At the MASN/Orioles Blogger Night yesterday, we were given the opportunity to talk with Adam Jones for a little bit after batting practice. He was personable and gregarious as expected, though I had no questions for him myself. Well, I didn't ask any, in any case. I was going to inquire about how he approaches bunting, trying to get some game theory perspective, but an older gentleman who had wandered over actually beat me to it, sort of.
He complemented Jones on his bunting, and noted that Buck had been out before a game recently instructing a few Orioles in the "lost art", so to speak. Back in his day, people bunted all the time (and took infield before the game, dagnabbit!) and with the lack of power in the O's line-up, the team should be laying down those sac bunts more often. I had to keep from laughing audibly, but I couldn't keep back from doing so visually - especially when Jones answered that they play in the American League (implying, I hope, that they don't bunt because they need to score runs, plural). As Jon from Camden Depot noted, you know who loved the sac bunt? Hall of Fame manager and Baltimore legend Earl Weaver. Wait... Weaver actually hated bunting and giving away outs. It's amazing how we've gone backwards in the last 25 years. Anyway...
As far how he decides to bunt, Jones said he's not necessarily trying to lay one down, but will take it if the defense gives it to him. He also said that while he wasn't part of the crew working on bunting with Buck, he did tell the guys that it's a good way to break out of an 0-10 slump. That seems mildly contradictory, so I thought I'd check it out.
Jones has attempted a bunt 10 times this year, getting in safely 5 times* (which is good for 5th most in the majors). His 50% success rate is tied for second highest for all batters with at least 5 attempts. So did Adam tend to lay one down to try to end a down stretch? As a quick way of checking, I looked at his "OBP"** in his previous 10 PA at each attempt.
* Take away the bunting - both hits and outs - and his batting average falls over 10 points.
** Counted hits, walks, HBPs, and reaches on errors, while everything else was an out.
Bunt attempt recent "OBP": .370
Overall "OBP": .354
Some of the bunts were of the attempted sacrifice variety though (it was extra innings and I think it was clear Jones was trying to give himself up), so perhaps it's not fair to count those. It looks like there were two of those (he only moved the runner over successfully once, and the team still didn't score that time). Taking them out drops the bunt attempt "OBP" to .350.
Tiny sample size, sure, but it looks like Jones is generally taking what the defense is giving him as opposed to trying to force it if things haven't been going well.
Repeating this same exercise for 2010, when Jones was 7 for 12 on bunt attempts, I get:
Bunt attempt recent "OBP": .308
Overall "OBP": .331
Removing the three sacrifice attempts though, and it's .356. Again, it doesn't look like it's a matter of trying to break out of a slump by laying one down, which is a good thing.
Overall, bunting for a base-hit is a nice arrow for Jones to have in his quiver. Since 2009, he's tops in the majors in bunt hit success rate (min. 10 hits and not including Carlos Pena who has taken advantage of the infield shift) at 58.3%. That's pretty darn good*, and could explain why he's been going to the bunt more this year (he's on pace for over 20 non-sacrifice attempts, which would be more than he's had in his career through 2010). From the game theory angle, he should keep taking the relatively free base* until the defenses start adjusting enough to take it away from him. If they don't, that's their fault.
* Unitalicizing the rest of the note for easier reading:
To get the break-even point, we really should take the base-out state, score, innings, and all that into account. I'm just going with the first part, since it's easiest and most of the hit attempts happened towards the beginning of the game this year.
7 of the 8 were with no runners on base, which simplifies things - for the last one, I'll assume that a "failed" bunt would have still moved the runner to second (also ignoring extra bases from throwing errors, and all that jazz). Most of Jones' attempts this year have been with one out (bases empty);
In that situation, a team is expected to score around 0.25 runs in the remainder of the inning. If the batter gets to first, that increases to ~0.49 runs. If he makes an out, that goes down to ~0.09 runs. So the break-even success rate needed is (0.25 - 0.09) / (0.49 - 0.09) = 40% (a little lower without the rounding). Jones is actually 3 for 6 in those situations.
The overall break-even rate for Jones' attempts is even lower than that, and he's 5 for 8 (62.5%). If we include the two sacrifices, Adam is at 50% but the break-even rate is below 35%. So that's some value added there, though having his success rate drop could actually be a good thing, as it might indicate that third-basemen are playing him in - allowing him a greater chances if hitting a ball passed them while swinging away.
** Kind of funny given his general inability to work walks. But hey, a non-out is a non-out.