Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's time for Huddy to Stop Bunting

Last night, Tim Hudson pitched a gem against Clayton Richard and the Padres. And while he has been quietly building an excellent career, he has also been quietly putting up fantastic offensive numbers. I was watching his at-bats last night with a hope that - however unlikely it was - Fredi would refrain from calling a sac bunt when runners were on. In Hudson's first at-bat, he swung away with no runners on, hitting a sharp grounder to third. In his second at-bat, he fell to two strikes attempting to lay down a sac bunt before lining out to right field.

In both instances, he hit the ball squarely and fairly hard. And that game isn't anomalous for him. He's been on an offensive tear for a while. Since June 1st, Hudson has been one of the Braves' most potent offensive weapons in games he plays, hitting .292 with a .345 OBP and .375 SLG in 12 games and 31 plate appearances. Understandably, offensive contribution is a highly overlooked part of any pitcher's game. Pitchers have far fewer opportunities at-bat to even make an impact (Johnny Cueto leads this year with 62), and when they do get chances, they are horrible and/or asked to bunt.

But Tim Hudson has been making a strong impact. His solid June numbers have gotten exponentially better. Since the All-Star break, Huddy has posted a .357/.400/.500 slashline. Yes, this has only happened over 7 games and 16 plate appearances, but the offensive he has provided is still quite valuable. This year, according to Baseball Reference, Tim Hudson has accumulated 1.0 WAR from pitching, and .4 WAR from hitting. His value increases by 40% when you take hitting into account.

Yes, that is a small sample size. But to me, Hudson has shown enough skill that swinging away will be more beneficial than sac bunting. Sac bunts are rarely ever useful for a team, as demonstrated here, here, and here. Its true that sac bunting with pitchers might generally be the better way to go because they are so damn bad at hitting, but Hudson has been just a little better than pitchers in the league (hitting .130/.166/.162). Moreover, Fredi doesn't necessarily use the sac bunt wisely. This year, Hudson has attempted 7 sac bunts (not including ones where he gets two strikes and then must swing away). Of those, 4 were successful, and each one decreased the Braves probability of winning. According to Baseball-Reference, all of Hudson's "successful" sac bunts together managed a -10% Win Probability Added.

That all said, there may be times when Hudson should sac bunt. But those times should be very few and far between. According to this post at Baseball Prospectus, "any batter hitting below .075 should always sacrifice, while any batter hitting better than .243 should never sacrifice." But it all depends on who bats afterwards. On the Braves, its Michael Bourn. With Bourn's .292/.353/.428 slashline, Timmy would need to  hit at least roughly .175 (his 2012 batting average is .211) in order for sac bunts to be detrimental to run expectation. This may waver in late-game, high-leverage situations, but it would almost always be smarter to bring in a pinch-hitter than to sac bunt in that situation.

But I don't see Timmy getting a free pass to swing any time soon. Managers hate deviating from traditional baseball strategy. In fact, Fredi Gonzalez made it clear that he wants Hudson off the base paths. Someone should let him know that not all pitchers are created equal at the plate. Tim Hudson isn't Tommy Hanson, who has one hit the entire year, and taking the bat out of his hands is actually a net-loss for the Braves.

No comments:

Post a Comment