Why Didn’t Tokyo Make Playoffs? Sacrifice Bunting under Ogawa

Tak-bunting is bringing everyone down around here.

Ah, the beloved Tak-bunt.

Tokyo’s current manager didn’t fib when he said that he wasn’t going to make many changes to the way that the team was coached after taking over for Takada at the end of May.

The Tak-bunting continued, but thankfully not at the same rate that it had been previously employed.

For the sake of clarity, a sacrifice bunt is referred to as a Tak-bunt if there is a runner on first and no outs have yet been recorded in that inning, and Swallows fans have gotten very used to them.

The only time it’s not called a Tak-bunt is when a pitcher is at the plate (there’s no DH rule in the Central League). Ogawa’s former boss, Shigeru Takada, called for Tak-bunts like he was being paid a commission every time he did so. It was nearly a knee-jerk reaction with him, so that’s where the Tak-bunt derives it’s ugly moniker.

And those of us who write for this site have continued to hate its use even while we’ve found very little else to fault Ogawa with. He was able to right the ship, and he definitely deserved to have his contract extended, but bad decisions are still bad decisions no matter who is making them. Tak-bunting under Takada and Ogawa may well have kept the Swallows out of the playoffs.

Study rationale and procedure

In the end, there’s obviously very little that we can do to change the way that the team is run from here on

Win number three for Ogawa--no Tak-bunting required.

out, so one thing that we have decided to try to do is to arm fans with facts.

The wastefulness of Tak-bunting has received some analysis on this site before (here, too), but the conventional baseball wisdom still holds strong. It was obvious to us that a larger-scale study was necessary for the numbers to be statistically valid.

With that in mind, we combed through every game that Ogawa managed in 2010 and assessed the “success” of each at-bat with a runner on first and no outs.

When a runner bunted to move the runners over, it was referred to as a “Tak-Bunt.”

“Success” was calculated in terms of whether or not a run scored following a Tak-bunt. In an effort to limit the number of factors that could negate the value of a Tak-bunt, generous latitude in favor of this wasteful practice was built into the analysis.

For example, bunters who fouled or flew out, caused the runner on first to get thrown out at second, or grounded into a double play (GIDP) were not counted as Tak-bunts even though such an outcome was not uncommon and would have definitely harmed the Tak-bunt’s success rate. Also, any fielding errors that allowed the bunter to reach base safely, or helped a runner to gain an extra base (or even score a run) were not counted as grounds for calling the Tak-bunt a failure. Naturally, this cushioned approach helped to boost the success rate of Tak-bunts under Ogawa’s watch by several percentage points.

In all, there were only three situations in which the value of a Tak-bunt was deemed to have been “negated”:

  • a successful Tak-bunt was negated when a bases-clearing triple or home run followed the bunt
  • having runners on both first and second with no outs disqualified the bunt from the “success” category. Indeed, a sac bunt can not technically be classified as a Tak-bunt when a runner moves over to third in the process
  • there was also one situation where an intentional walk followed a Tak-bunt (and was then followed by two more walks!), so this sac bunt was not counted as being successful

Concurrently, we kept track of situations when a GIDP could occur because the batter was not asked to Tak-bunt.

Here are the numbers collected from our game-by-game analysis:

Tak-bunting under Ogawa (2010 Season)

CategoryTally
Tak-Bunt Count79
Successful Tak-Bunt17
Success Negated by 3B or HR8
Success Negated by Runners on 1st and 2nd12
Success Negated by IBB1
Failed Tak-bunt41
Double Play Situations271
GIDP Result19
No Double Play Result252

Number-crunching: Tak-bunts

Tak-bunts, with all other things being equal, eventually led to at least one run 0.215 (about 22%) of the time. Of the 79 Tak-bunts that safely moved the runner over to second (again, I didn’t consider Tak-bunts that either didn’t move the runner over or resulted in a double play), 41 completely failed in leading to a run being scored.

At first glance, those aren’t entirely damning numbers.

Miyamoto is the second most frequent Tak-bunter on the team. Usually not by choice.

Teamed with the negated Tak-bunts, it is easy to see why Japanese baseball fans gleefully keep their hopes up when a Tak-bunt is laid down. According to the numbers compiled in this study, the perceived value of the Tak-bunt is likely due to the fact that a run scores nearly 48% of the time a player sacrifices with no outs and a runner on first.

However, that’s not even half of the story.

