the runner(s) on base.

I then created a new column, which I called SH/PA. That is the rate of successful sacrifice bunts per bunting plate appearance.

Though I may have implied above that AB represents unsuccessful bunts, that is not entirely the case. In fact, along with the outs that did not result in the runner(s) advancing, those at-bats include the cases in which the batter bunted for a base hit. That is reflected in the standard BA/OBP/SLG/OPS columns. Obviously, not making an out while bunting is even better than a productive out made in advancing the runner(s).

So, in my thinking, a quick way to gauge bunting success is to add the number of bunts for hits (H) to the number of successful sacrifice bunts (SH) and dividing that by the number of bunting plate appearances (PA). That is the far right column I called “Positive outcome”.

I split the summary data into two sections, the La Russa (2000-2011) and Matheny (2012-2013) years. I did that to provide a comparison since the new skipper has come under criticism from some for his bunt deployment.

St. Louis Cardinals, bunting, 2000 through April 18, 2013

Matheny G PA R AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF ROE GDP BA OBP SLG OPS SH/PA Pos outcome
2013 YTD 6 11 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 9 0 0 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.818 0.818
2012 82 119 3 50 12 0 0 0 2 0 0 6 0 69 0 5 4 0.240 0.240 0.240 0.480 0.580 0.681
totals 88 130 3 52 12 0 0 0 2 0 0 6 0 78 0 5 4 0.231 0.231 0.231 0.462 0.600 0.692
La Russa G PA R AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF ROE GDP BA OBP SLG OPS SH/PA Pos outcome
2011 93 131 2 47 11 0 0 0 2 0 0 6 0 84 0 1 1 0.234 0.234 0.234 0.468 0.641 0.725
2010 81 106 2 40 6 0 0 0 1 0 0 7 0 66 0 3 1 0.150 0.150 0.150 0.300 0.623 0.679
2009 85 123 3 55 16 0 0 0 0 0 0 9 0 68 0 3 1 0.291 0.291 0.291 0.582 0.553 0.683
2008 89 119 3 48 7 0 0 0 1 0 0 12 0 71 0 4 2 0.146 0.146 0.146 0.292 0.597 0.655
2007 76 111 4 43 13 0 0 0 1 0 0 5 0 68 0 2 2 0.302 0.302 0.302 0.605 0.613 0.730
2006 80 119 6 48 13 0 0 0 4 0 0 8 0 71 0 0 2 0.271 0.271 0.271 0.542 0.597 0.706
2005 91 140 17 63 19 0 0 0 15 0 0 7 0 77 0 1 3 0.302 0.302 0.302 0.603 0.550 0.686
2004 88 128 7 55 19 0 0 0 5 0 0 7 0 73 0 4 4 0.345 0.345 0.345 0.691 0.570 0.719
2003 103 162 8 75 27 0 0 0 6 0 0 8 0 87 0 8 0 0.360 0.360 0.360 0.720 0.537 0.704
2002 111 180 9 97 43 0 0 0 7 0 0 8 0 83 0 6 1 0.443 0.443 0.443 0.887 0.461 0.700
2001 96 156 8 73 36 0 0 0 4 0 0 10 0 83 0 2 0 0.493 0.493 0.493 0.986 0.532 0.763
2000 88 126 1 47 23 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 79 0 1 6 0.489 0.489 0.489 0.979 0.627 0.810
totals 1081 1601 70 691 233 0 0 0 46 0 0 89 0 910 0 35 23
avg season 90 133 6 58 19 0 0 0 4 0 0 7 0 76 0 3 2 0.319 0.319 0.319 0.638 0.568 0.714

A few things jumped out at me.

Note the sheer number of bunt attempts by Matheny’s hitters, 119, in his first season. That is 14 less than La Russa’s teams averaged during his final 12 years at the helm of the Cardinals.

However, there was a major spike that elevated TLR’s average. During the 2001-2003 years, his clubs averaged a whopping 166 bunt attempts per season.

Over his final six seasons, La Russa’s teams averaged 118 bunt attempts per season. In other words, that is almost identical to Matheny’s 119 in 2012.

Look at the number of games in which bunts were attempted. La Russa’s teams averaged bunts in 90 contests each season, or about 56 percent of the games. In 2012, Matheny called bunts in just 82 games, barely half of the total.

Bunting seems to be clustered. In the games which they attempted any bunts, the Cardinals have averaged just under 1.5 bunts per game.

In terms of bunting for base hits, La Russa’s 2000-2004 clubs were amazingly proficient, ranging from a batting average of .345 to .489 in those situations during that five-year period.

That took a dramatic downturn in recent years, however. It is worth noting that Matheny’s 2012 club’s .240 batting average while bunting is higher than that of three of La Russa’s last four clubs (2008-2011).

Looking at the SH/PA numbers suggests the years when the batting average for bunt hits is higher, the success rate in sacrificing was a bit lower. That is not particularly surprising to me.

Putting it all together, Matheny’s “Positive outcome” bunting rate of .681 last season (or 68.1 percent of the time) is below La Russa’s average of 71.4 percent from 2000 through 2011.

In only two of those 12 years did TLR’s clubs come in below 68.1 percent. However, those were both in recent seasons, 2008 and 2010.

Additional questions

Of course, this summary data just scratches the surface. Some of my follow on questions include:

-         When was the bunt called – in terms of number of outs, inning and score?

