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Jim Kaat wants to throw Sabermetrics “in the trash can”

Mar 10, 2013, 6:18 PM EDT

USA v Canada - World Baseball Classic - First Round Group D Getty Images

Former Major League pitcher and 16-time Gold Glove award winner Jim Kaat called for Sabermetrics to be thrown in the trash can while commentating on MLB Network. Kaat made the quip when the U.S. put runners on first and second in the top of the second inning against Canada in a deciding match between Pool D contestants in the World Baseball Classic. Ryan Braun had doubled and Ben Zobrist had reached base on error, then were advanced a base on a successful bunt by Adam Jones. After giving up the out, Eric Hosmer and Shane Victorino grounded out to end the threat with no runs scored.

The expected runs matrix at Baseball Prospectus spits out 1.44 expected runs with runners on first and second and no outs as opposed to 1.29 with runners on second and third and one out. In one game, the difference of 0.15 runs is unnoticeable, so neither side can claim with any authority that the decision to bunt in that specific circumstance was an extremely good or extremely bad idea.

The bunting would continue for the U.S. After Joe Mauer singled and David Wright walked to lead off the fourth inning, Ben Zobrist bunted towards third baseman Taylor Green, forcing him into committing a throwing error. Mauer scored on the play, putting the U.S. on the board. Wright would score shortly thereafter on a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 2-2.

In the seventh, Eric Hosmer led off with a single to center. Shane Victorino immediately attempted to bunt on the first pitch he saw from Canada reliever Phillippe Aumont, pushing it foul. Down a strike, Victorino took the at-bat normally and ended up striking out.

Update (6:20 PM): Just as I pushed “Publish” on this post, Zobrist attempted to bunt with runners on first and second and no outs. Rather than advancing the runners, he popped out to the catcher. World Bunting Classic.

  1. tfbuckfutter - Mar 10, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    I don’t think Sabermetrics is the problem in that situation.

    I think Shane Victorino is.

    And he’s all ours fellow Red Sox fans!

    Also, I love when people who don’t support something they don’t completely grasp are like “SEE?!” in the instances when it doesn’t work out.

    • paperlions - Mar 10, 2013 at 6:28 PM

      Sabermetrics says to NOT bunt….almost ever, because giving up outs to advance runners one base reduces the likelihood of scoring multiple runs….about the only time it is advisable to bunt is when you have a runner on 2B, no outs, and you need only one run to win the game.

      Sabermetrics says that bunting with runners on 1st and 2nd and no outs early in the game is fucking stupid (I’m paraphrasing).

      So, in fact, Kaat is saying to throw something out after an instance in which sabermetrics was correct.

      • okwhitefalcon - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:08 PM

        I find the pro/anti sabes stances about as amusing as the annual awards debates – white noise at this point.

        The dismissiveness from anti sabes is reaching the already annoying condescending nature of the sabe community.

        Is it a players fault a manager calls for a bunt in a goofy situation?

        Nope.

        Is it a players fault he can’t execute a fundamental element of the game regardless of when he’s directed to do so?

        Absofuckinglutely.

        Bottom line, players that can’t execute when called upon (situation nonwithstanding) amplify the arguments to silly proportions.

      • paperlions - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:16 PM

        Of course, there is over 100 years of data that shows that bunting costs your team runs, making it easier to dismiss a view (bunting is good) and those that hold it.

        Bunting is like gambling at a casino. Yeah, it might work out from time to time, but the more you do it the more money (runs) you are giving away. This isn’t actually an opinion, it is a fact.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:15 PM

        Sabermetrics says to NOT bunt….almost ever, because giving up outs to advance runners one base reduces the likelihood of scoring multiple runs….about the only time it is advisable to bunt is when you have a runner on 2B, no outs, and you need only one run to win the game.

        Well not necessarily. Sabermetrics say it’s okay to bunt if the defense isn’t expecting. Here’s a nice long article by MGL on fangraphs that describes when it’s good/bad to bunt so it’s not “NEVER” bunt.

        http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/were-the-yankee-sac-bunts-in-the-8th-inning-correct/

      • paperlions - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:21 PM

        To clarify, by “bunting”, I mean purposefully giving away outs. Bunting when the defense is set up to give you a high likelihood of a hit, or bunting for a hit are not situations I would consider relevant as the hitter is not trying to give away an out.

