Following up: Bunting Pierre over

Juan Pierre has succeeded when stealing late in games, but still saves most of his running for the first half of games.

If you didn’t notice amid the Manny discussion, Bubba jumped into the post about Ozzie Guillen’s bunting (WE’RE TALKING ABOUT BASEBALL AGAIN, WOOOOOOO!) to challenge my assertion that Guillen doesn’t trust late-inning steal attempts.

This would all be more persuasive if it did not feel so much like data mining. I would bet money that if you looked at all of the situations where Pierre got on late in close games this season, you would find that he has been just as likely to try to steal as advance on a bunt. Further, this spring, when his success rate was better than it has been for much of this summer, I am certain this was true. I think he did this to the Cubs twice in one week.
Ozzie bunts more than I would like, but it is factually incorrect to say that he has a strong preference for the bunt over steal attempts in these situations.

I am a STRONG man! ANYONE in this office, take a RUN AT ME!
I take umbrage at the idea that I would pass off factually incorrect stuff. I’m guilty of the occasional brain fart or misidentification, but as far as analysis goes, I don’t pull stuff out of my butt to back patterns or observations.
And in this case, I’ve been paying attention to this one since Aug. 7 and Aug. 8 of 2007. In the first game, Jerry Owens reached to lead off the ninth with the Sox trailing 2-1, and instead of running on Victor Martinez’s rag arm, Guillen called for the bunt. In the second, Owens represented the go-ahead run with nobody out in the 12th inning. Once again, Guillen bunted.
Owens scored neither time. And that was with the Sox out of contention and players going through auditions through the 2008 season. He had no reason to be managing conservatively, especially considering who was catching, and he still wouldn’t let his best threat on the basepaths go for it.
Still, I’m up for a challenge, and I thought it might be valuable to quantify exactly when Pierre runs the most. So I went through all the game logs in Baseball-Reference.com (Play Index doesn’t track stolen base as a searchable event, which is pure bull), and here’s what I found:

(Note: I didn’t double-check these numbers, as one time through took long enough. But I did take notes on each late-inning one, which is the crux of the discussion.)
You’ll see that more than half of Pierre’s steals come in the first three innings of the game, and he’s far more judicious late in the game. And most of the late-game steals come with one or two outs, when a sacrifice would be virtually meaningless.
Filtering out all the non-applicable steals, I found nine situations in which Pierre reached base with nobody out in a close and late situations.
Guillen called for the sac bunt seven out of those nine times.
First, let’s get the seven sacrifices out of the way (result):

And here’s what happened in the other two:
June 12: Bubba remembered this one right. In a 1-1 game against the Cubs in the seventh, Pierre walked, stole second on a pitchout (Pierre duped Starlin Castro with the swim move), and scored on Paul Konerko’s two-out single for the go-ahead run.
July 28: With the Sox and Mariners tied at 5 in the seventh, Pierre walked and stole second. Then Alexei Ramirez bunted him to third (which is a great time to bunt), and he scored on Alex Rios’ single.
The Sox won both of those games, and especially in the former, keeping the out in the back pocket came in handy. Considering the lack of a demoralizing loss, it’s hard to understand why Guillen doesn’t try it more often.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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