Now, one might argue that not bunting at all (not giving up an out) and having the batter hit away could offer a greater chance of success. In order to understand that, one would want to know who the batters were. After all, a pitcher, for example, is going to have a lower batting average than most all position players.

-         Who bunted – pitchers versus position players and how did their success vary?

Then, it might lead to wanting to know who bunted the most often and was best at it. Perhaps the recent downturn in results is personnel-related?

-         Who were the most frequent and best bunters?

Answering these and other questions may require manipulation of a 1,700-plus line spreadsheet, so it could take considerable time and effort.

Still, do you have other bunting-related questions? Let’s discuss this below as I am learning as I go. Thank you for reading and hopefully commenting.

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19 Responses to “St. Louis Cardinals bunting – 2000 to present”

  1. Nutlaw says:

    Well, whether it be six or seven bunting strikeouts per year, I find that number entirely unacceptable.

    Although I agree with the metric used in the right column, something that weighs bunt hits higher than sac bunts might show overall effectiveness better. One typically assumes that an attempted bunt will accomplish something (the success rates here are surprisingly low to me), but figuring out whether trading an out for advancing a runner is the trick.

    In a successful sac bunt, how many bases were runners advanced? How many runners went on to score? Are more runners LOB during innings when bunting than when not?

    • Brian Walton says:

      You are a tough customer, unhappy with a 4.5 percent strikeout rate. There is no way to know how many ABs that begin as bunts get called off after two strikes, either.

      I thought about weighing bunt hits higher, but I wanted to start with an outcome-based measure that was not subjective. Further, I suspect that in many bunt situations, a hit is not as likely because the defense is expecting the bunt. My guesstimate is that bunt hits are more often surprise plays (perhaps even with the bases empty) versus in situations where the primary intent is to move the runners over.

      I guess the answer lies in the spreadsheet…

  2. Bw52 says:

    I wonder when somone can figure out why Jaime Garcia can`t pitch worth a crap away from Busch stadium.

  3. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    Phillies are one of the only teams “desperate” enough to assuage their aggressiveness against a trick pitch artist………. Garcia was unlucky having a weak defense……… When that guy in the box is just looking at you………..like you’re meat……..its usually because you are……….. that arm is starting to act up…….every fastball a contest……. he is continually shaking it loose from the shoulder down…subconsciously searching for a pain source……….. I’ve seen that allot in this age of anti inflammatory anesthetization……………………… all the big bankroll teams (by fox) who needed pitching depth…….but didn’t need pitching depth?????? are floating to the surface……. there is a whole new age of collusion upon us……….. I don’t see DeWitt shooting bullets from his surplus at this critical time…….
    He is waiting for Jamie to necessitate it, so he will be the victim of “bad luck”………..

  4. Brian Walton says:

    I was surprised that Garcia did not throw more balls. The Phillies are obviously over-aggressive, having not taken even one walk in four straight games prior to Friday. (Garcia did walk two in his three innings.)

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Pete Kozma has one walk awarded, for the young season.

      • crdswmn says:

        And Daniel Descalso has none.

        • Nutlaw says:

          All three of those statements are mildly horrifying.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            Mr. September collected 2 walks yesterday, so now has 3. Beltran, a tremendous hitter across many years, has about 3 walks too. Jay has collected 3, Yadier 2 on the season.

            For a guy who had a sore toe, Beltran is off to a fine start. The gamewinning HR of Thursday night owes to his fantastic swing. Beltran connected and the swing was able to send the ball far enough to opposite field to get the job done. Impressive.

            • crdswmn says:

              And Craig has 3, and Freese has 4 and Carpenter has 6 and Holliday has 10. So what’s your point?

              Not walking enough is not the problem.

              • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

                McGwire had no influence in Beltran’s approach at all………….. you should be able to begin to see the absents of Mark’s philosophy in some players………..and what was really the front office formula concerning “swing permissions/speculations”. The scouts will start to get some traction on the
                ” present tendencies” by May. Its still changing quite fast…….. There is definitely a willingness to shorten swings, focus on the middle, and except the pitch away as a pitch that needs to go OPO. ………… I think the more realistic and balanced approach is causing or opponents problems. ……… Beltran is punishing mistakes. ……. Adams is contributing to his attentiveness.

                I’ve watched a few Brewers games lately……… Definitely a different animal there. Boggs is still bleeding……….. Rosenthal has lost something. His delivery is very “effected” at this point……. Untimely…..because there is trouble ahead that he would have been the perfect solution for. 5 yr plan “frictions”….

              • JumboShrimp says:

                Nutlaw puts a lot of value on walks. Even HoF candidates like Beltran may not walk a lot, nor Molina.

                • crdswmn says:

                  Molina also doesn’t strike out a lot, he makes contact. Therefore his lack of walks is less relevant. Plus, it is too early in the season to draw conclusions about walks.

                  • Nutlaw says:

                    You have to be willing to take a pitch to have success at the major league level, unless you are one of the absolute best. Otherwise, pitchers make you flail away at junk or force you to make bad contact. It’s hard to maintain a good batting average without drawing walks.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      And yet, there is Molina batting . 300+ and only three walks.

                      I wasn’t downplaying the importance of taking a walk. I was criticizing the tendencies of fans overreacting to every imagined or perceived deficiency less than a month into the season. Perspective is thy friend.

  5. Brian Walton says:

    Coming into Saturday night, Lynn was three at-bats short of tying the Cardinals record for most consecutive hitless at-bats at 49. His last hit was 4/20/12.

    Lynn failed to advance a runner via bunt with no out in the third inning, striking out.

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