Don Mattingly gets his fair share of criticism for on-field decisions he makes and has received this criticism ever since he took over the role as manager. Whether it’s his bullpen usage, hitting a weak hitter 2nd in the lineup, intentionally walking someone in the wrong situation, or an infatuation with double switches, Mattingly receives strong criticism from fans and analysts. The strongest of this criticism has come from Mattingly’s decisions to have his players attempt sacrifice bunts. These critiques hardly ever came from pitchers attempting these bunts, but instead when Mattingly would order a perfectly capable hitter of bunting in a situation that was unnecessary. I’m here to tell you that our long nightmare is close to being over: Don Mattingly is getting with the times and ordering sacrifice bunts at a much lower rate.
Now, before I start listing the amount of sacrifice bunts, a couple of notes on some of the statistics on sacrifice bunts. First off, this is simply the amount of sacrifice bunts that were successful in the past years. It doesn’t mean how many bunts Don Mattingly ordered since numerous times Mattingly would order a sacrifice bunt, the player was unsuccessful at it. For example, remember that one time Juan Uribe couldn’t get the bunt down in the playoffs? Good times.
Also, I am assuming that all of the sacrifice bunts were ordered by Don Mattingly and not done completely by the player alone. Maybe this is a bad presumption, but for the most part you have to assume the manager orders these bunts and if not, it is at least a part of the managers philosophy to have to bunt in certain situations.
Finally, I know a criticism will be that none of these stats have context. Maybe some of these sacrifice bunts came in a situation where people felt it was better for the team to bunt. Although it is a bit simplistic to say non pitchers should never bunt, if you watched the Dodgers over the past years you would know that Mattingly would order bunts in frustrating times and that these bunts make it worse for the offense as a whole.
It is counterproductive for the team to give the other team a free out instead of possibly extend a rally, even with the risks involved. You can read a ton of great analysis everywhere on how generally speaking, bunts lessen the amount of runs scored for the team batting.
In 2012, Don Mattingly had 30 non-pitchers* sacrifice bunt successfully. This team was a bit different then the power house offenses the Dodgers had in 2013 and 2014, but still involved capable offensive players bunting such as Shane Victorino (hold the laughter), A.J. Ellis (remember, this is 2012), Mark Ellis, and others of the like. In 2013, the Dodgers had 31 non-pitchers sacrifice bunt throughout the year. Even with a full year of Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, and comeback season from Juan Uribe alongside good enough offense from Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis, the Dodgers still bunted as much as they did in 2012.
*I am only including non-pitchers because that is the source of the frustration. Although the Dodgers do have some pitchers who can swing the stick, the main criticism of bunts comes from non-pitchers bunting so that is what will be analyzed here.
So far in 2014, everything has changed. The Dodgers have only had 12 non-pitchers successfully bunt. The year is obviously not over so things can change, but unless Mattingly goes on a crazy sacrifice bunting spree, the Dodgers will have far less sacrifice bunts from non-pitchers in 2014 then in 2012 and 2013. Along with just the successful bunts, I have noticed that far less sacrifice bunts have even been attempted in 2014. You aren’t seeing Don Mattingly order Juan Uribe to bunt in every situation with runners on 1st and 2nd. This is great for the Dodgers and hopefully continues, as we don’t want to see an intense playoff game ruined by Don Mattingly ordering a bunt. What has caused this to happen? We might not know exactly but we have some evidence to strongly believe in certain reasons.
First, it could be easy to say that Don Mattingly is ordering less bunts simply because the Dodgers have more capable offensive firepower then before. With more Hanley Ramirez in 2014, Dee Gordon‘s and Matt Kemp‘s resurgence, and yet another year of Juan Uribe being good, this viewpoint does have a bit of support. However, as I noted before, it’s not as if the 2013 Dodgers were terrible and the 2014 Dodgers still have its holes in Left Field and Catcher. In previous years, it didn’t matter how well the player was hitting; Mattingly would still order a sacrifice bunt.
The most likely scenario that caused this drop in bunts is that it came from a direct order from the front office. This past offseason, the Dodgers fired bench coach Trey Hillman and replaced him with previous third base coach Tim Wallach. In the nitty gritty details of the firing came news that Stan Kasten was frustrated with the amount of sacrifice bunts that were occurring and was tying this back to Trey Hillman. We won’t know if that is fair or not, since that is something that happens behind the scenes.
Also in the offseason came the large amount of drama about Don Mattingly being extended or not, including some awkward situations where Mattingly would talk bluntly about the front office in front of them. Obviously, they decided that Mattingly was the man they were going to have in charge for 2014 and on, but it is possible they sat down with him and told him to change a bit. It seems to me that the front office did not approve of all the sacrifice bunts and possibly convinced, or ordered, Mattingly to lessen the amount of bunts if he wanted to remain the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Again, this is pure speculation but given the sharp decrease in bunts after what happened this offseason, it is not crazy to assume this occurred.
Whatever the reason for the sharp decrease in bunts, I am glad it is happening. We don’t have to fear giving the opposing team free outs in high leverage situations and can let the players win or lose the games with their talent instead of having a manager make extremely controversial and frustrating choices. Don Mattingly will never be free of criticism (which manager would?) but at least he has rid himself of one portion of criticism. Let’s just hope this all doesn’t change for some game that matters or else Juan Uribe is going to have to save us again.