      • okwhitefalcon - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:37 PM

        I’m not arguing data or it’s relevance in a decision making process.

        Just merely stating the stances from both sides have become as nauseating as the players inability to execute a fundamental of the game.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:44 PM

        To clarify, by “bunting”, I mean purposefully giving away outs

        Exactly. However, some people seem to read that “bunting” in all opportunities is bad when it’s only when you’ve decided to give away an out. Also, situations like a tie game, bottom of the 9th with runners on 1st and 2nd, no outs, isn’t a bad time to bunt because only one run is needed to win the game.

        Also, context is huge. If it’s a poor hitter up but bunting can get to a good hitter (and stay out of a GIDP)…

      • jwbiii - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:45 PM

        Bunting is also not a bad idea if the batter hits 129/162/166.

      • scoocha - Mar 11, 2013 at 1:02 PM

        I don’t understand why people would dislike okwhitefalcon’s comments. Children are able to bunt but multi-millionaire MLB-ers can’t? Morons.

      • bh192012 - Mar 11, 2013 at 4:03 PM

        I think throwing 80 MPH fastballs at children to prove that “Children are able to bunt” would be loads of fun.

  2. thebadguyswon - Mar 10, 2013 at 6:24 PM

    We don’t need the WBC to prove to use that Joe Torre is an idiot.

  3. Kevin S. - Mar 10, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    Throw the RE matrix out here. Adam Jones is an above-average major league hitter. Jameson Tallion, while highly thought of, is a prospect. The notion of giving a prospect outs when he’s facing a lineup full of major league hitters is stupendously dimwitted. You bunt more often in lower run environments, because single runs are at a premium. It’s why teams in the WBC filled with minor leaguers and journeymen are at least somewhat justified in their buntfests. But Team USA against a prospect? That would be the opposite of a lower run environment.

    #FireJoeTorre

  4. blacksables - Mar 10, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    I’m not trying to be anti-Sabre, but unless it accounts for the individual player, then there are flaws. After watching Zobrist fail to do twice what I learned to do in Little League, then I don’t care about any expected runs. He just can’t do it, and shouldn’t try.

    • paperlions - Mar 10, 2013 at 6:32 PM

      The differences in likely outcomes in a single AB aren’t that different for individual players. An awesome hitter only has a 10% better chance of being successful than a horrible hitter in any given PA, the value comes in the effect over 600 PAs/year….they don’t manifest at the level of individual PAs.

      I just finished watching the Boston University Terriers beat the Northeastern University Huskies for the Women’s Hockey East title….there was more aggressive hitting in that game than in this WBC game (and there is no checking in women’s college hockey).

      • blacksables - Mar 10, 2013 at 6:37 PM

        I agree with your numbers, but what I’m talking about is the skill of the individual player in actually successfully bunting. The RE tables are going to assume an average skill, I would expect.

        Ben Zobrist will never be associated with that statement.

      • paperlions - Mar 10, 2013 at 6:39 PM

        Ah, yes….obviously, it would help if the guy you are asking to bunt can actually do it….that at least prevents a bad decision from turning into a disaster.

  5. dondada10 - Mar 10, 2013 at 6:30 PM

    It’s a game without a clock. Why forfeit outs?

  6. chacochicken - Mar 10, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    You’ve got to use your gut, throw out the playbook and generate runs. Bunting is for gritty hard-workers not sabremetrics which everyone knows Billy Beane made up in his mom’s basement.
    sincerely, Joe Morgan

  7. proudlycanadian - Mar 10, 2013 at 6:55 PM

    Heck of an exciting game.

  8. schlom - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    I don’t understand why anyone is complaining about the US bunts – they successful stayed out of the triple play in all those situations!

  9. genericcommenter - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:34 PM

    This guy couldn’t even get 300 wins. What does he know about baseball?

  10. unclemosesgreen - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    Leave Kitty Kaat alone you Philly hooligan!

    If you don’t behave you’ll have to wear a dunce cap while you sit in Kaat’s Korner.

