You're the manager. Your team trails 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning. You have runners on first and second, no outs. Do you bunt them over, into scoring position? That's what Tigers manager Brad Ausmus did on Friday night against the Minnesota Twins. Did he make the right call?
According to The Book, Playing the Percentages in Baseball, by Tom Tango and Mitchel Lichtmann, a "successful" sacrifice would slightly reduce the win expectancy. According to the chart provided (page 39) win expectancy with runners on first and second, no outs, bottom of the fifth inning, trailing by one run, is .558 percent. With a "successful sacrifice," moving the runners to second and third, giving up one out, the win expectancy is reduced to .549 percent. That's a decrease of .009, or 9/10ths of 1 percent.
There are many variables involved. The chart assumes an average situation, with an average hitter with average bunting ability, average pitcher, average speed, average batter on deck, and average base runners. What is known in the numbers is that the outcome is that the runners advance and the batter is out.
There are alternative outcomes also. The batter could be safe, which happens a little more than 20 percent of the time. The batter could be out and runners don't advance, or there could be a force (same result), just under 20 percent chance. There is a smaller chance of a double play, a walk, or a strikeout. But the most frequent outcome is that described above.
In the particular situation, the batter is Ian Kinsler, a fairly good bunter and runner. On deck is Austin Jackson, who has been struggling, followed by two of the best hitters in the game in Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. The pitcher was Kyle Gibson, a young sinker ball pitcher who was shutting out the Tigers at least that evening.
What happened is that the runners were advanced, putting the tying and go ahead runs in "scoring position." Jackson drew a walk on a full count, bringing up Cabrera. The reigning two time MVP drove a middle in pitch to third base, which was turned for a 5-4-3 double play. Inning over. Tigers still trail 1- 0.
But for the double play, the Tigers would have had at least two chances to get a base hit, scoring one, and possibly two runs. A ground ball or sacrifice fly could have scored a run. After the walk to Jackson, they could have been set up for a big inning. Or a double play.
The alternative would be to have Kinsler swing away, in which case there are three chances to get a hit. It would very likely take two hits, or an extra base hit, to score two runs. But they'd have a shot for Kinsler to get a hit as well. Any given hitter has, at best, a one in three shot at a base hit.
Your call. Did Ausmus do the right thing?