More often than not, the scoring run was aided by either a bases-clearing hit, or a runner moving over to 3rd on the play (runners on 1st and 2nd). In other words, the casual observer needs to remember that 55% of what might be considered “successful” Tak-bunts needed a lot of extra help to get that way.

And that is wasteful. To continue developing the above train of thought, big innings (three or more runs are scored) are logically and statistically less likely when Tak-bunts are called for. Giving away an out for free is a proven way to keep any scoring that occurs to a minimum.

As explored in the following section, this is especially disappointing when compared with the team’s success rate in innings not featuring a Tak-bunt.

Number-crunching: GIDP Fear

Tanaka, a .300 hitter who spends half his time bunting, is forced to spend way too much of his energy sending Norichika Aoki over to second.

Avoiding double plays is sometimes offered as a rationale for Tak-bunting, but let’s see how often the Tokyo Swallows GIDP’d when Ogawa resisted the urge to Tak-bunt.

“Double Play Situations” resulted in a double play on 19 occasions. In other words, batters avoided hitting into a double play 93% of the time under Ogawa this season. While double plays can certainly be a momentum killer, they happen so infrequently that they can not be used as an excuse to force a player to Tak-bunt.

Furthermore, of the 193 innings in which a Tak-bunt could have been laid down (runner on first with no outs) but wasn’t, 99 saw at least one run cross home plate.

That is essentially a 51% chance of scoring a run if the players are allowed to swing away. Additionally, there is a greater chance of a big inning because the offense has an additional out to work with.

This compares unfavorably (for Tak-bunt apologists anyway) with the 22% success rate under Ogawa when a bases-clearing hit was not involved. In other words, the team is more than twice as likely to score a run when not Tak-bunting (regardless of the hitters involved).

Other factoids

While it may be stating the obvious, it’s also worth noting that the Tokyo Swallows bunt far less against good competition (Chunichi, Hanshin and Yomiuri). The reason is simple. They don’t have as many opportunities to employ the Tak-bunt given the fact that they generally get fewer runners on base.

The Swallows were 16-21 under Ogawa when they didn’t Tak-bunt. However, the vast majority of the losses came against the strongest teams in the league and/or excellent pitching (ie. Hiroshima’s Maeda).

Confusingly, the Swallows won far more games than they lost when they Tak-bunted two or more times in a game, but this makes more sense when it is revealed that those games were almost always against the Hiroshima Carp or the Yokohama BayStars. In other words, the Swallows were able to get a lot of guys on base and score runs even while giving up free outs because the opposition’s pitching was not particularly good.

Also of interest, the birds won 12 of the 19 contests that they GIDP’d in.

Tanaka, the team’s (nearly) full-time two-hole hitter, was asked to Tak-bunt quite a bit in 2010. Of the 35 Tak-bunts he was asked to commit, 14 of them were succeeded by a run crossing home plate at some point later in that inning (Aoki’s fleet feet were undoubtedly a big help). However, six of those instances involved a subsequent triple or home run.

Conclusion

In sum, fans can be forgiven (for now) for applauding sacrifice bunts with runners on first and second base, but they should be encouraged to, and are justified in, reacting angrily to Tak-bunts. Hopefully fans will one day learn to tell the difference. If that happens, then maybe Ogawa will learn, too.

To be fair, Tokyo’s current manager enjoyed more success with Tak-bunting than his predecessor, and we should be very thankful that he chose to use it less after gaining control of the team. However, with its 22% success rate (which is a very generous number, by the way) there is still little to support the continued use of Tak-bunts except when a pitcher or other completely ineffective hitter is at the plate. The numbers indicate that the Tokyo Swallows are far more effective and “successful” when allowed to swing away.

The results of this study are particularly disconcerting when considering Tokyo’s second baseman, Tanaka, who hit .300 this year. If any of the English-literate guys on the team read this, please print it out and tape it to both Tanaka’s locker and the door of Ogawa’s office. With how well the team played in 2010, there’s a strong case to be made that Tak-bunts helped keep the team out of the playoffs.

About Christopher Pellegrini

Christopher is a budding sabermetrician and long-time supporter of Tokyo's more lovable team, the Swallows. He has publicly volunteered, several times, that he plans to buy the team at some point in the future. When he finally runs the joint, it is likely that he will fine any player who swings at the first pitch or sac bunts (unless it's a pitcher, of course). Follow him on Twitter: @chrispellegrini