What was Chris Heisey thinking with his two-out bunt attempt?

Christian Petersen

He was thinking the Cardinals were asleep. That means more than you might realize.

The Cardinals know about players calling their own bunts at wacky times. Just a few weeks ago, Carlos Beltran decided he was going to lay one down in the late innings. Quoth the Cameron:

The historical data makes this pretty clear. The Cardinals win expectancy went from 38.0% to 36.3% on Beltran’s successful sacrifice, and those numbers do not account for the actual players in the confrontation. The fact that Beltran is a significantly better than average hitter, facing a tiring starting pitcher who has had some serious problems against left-handers of late, pushed that match-up even further in St. Louis’ favor.

Someone called it "buntgate" on Twitter, but I couldn't find it because it looks like all sorts of people use that one for different things. So the Cardinals might have lost a game because of a player bunting on his own.

They didn't have to wait long to get it back. Wednesday night, with two outs -- two! -- and a runner on third, the Reds' Chris Heisey called a murder-suicide squeeze on his own:


It was the 15th inning. Goodness.

At first, it looked like Dusty Baker-related chicanery, but post-game interviews cleared him. And while we'll get into Heisey acting the fool, at least a little blame has to go Shin-Soo Choo's way. He needed to be prepared for contact, but he didn't need to sell out quite like that.

But, yeah, whoa, Chris Heisey, you silly person, what are you doing?

Describing a silly bunt attempt as silly, though, makes for a short column. Let's play Victorino's advocate and ask just how silly it was. Is there any way the bunt would have made sense?

First, let's go to Beyond the Boxscore, which explored how often players bunted for hits:

During this period of time the average success rate for all players is just 25.76% when we remove the players that didn't attempt a single bunt.

So that's about the equivalent of a .258 batting average, right? Chris Heisey's career batting average is .257. Math wins! I think that's how that works ...

While the collective numbers are useful, there's a case to be made that Heisey saw something. That he was reading the defense. Mitchel Lichtman argues that context is rather important in this situation.

Anyway, since the offense gets to see the defense set up and then they can decide whether to bunt or not, if they think that the defense is playing too far in or too far back (i.e. that a bunt and a non-bunt do not yield the same WE), they must adjust their percentages from what would be optimal if the defense were playing optimally (assuming that the offense were playing optimally).

It's not enough to look at an actuary table and determine if the situation calls for a bunt. Heisey saw something worth exploiting. And just because I can hear a Cardinals fan chuckling in the background, let me dredge up a murder-suicide squeeze from last year's NLCS.

Barry Zito came up, and he saw an opportunity to sneak a bunt in front of an infielder who was playing way too deep.


There were two outs and a runner on third, just like Heisey's situation.


Success. And suddenly it's the greatest idea in history.

There are substantial differences between Zito and Heisey. Heisey throws harder, for one. And two, Zito was very, very unlikely to get a hit by swinging away in that situation. Heisey was giving up a much better chance at a hit than Zito was.

But the idea stands: Zito saw something. The defense was giving him the hit on a good bunt. He executed. Note that Heisey whiffed on a 96-m.p.h. pitch with movement. He saw two pitches in the at-bat, and he might have thought, "Man, this guy makes me feel like I'm Barry Zito up here. I can't hit him." That would some significant context to his decision.

If you're curious, here's how the Cardinals were playing Heisey:

Screen_shot_2013-09-04_at_11

If he gets it down ...

The Beyond the Boxscore article from above ends with a table:

Batting Average by Zone, 2011

Non-Sacrifice Situations

Zone 1

.246

Zone 2

.412

Zone 3

.164

Zone 4

.139

Zone 5

.520

Zone 6

.720

Overall

.438



Here's a guide to what each zone represents. Heisey was trying for zone five or six, down the third-base line. In 2011, at least, those spots on the diamond were great places to put a bunt. If the third baseman were playing back, and the Reds needed just a single to win the game, Heisey had a case. You can argue about the efficacy of the two-out bunt, but you should know there's a counter-argument, too.

This counter-argument involves making contact with the ball. All them fancy numbers and whatnot mean nothing if the hitter whiffs and the runner strays too far, anticipating contact.

But Heisey wasn't crazy. He wasn't playing with his head between two soft pillows. He was trying for a hit, and he might have been doing it the best way he could, considering the defensive alignment. If he doesn't try for the bunt? The odds were excellent that he was going to make an out.

It's the worst idea in the world until it works. For some reason, swinging at a 54-foot curveball would have been more acceptable. I'm not sure if I want my hitter bunting in that situation -- it's still kinda goofy -- but there's a debate to be had. And it's not as one-sided as you might think.

Please visit Viva El Birdos for everything on the Cardinals, and Red Reporter for more Reds news


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