Sunday, June 26, 2011

Squeezes and Suicide Squeeze calls by Bud Black

Everth Cabrera from 2010.  The Bunt can be an effective weapon.
In the bottom of the sixth last night, with Padres on first and third, one out, down two, the inevitable 'why not squeeze here?' question got posted on Twitter.  I do not think there's a single manager in the Majors today who would call for a squeeze attempt by their 5-hitter in any inning or game situation.  Bud Black did not in this situation; Anthony Rizzo struck out looking.

For teams that struggle scoring runs though, the squeeze can be an effective weapon go bring the runner in from third.  At the bottom (or sometimes, the top) of the order, NL teams typically have position players that can handle the bat well enough to make the squeeze possible.  San Diego has struggled to score runs for 2 seasons now.  So the Twitter question raised a larger one for me:  How often does Bud Black bunt with runners on third?

Off to Baseball-Reference we go.

Since becoming the Padres manager in 2007, Black has called for 303 sacrifice bunts. Only 11 of those plays have come with a runner on third (9 with runners on first and third, 2 with a runner on third only) - 3.6% of the total.  Seven of those squeeze attempts have been by pitchers, four by position players (Oscar Robles, David Eckstein, Everth Cabrera, Chris Denorfia).  Here's the interesting thing - on 7 of the 11 occasions, the Padres had the lead when attempting the bunt.  In fact, before 2011 Black had attempted only one sacrifice bunt with a runner on third, less than 2 out, and his team behind - 5/13/2009 - and on that occasion the run did not score from third.

This year Black recognized the difficulty his team has scoring runs.  Going into Friday's game the Padres were hitting .225 with RISP (133-592, and they went 0-7 last night.  In 2011 he has already called for a bunt with a runner on third three times, the most since 2008, all with his team either tied or behind.  San Diego has scored the run on two of those occasions, once to tie, once to take the lead.

One other nuance.  Black virtually never calls for a sac bunt with just a runner at third, when it is most obvious the bunt will be a squeeze attempt.  He's made that call twice - once in 2007, and once last year.

What conclusions can we draw?  Black likes to let his hitters hit regardless.  He will only try a 'squeeze' play with guys hitting 8th or 9th in the order (8 of the 11 attempts have come from those two positions), and only early in the game (only twice has he called for a bunt in this situation after the fifth inning).

Giving the team's continued struggles getting runners home from second and third period, the squeeze play should be something Black considers.  Granted, using it all the time significantly detracts from its usefulness.  Only using it 3 times a season keeps runs off the board.

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