White Sox running bases backwards

Ozzie Guillen isn't afraid of letting his players run ... at least until a stolen base would count the most.

Back in July, I wrote a guest piece for Rob Neyer’s blog decrying Ozzie Guillen’s bad habit of bunting Juan Pierre — the league-leader in stolen bases — to second in late-inning situations.
Not much has changed in the six weeks since. Guillen did it again on Sunday, wasting an out with Omar Vizquel to get Pierre to second during a tie game in the eighth inning. Pierre didn’t score, and the White Sox ended up losing.
What’s funny about the aforementioned blog entry is that I wrote it after Ned Yost engaged in unnecessary out-surrendering himself with Chris Getz (who ran wild on A.J. Pierzynski on Sunday). And likewise, a terrible bunting choice may have cost Yost a victory the day before.
Tony Pena had allowed five straight hits before Yost gave him an out by using Brayan Pena to bunt over runners to second and third. That had a huge impact on the game — for the wrong team. Pena retired Pena, as well as the last 11 Royals he faced.
Yost’s bunt, in my opinion, was a bigger crime than Guillen’s. Bunting Pierre over is maddening, but the impulse is understandable. Sure, the stats show you that bunting a runner from first to second lowers the run expectancy, but how can that be? Scoring position! A single could score him! He’s one hit away! Maybe a groundout and a wild pitch! Or two balks! …

But Kansas City had its foot on Tony Pena’s throat in the fourth inning on Saturday. The Royals greeted him with two singles, a double and two more singles, and Pena had no help in sight. Being the second game of a doubleheader, Pena was at least going five, mercy rule be damned.
The Royals put three runs up from those five hits. Why, all of a sudden, did they decide to start playing for one? Yost effectively grabbed a flashlight, got down on all fours with Pena and said, “Here, let me help you find your momentum.” Pena got the first out, which was at least a light at the end of the inning. He found his way out, and then threw three perfect innings to close out a surprising start.
Yost keeps offering prime examples for Guillen in picking the wrong times to give up a first out. Guillen keeps refusing the lesson, and perhaps it wouldn’t be so aggravating if Ozzie didn’t play so fast and loose with the first 21 outs.
No team gets caught stealing more than the White Sox. In fact, they have no competition in this category. Sox runners have been gunned down 61 times; the Angels are second with 44. Factor those into the other outs they run into and the bases they don’t take, and the Sox have already lost more bases this year (-22) than they did last year (-20), according to BillJamesOnline.
Brief aside: What’s more, the Sox are going from first to third in 29 percent of their opportunities, and make it from second to home in 60 percent of the time. Both of those are near-exact matches with their cumulative averages over the last nine years. The only area this roster is revealing itself to be less basecloggy is in the first-to-home department (52 percent of the time; they were only successful 33 percent of the time over the eight years prior). I guess that’s why Jim Thome didn’t fit in these plans.
Add all of this together, and this is why I hate seeing Pierre getting bunted over. Guillen is OK running wild with strange candidates — Pierzynski has seven steal attempts! — in all sorts of odd situations, but he gets the tight sphincter when he has his best basestealer aboard and gaining 90 feet without an out would be Billy Fuccillo h-u-u-u-u-u-u-g-e (upstate New York, holla!).
Right now, the way Guillen manages baserunners is basically backwards. I would think Pierre getting caught stealing in the eighth would be more defensible than seeing Pierzynski get caught in the third. It might inflict more emotional damage, but at least he’s trying to play to his players’ strengths. Then again, pursuing a strategy without the players has been a running theme the entire season, as far as the offense is concerned.

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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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As Cirensica

Excellent article. If you could see all the posts I have made in the ChiSox website about bunting, you will see a lot of similarities. I have never been too fond of “giving” an out away with the bunting strategy. This team [lately] is struggling to even score with men on third and less than two outs, so sometimes I wonder why we bother to waste an at-bat to put a man on second. The other night, Guillen bunted with Beckham hitting (who is hitting very well), to put a man on third with 1 out…for PIERRE to bring in!!!! Pierre RARELY hits a fly ball, so you can discharge a sacrifice fly…of course, pierre hit a grounder, and all the sudden we had 2 outs, and 1 man on third. It was a stupid strategy….and Guillen keeps doing it….I say to let hitters hit more often….


Ozzie is not a smart manager. He isn’t even a smart person. So of course he isn’t going to do smart things.
If he was in the army he’d keep having his troops run towards the tower with the sniper in it one at a time. Sure one guy might make it but most of them are going to die and for what? A stupid tower.


With all the pyrrhic bunting, I’ll bet I know Ozzie’s bowling strategy for last night: Aim straight for ten pin on first rolls. Avoids 7-10 split.


EEEEE YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!! GOD I have been waiting for this article for some time. We are the stupidest team in baseball on the basepaths. We give away outs like candy on halloween, bring back the base cloggers because ozzie cant use speed to his advantage just to our teams disadvantage.


So you are basically saying that Ozzie doesn’t know how to use the speed game he’s been dying for — despite the fact his team plays in a home run park.
If Ozzie gets fired out of this disaster of a year, it’ll be worth it.


