This post was initially going to go up prior to the Braves relieving Fredi Gonzalez of managerial duties, and may have been more fitting prior to Brian Snitker's ascension as interim manager. Among other things, Fredi Gonzalez often took flak for relying on bunts, though in reality, he did not do so much: up until 2016, Braves' position players did not bunt* notably more than their counterparts on other teams. Only in 2016, with an embarrassingly bad cast of offensive characters, did Fredi Gonzalez begin to utilize the bunt with more frequency.
- Against the world, the run expectancy with Inciarte bunting and Freeman hitting behind him falls from 0.71 to 0.67.
- Against lefties, the run expectancy with Inciarte bunting and Freeman hitting behind him is about unchanged at 0.58. (It still falls, just from 0.583 to 0.579.)
- There are various ameliorating or worth-considering factors when it comes to bunt tactics, such as the possibility of reaching on a bunt intended to be a sacrifice, the potential for an error, and avoiding a double play. All of these are valid concerns, but the run expectancy matrices actually take all these occurrences into account, and are kind of the "final result" after all these different possibilities have been tallied. In any specific situation, it's important to consider the defense in play, the speed of the hitter, the leverage of the situation, and so forth, but in general, bunting seems like a bad call much of the time.
- Another reason why bunting can be suboptimal: at best, as shown above, a bunt reduces run expectancy. But bunting is not a 100% guaranteed success, and the pre-bunt run expectancy already incorporates all outcomes that are essentially botched bunts (as well as incorporating all successful bunts, just like the post-bunt run expectancy figure incorporates everything that happens after a successful bunt). In other words, while a good bunt lowers run expectancy, a bad bunt lowers it even more, and there's no guarantee you'll get a good bunt. When letting a hitter swing away, they'll reach base in accordance with their true talent level OBP, when asking for a sacrifice bunt, you're running the risk of decreasing run expectancy even more than what a matrix suggests.
- Bunting with pitchers can make sense because their wOBAs/OBPs are so low that you at least get something out of their PAs if you bunt, as opposed to a mode outcome of a strikeout. In the same vein, bunting ahead of your power hitters is a bad idea, as power hitters are more likely to hit balls in such a way that makes the sacrifice bunt redundant. This is the same reason you generally don't want to steal ahead of power hitters. Bunting ahead of singles hitters (like perhaps one's leadoff hitter, or number nine hitter) might make sense in some contexts, but bunting ahead of Freddie Freeman will generally be a bad move.
- Runner on first, none out, Mallex Smith bunts against a righty with Markakis following him. It's hard to predict what Smith will or won't do in this situation given that we have no idea of his true talent level, but given the way he's hit righties so far (130 wRC+, no doubt propped up by his two-homer game against the Pirates), this was a huge run expectancy sink. It's less of one, but still notable, even if he was worse against righties. The game was tied, but it was only the fifth inning, meaning that one run was not particular meaningful there, even if the bunt call did somehow increase run expectancy there.
- Runners on first and second, none out, Mallex Smith bunts against a righty with Erick Aybar following him. Given how bad Aybar has played, this was absolutely brutal, and Aybar hasn't really hit well in his career in general (.304 wOBA against righties). It was a 2-0 game at that point, and, unsurprisingly, Aybar hit a sacrifice fly and the Braves were unable to get a two-out hit to tie the game in the seventh.
- Two games later, another Smith bunt, again with a man on first and none out, this time ahead of Daniel Castro. The Braves were down by one in the fifth, and given that Castro was the beneficiary, another weird call to make.
- Aybar's bunts were also very silly. The first was in a tie game against the Cardinals in the 7th. He bunted a leadoff walk over to second, but this just led to an intentional walk of Freddie Freeman. (Again, stop bunting ahead of power hitters.) The Braves didn't score. The second came with two on and none out, and again got Freddie Freeman intentionally walked. The bunt kind of set up two add-on runs against the Cubs, but the Braves were already leading, and those runs only occurred due to infield errors and miscues by the Cubs. The third ended up being pointless, as in a tie game, Aybar moved Smith from second to third by making the first out of the inning. The next batter walked, and then Inciarte hit a double, making the base advancement entirely moot.