by John Dewan

One of the projects we are working on here at Baseball Info Solutions for The Fielding Bible—Volume III is evaluating the effectiveness of defenders on bunt plays.  We currently have a method that does this, but we are developing a new method that takes into account the location of each bunt.  As every baseball fan knows, the key to an effective bunt is its location.  A bunt right back to the pitcher is pretty useless, whereas a bunt right on the third base line is excellent.  What we can do now is quantify how effective various bunt locations are.

We’ve broken the field into six zones.  We drew a line from home plate through the pitcher’s mound and through second base.  We have three zones to the left of that line and three zones to the right, broken up into equal sizes.  Think of them as pie slices with the center of the pie located at home plate. Zone 1 has all bunts that are along the first base line.  Zone 2 is in the middle of the area between the line we drew through the pitcher’s mound and the first base line, and Zone 3 is the area closest to the pitcher on the first base side.  Zones 4, 5 and 6 are to the left of the pitcher’s mound.  Zone 4 is closest to the pitcher. Zone 5 is between the pitcher and the third base line.  Zone 6 is along the third base line.

Here is a graphical depiction of the zones:

What are the batting averages on bunt attempts in each of these zones?

Before we do that, we have to take one more step.  We have to break this into two different situations, one where the defense is expecting the bunt (sacrifice situations) and one where the defense is not.  When a sacrifice situation was in effect last year (a bunt with men on base and less than two outs) there were 2,285 bunts put into play.  232 resulted in a hit for a .102 “batting average.”  On the other hand, there were 850 bunts put into play in a non-sacrifice situation last year, with 372 going for hits, making for a .438 batting average.

We’ve pointed this out before: bunting for a hit in non-sacrifice situations has been an effective strategy for many players since we started tracking this in the early 1990s.  The best bunters hit well over .500 when bunting for a hit.

As in real estate, bunting for a hit is all about location, location, location.  Here are the bunt batting averages in sacrifice situations by zone.

Bunt Batting Averages by Zone, 2011
Sacrifice Situations Only

Zone 1 .149
Zone 2 .094
Zone 3 .032
Zone 4 .026
Zone 5 .134
Zone 6 .291
Overall .102

As we would expect, a bunt down the third base line is best with a .291 batting average.  Bunting back towards the two zones closest to the pitcher get you .032 and .026 batting averages.

Here are the bunt batting averages in non-sacrifice situations by zone.

Batting Average by Zone, 2011
Non-Sacrifice Situations

Zone 1 .246
Zone 2 .412
Zone 3 .164
Zone 4 .139
Zone 5 .520
Zone 6 .720
Overall .438

Again, the third base line is most effective with a .720 batting average.  At a distant second is the middle zone between the pitcher and the third base line at .520.  The next best zone is interesting.  Pushing a bunt towards the second base position nets a .412 batting average.

In the chart above for sacrifice situations, we are counting all bunt attempts in the “batting average”. What if we consider a successful sacrifice as no at-bat, just like we do when we compute a normal batting average?  Here are the bunt batting averages by zone in this situation:

Batting Average by Zone, 2011
Sacrifice Situations, SH is not an AB

Zone 1 .591
Zone 2 .437
Zone 3 .140
Zone 4 .075
Zone 5 .482
Zone 6 .743
Overall .375

These numbers are now very similar to bunting for a hit in non-sacrifice situations, except along the first base line where the batting average becomes more than twice what it is in non-sacrifice situations.

“Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.”

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