As we all know, Edwin Encarnaction hit a walk-off HR last night, after being asked to lay down a sacrifice bunt – and failing miserably. After the game, Dusty Baker said some nonsense about hoping EE would fail to get the bunt down:

“He hadn’t been swinging well. You can’t let him swing in that situation,” Baker said. “I told [bench coach] Chris [Spier], ‘Chris I kinda hope he doesn’t get it down so he can hit a three-run homer.’ And he hit a three-run homer.”

I’m going to ignore Dusty’s comments entirely, because I think he was just fooling around. (That’s the only explanation that will let me sleep at night.)

What I’m interested in is whether bunting was the right call, given the situation:

  1. Ninth inning, Reds down 2.
  2. 0 outs, Phillips on first; Dunn on second.
  3. EE up.
  4. Votto on deck, followed by Bako and the pitcher’s spot.
  5. Hatteberg, Castro, and Valentin on bench.

I’m actually going to ignore all but the first two, because otherwise, there are just too many variables – I will say that items 3-5, at the very least, don’t make bunting any more beneficial (a bad bunter, and weaker hitters coming up).

Using play-by-play-based data from last year’s games, Prospectus provides us (at least subscribers) with the expected runs scored from any given situation.

In the 9th inning, with nobody out, and runners on 1st and 2nd, teams scored an average of 1.51044 runs. That’s the situation Dusty faced. Note that it’s not good enough to win. Now, let’s look at what we’d have if Dusty’s strategy would’ve worked:

9th inning, 1 out, runners on 2nd and 3rd: 1.44328 runs. So even in a vacuum, the strategy doesn’t improve your chances of winning (on average).

A different way to look at it is based on Win Expectations, also based on game data. According to this Win Expectency tool, the Reds had a 33.3% chance of winning the game when EE came to the plate. If he’d sacrificed successfully, the Reds would’ve had (on average) an 28.1 % chance of winning. Again, even in this extreme game situation, where “the book” says a bunt is almost automatic, it doesn’t seem to help you win, on the average.

Check out the great FanGraphs gamelog for more on EE’s contributions. It was the single most valuable hit in baseball so far this season.