It’s too bad, the Sox can’t delegate a two person managing team, with a Ozzie being the clubhouse ambassador and a smarter guy being the game day strategist. I know that I am speaking toungue in cheek, here, but the fact is, I love the way he runs his clubhouse, but Ozzie’s line-up and strategy decesions are questionable at best.


Sort of off topic, but Jim did you realize ESPN is debuting the new “30 for 30” documentary tonight about Jordan in Birmingham?
Starts at 7 pm in case anyone was curious. I recall you did an interview with the Barons play-by-play guy a couple years ago and you guys spent some time discussing M Jeff. Thought you might be interested to know…


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.
Further, the number of steal attempts and caught stealings has declined recently. This may be a change in strategy because more guys are hitting, or it may mean that Ozzie is giving fewer people the chance to run on their own because they made poor judgements about their chances of success, or Ozzie may be calling for fewer steals period. I do not know how we can tell from where we sit.
Finally, I am sure that if you do the research you will find that Ozzie has had considerable success this year with hit and run calls — especially with Vizquel at bat. One week during the hot steak, he went something like 6 for 7.
In sum, Ozzie is not perfect, but you over sold your case.


The great thing about the internet these days, is that you can LOOK EVERYTHING UP.
In 2010, in LATE & CLOSE GAMES*, the White Sox have 14 steals. 9 caught stealing. And 18 sacrifice bunts.

(*Late & Close = PA in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck)


Ideally, you would like this sample to be restricted to a runner on first with no outs. However, the 23 totals attempts and the 9 caught stealings may suggest that Ozzie is not bunting enough. It is easy for sabrmetrics fans to forget that baseball is a game. Even if stealing has the highest expected return for any randomly chosen situation, if you steal too often, you will see a great deal of pitch outs, and the return implied by your favorite win expectancy table will not be realized.


And speaking of cherry picking stats … hit and runs with Vizquel?


You’re right, man, I forgot baseball was a game.
Keep spewing shit with nothing to back it up.


“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.”
SERIOUSLY USE THE INTERNET. Baseball-reference.com, it’s real and it works.
In HIGH LEVERAGE situations, the White Sox have 28 stolen bases (9 caught stealing), and 27 sacrifice bunts.
In summary: That’s a hell of a lot of sacrifice bunts.


Can you read and count? 28 is greater than 27.
I said he bunts too much, but I added that he does not show a strong preference for bunting over stealing (i.e. I conjectured that he does not bunt more than he steals) AND YOU HAVE DONE THE WORK TO SHOW I WAS RIGHT!!!
By the way, what is your model for figuring out what equals “a hell of a lot.” We both know because you too know baseball is a game that if steal is ALWAYS the choice, pitch outs will ruin your success rate, so if 28/27 is clearly the wrong mix, exactly how does one figure out what the optimal mix would have been?
I do not know. Never claimed I did. My guess is also is that 28/27 was too low, but all I was ever trying to say is that Ozzie steals as often or more often than he bunts— which makes the original article misleading.


The optical mix is not giving away outs when it’s not necessary (i.e. close games, always).


My model for “a hell of a lot” is comparative to other teams. This data might not be perfect since it’s a small sample and situational, but compared to the best teams in the AL:
White Sox: 18 sac bunts in late & close situations / 27 sac bunts in high leverage situations
Yankees: 4 sac bunts in l&c situations / 15 sac bunts in high leverage
Rangers: 15 sac bunts in l&c situations / 22 sac bunts in high leverage
Rays: 6 sac bunts in l&c situations / 14 sac bunts in high leverage situations
Twins: 9 sac bunts in l&s situations, 19 sac bunts in high leverage situations

All I’m saying is this: giving away an out to advance a runner (especially your best basestealer) to 2nd base is counter intuitive, and should be avoided. Even if that means NOT stealing, in regards to what you’re saying about pitch outs, then fine. Outs are finite, and better teams are more careful with them.


Fair point, and as I said before, I am willing to believe the SOX bunt too often.
However, I would note that compared to these teams, the SOX were more likely early in the year to send up a 2 hitter that was hitting 130 points below the 3 and 4 hitters — which is the best case scenario for bunting since the current batter cannot hit anyway.


If “always” means Pierre should always try to steal when he reaches first with no outs late in a tie game, then he better perfect those one handed slides he uses to get around tags because the ball will be waiting for him.
If “always” means never bunt, you are not describing a strategy that can ever be optimal or part of an equilibrium for the two teams.
If other teams really believe that you will never bunt in this situation, then the third baseman will be so far back that a good bunter will have a great chance to bunt for a hit — which means that never bunting cannot be optimal — which is why NO major league team follows your strategy and why NO major league team plays their third baseman deep in this situation — UNLESS Josh Hamilton (or someone like him) is the batter, in which case “never” bunt is optimal and credible.
You may know that baseball is a game, but you need to use the internet to add a little game theory knowledge to your stats prowess.
“Never give away outs” is a good bumper sticker, but it is not a deep insight and the “never” part means that it is often wrong headed.