A common occurrence this year has been TLR using position players to sac bunt guys to third after a leadoff double.  Generally speaking this move is killed by the sabermetric community and at least occasionally lauded by the old-school small ball community.  This post is going to be less about who’s right and more about under what set of assumptions/circumstances would each particular side be correct.

First let’s talk about the specific assumptions that need to be made.

  1. Run environment – high scoring or low scoring.  Generally something like 4.4 runs/team is average.
  2. Probability of a successful sacrifice.  MLB average is ~71%.
  3. Probability of a hit/error on the attempt

Those are the big three that we will be dealing with throughout the post.  We’ll parametrize all of those assumptions and see where the “tipping points are”.  The first chart assumes a 75% success rate and parametrizes the other factors

The “Hit Away” line is the run expectancy (RE) entering the at-bat (i.e. runner on 2nd 0 outs) and each other line is the RE for the given Hit% (actually it is the hit+error%).  Basically with anything less that a 25% hit percentage the best approach is to hit away; which I would think covers most batters.  With a 25% hit percentage bunting would be the best course of action only in the lowest of run environments (where your team only expects to score ~2 runs.  Clearly this is almost never the case in the modern game (maybe Pedro in his prime?).  In the modern game (~4.4 runs) the break even point is about a 30% hit percentage.

What if we assume a better bunter?  I originally started this research after Tony bunted with Jay, and noticed that he had been successful in 86% of his sac bunt opportunities.  Clearly the sample size is so small we cannot conclude that this is his true talent; however let’s run the number assuming it was.  The following chart summarizes

Under these assumptions anything less than a 20% hit percentage doesn’t really add value.  At a 20% hit percentage bunting is a break even strategy in a run environment between 2.5 and 3 runs per game.  In the modern game (~4.4 runs per game) the break even point is a 25% hit rate.

Draw from these results what you will.  I’ve called out the break even points, so you can decide which set of assumptions best fits the particular scenario.  I will say that these were done under the lens of it being early in the game and thus used RE instead of win expectancy (WE).  For later in the game a WE analysis would likely be better as raising your chance to score one run may outweigh scoring multiple runs in certain situations.

RE by run environment info found here via Tango.

In terms of the future of the franchise, Rasmus>La Russa. The impact of a manager hasn’t been something I’ve seen nerds really be able to penetrate; it’s something that is made murky by secondary factors and the human element.  If you follow me on Twitter, you probably have come to conclusion that  I would like to roll La Russa up in a carpet and throw him off of a bridge.

I honestly don’t believe he’s a bad manager, as he didn’t get his reputation as a Hall of Fame manager for no good reason at all. But I do tend to think that his overall value to the team is greatly inflated in the minds of pundits and fans (thanks, Buzz!). What irks me is all silly personality clashes with players, the need to use his favorite pets, and his odd machinations and weird lineup cards.

The rub is that as La Russa goes, so might Pujols go. The Mang must be appeased because we need the Mang to stay in St. Louis. The Mang likes Tony. The Mang doesn’t like anyone who doesn’t like Tony. Therefore Rasmus must go.

It’s completely stupid, but you get the feeling that despite the public hugging-it-out we’ve read about between Colby and La Russa in the press the past few days, we’re going to read about Colby being jettisoned away some cold January morning if La Russa comes back for another season. And that thought is very depressing.

So to brace myself for the pain of witnessing my all-time favorite Faberge egg being moved, I am going to play this scenario out and then go back to soothing myself with false comforts that all is going to be well between the Raz and the Genius.

Using Sky Kalkman’s Trade Value Calculator, here’s what I conservatively (?) estimated Rasmus’ surplus value as. The Raz has averaged 3.5 WAR per 625 plate appearances. (Hint: Give him 600+ PA’s per season, then everyone is happy.)

What kind of a player could Rasmus fetch? The club isn’t in the place to trade him for a player making more than Rasmus, so we’re talking about trading prospects. Prospect surplus value has been studied by Victor Wang, and then smoothed out by this quick study based on some discussions with Matt Swartz. Click the link, eyeball the tables.

In a straight value for value trade, Rasmus could bring the Cardinals anything outside of a top ten hitting prospect.  The problem is, as Jayson Stark has pointed out, is that if a team perceives the Cardinals have to move Rasmus, they’ll only be willing to pay 60 cents on the dollar. That might get the Cardinals one really good pitching prospect. That may mean a Shelby Miller-type if the Cardinals were willing to wait, but given the Cardinals’ needs, someone closer to the majors and more polished makes a lot more sense. I’m not going to speculate about who that might be, but here is BA’s mid-season Top 50 for your perusal. I’m sure a lot has changed since it was published, but it gives you some ideas.

Moving Rasmus also leaves a big, gaping hole in the OF. No more fire burning in the outfield. :_(

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find a happy place.

Takeaways: Personality clashes are dumb. Rasmus is good. The team could get a good player for Rasmus, but probably not a player as good as Rasmus. Also, personality clashes are dumb.

Yesterday, out of the blue, we learned that Troy Glaus underwent surgery to repair a torn muscle near his right shoulder and could miss 5 weeks or more of the season. That sucks and certainly calls into question “why now?”, but there’s not much that can be done about it now. So can the Cards weather this? I think so.

First of all, let me say there’s not a good enough reason to bring up Brett Wallace right now. If there were no other viable 3B options in house, then maybe, but there’s no reason to start the Walrus’s service time unless you plan on keeping him up in the big leagues for good. Let the big guy work on his defense in the minors where it doesn’t matter and then install him permanently as the regular 3B next season after Glaus walks. 

That brings us to David Freese. Why? Because he has little left to prove in AAA and will turn 26 early in the season. He’s an able defender and a decent hitter.  Freese’s CHONE projection calls for a .335 wOBA, a far cry from Glaus’ .372, but it’s respectable enough. I knocked down Glaus’ plate appearances to 500 and give 155 of them to Freese and it knocks the team off 3 runs. I also knocked Glaus’ projected .372 wOBA to .365, considering he may start slow coming back.  You can see the results here

The short of it is the Cardinals as they stood before this news had 88 win talent. Minus some Glaus, plus some Freese, the result is 87.4 wins. In other words, if Freese does play and plays as projected it costs the Cardinals only 6 runs. Not good, but certainly bearable. 

Now if La Russa mismanages the roster (and he very well could, knowing Tony) and plays a lot of Brendan Ryan at 3B, that could cost the Cardinals another 4-6 runs. Here’s hoping Freese has a strong showing in spring training and that he lives up to his prospect billing as a Cardinal rookie.

The bottom line is having Glaus out of the lineup for a month isn’t going to break the season. Barring a big move, the season right isn’t riding on Troy’s health so much as it is on Carpenter’s.

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