It has been less than a week since the Dodgers season ended. In that time, two distinct camps have formed: those that want Don Mattingly to stay, and those that want him catapulted to the moon. There are various reasons that have been argued in favor of Mattingly’s dismissal. One of the loudest has been that he has not done enough to manufacture runs. This post will be dedicated to not only disproving that but also shed some light as to why a team should rarely attempt to “manufacture runs” in the first place.
First, let us define manufacturing runs as any attempt to bring baserunners home or into scoring position by way of a bunt attempt. In pure attempts, during Mattingly’s tenure as manager, the Dodgers rank fourth in run manufacturing in the entire league, behind the Brewers, Reds, and Marlins, respectively. However, that is an inaccurate way to look at manufacturing runs because it does not take into consideration plate appearances. If we look at bunt attempts with men on base as a percentage of plate appearances, the Dodgers still rank relatively high compared to the rest of the league.
Since 2011, the Dodgers sit in the top ten teams that have attempted bunts more often in relation to their plate appearances. Let’s take a look at the number of playoff appearances for these teams.
Among the top ten teams, both the Dodgers and Pirates have each made three postseason appearances. So if your argument has been, “Mattingly does not manufacture runs,” then it is simply wrong. The Dodgers, under his management, have made plenty of attempts to manufacture runs, ranking the Dodgers eighth in the league overall since 2011. Furthermore, among the top ten teams that make use of bunting with men on base, the Dodgers are tied with the Pirates with the most postseason appearances. But manufacturing runs is not all that it is cracked up to be. If we look at the last ten years of data, an interesting, and somewhat obvious, trend reveals itself.
From 2005 to 2015, out of 905,147 plate appearances, there have been 16,579 bunt attempts with men on base. In simpler terms, league-wide, teams have attempted to manufacture runs 1.83% of the time. Interestingly, the teams that are ranked in the bottom third in manufacturing runs are also teams that have been dominant in the last ten years. Here is that list ordered by number of postseason appearances between 2005 and 2015
How can teams that attempt to manufacture runs less often be dominant? If we consider what a bunt attempt is, it is essentially an out in exchange for a runner advancing. The point of an offense is to score runs by moving runners around the base paths as many times as possible before earning three outs. However, a baserunner must move around the diamond four times in order to score. Bunting gives the defense an out, thus limiting the number of chances a runner can advance within the “out” parameter. Therefore, by limiting the number of bunt attempts, hence the number of “free outs,” an offense can continue to move baserunners with more outs at their disposal.
Is there a relationship between the number of postseason appearances and the number of bunt attempts? Interestingly, there is. The correlation coefficient between bunt attempt percentage and postseason appearances is -.3069, indicating that there is indeed a negative, albeit weak, relationship between the two variables. Furthermore, the covariance of the two variables, -.0033, indicates that when the number of bunt attempts with men on base increases, postseason appearances decreases.
Keep in mind, this is a very rudimentary examination. The coefficient of determination, r 2, is .0966. In other words, only 9.6% of the variance in postseason appearances can be explained by manufacturing runs indicating that it does not play as big of a role, one way or another, as most people may think. There needs to be a more refined approach that looks at what truly contributes to postseason appearances. Though I doubt run manufacturing will suddenly appear at the top of the list.
So what is to make of this? First, for those that say Mattingly does not manufacture runs, that is false. The Dodgers, under Don Mattingly, have attempted to manufacture runs more often than most other teams in the league. And if the next line of argument is, “His teams have not manufactured enough runs,” that is also not true. Under his management, the Dodgers have made the most postseason appearances among the top ten teams that have attempted to manufacture runs – as we have defined it in the opening of this post – even though there is nothing to prove that run manufacturing has contributed to that success. Furthermore, if there were a sharp and sudden dip in run manufacturing, it would be a boon for the Dodgers as the teams with the lowest percentage of bunt attempts have been some of the most dominant teams in the last ten years. Though that might indicate there is a greater contributor to success throughout the season.