    Kitty and Joe Torre are really really old. You can all kindly get off their lawns, and stop trying to tell them about baseball. Next thing you know, you crazy kids will be telling them that chewing tobacco is dangerous and 3-martini lunches are a bad idea. No wonder this country is going in the crapper. Have another triple caramel whappa-frapp-chino with a side order of SHUT UP you whippersnappers.

    • historiophiliac - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:42 PM

      For the record, 3-martini lunches are AWESOME!!!

      • unclemosesgreen - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:28 AM

        The Don Draper in me salutes you.

      • historiophiliac - Mar 11, 2013 at 12:03 PM

        The Joan Harris in me invites you to join me.

      • unclemosesgreen - Mar 11, 2013 at 4:02 PM

        I’ve been known to throw back a few Bushmills during daylight hours, m’dear.

  11. switchrodeo - Mar 10, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    Doesn’t bunting make even less sense in the WBC thanks to the pitches thrown limits? Its not just giving away an out, its giving away the out and making the pitcher throw only 1 strike to you in the process.

  12. misterchainbluelightning - Mar 10, 2013 at 8:47 PM

  13. 11thstreetmafia - Mar 11, 2013 at 12:53 AM

    Saber metrics can be useful but they sure seem to leave a lot out. Like, how many pitches have you seen from this guy today, night/day game, intentionally hitting the other way to move a runner over, blah, blah, and etc. I think these are the sorts of things that anti sabers mean. Some players are just better at certain things that can’t be measured.

  14. louhudson23 - Mar 11, 2013 at 4:14 AM

    I believe Church hit it on the head.As in many things,”context” is crucial in determining the viability of an action. My only problem with the seeming absolute devotion(of so many) to Sabremetrics is that it generates a number from data which includes the best and worst players doing the best and worst thing at the best and worst of times. It has little ability to genuinely determine or allow for context. It is very useful,very interesting and enlightening,but it is no more than an overview based on predetermined assumptions used as factors. “Baseball statistics are like a bikini,they show you a lot ,but they don’t show you everything”-D.Dyer

  15. Todd Boss - Mar 11, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    Here’s a question I cant’ find the answer to. Men on 1st and 2nd, 0 outs versus Men on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out is expressed as Run Expectancy difference of 1.44 versus 1.29 and is frequently used as evidence not to bunt. …. But doesn’t this run expectancy measurement INCLUDE all the times people HAVE bunted over this time?

    What are the isolated Run Expectancy matrixes for these two situations, taking out all bunt situations? Wouldn’t that be the better measurement to determine whether or not bunting is effective/not-effective and to gauge just how ineffective it may be?

  16. dsmaxsucks - Mar 11, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    Perhaps this post is an example of why some people get fed up with the self proclaimed superiority of the math dudes.

    Lets grant that much of sabermetrics revolves around a unique language, and hardly anyone understands all the terms. This does not mean the more you understand the better you understand baseball if, for instance, YOU COMPLETELY ABANDON YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF HOW PEOPLE SPEAK ENGLISH.

    When Jim Kaat says throw Sabermetrics in the trash can, does anyone not invested in “controversy” actually think he is suggesting that sabermetrics has no value? Is he now some mouth breathing baseball old guy now for throwing off what could well be regarded as an ironic commentary on just how shit doesn’t seem to follow the numbers? This is often referred to as hyperbole, and most people figure that out without even using a calculator.

    That’s how people talk. Relax.

  17. grumpyoleman - Mar 11, 2013 at 11:31 PM

    Saber metrics is a cute little tool for general comparison purposes. However there are too many variables in every game, coaching decisions , weather, team make up, and tons of other things to say one player is better than another or whether bunting in this case is appropriate. Also jk pitched a lot longer in the majors than any of you criticizing him. Your hours playing video games mean nothing.

  18. bolweevils2 - Mar 12, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    Why is it a big deal when an older guy (such as myself) disdains something that wasn’t around in their youth and, effectively, says “the old days were much better than this modern crap”. We all do it, and when those of you that are young now get old you’ll do it too. And no will will pay any more attention to you then than they do to me now when I say it. (I just don’t happen to say it about advanced stats)

    So why are we acting like Jim Kaat’s statement is in any way noteworthy? “Old guy thinks newfangled stuff is lousy.” That’s newsworthy? It just comes with the territory dealing with older people, and you hear it and automatically disregard it to get the other things they have to say that actually are useful.

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