It’s an old Yogi-ism, and one that was on my mind after perusing the Sports stacks at Barnes & Noble yesterday morning.
The mental side of the sports, particularly in baseball which is played at a slow enough pace to ponder the mental side during the game itself, has been widely popularized since Jamie Moyer and Roy Halladay attributed much of their success to sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman. A new book in the genre caught my eye, authored by Russell Carleton, entitled The Shift: The Next Evolution in Baseball Thinking. It is positioned as a new crossroads between sabermetrics and cognitive science, purportedly altering the trajectory of both traditional and analytics-based baseball thinking.
Michael Jack Schmidt, in town this week as a guest instructor during spring training, was interviewed yesterday on the mental aspect of hitting which he’s imparting to both the minor and major league position players. He spoke frankly about his ambivalence at the increasing emphasis on analytics, but is apparently open-minded to change.
Coincidentally, as I was reading The Shift at the Marketplace in the Sandpearl over a cup of Starbucks, Mike rolled through for his morning cup of decaf, fanny pack and all. I was going to ask him what he thought about Gabe Kapler’s notion of abandoning the bunt, but he the timing didn’t feel right. It was 7 AM and he was heading over to the stadium. Neither of us was fully awake yet, and this is not the type of discussion to have on the run.
The argument for abandoning the bunt, as related in The Shift, dates back to use of the expected runs table popularized by researchers Thorn & Palmer in their 1985 book The Hidden Game of Baseball. Take a look:
Look at the situation with a runner on 1st and no outs. Swinging away would result in an average expectancy of 0.895 runs. Bunting and trading an out to move the runner to 2nd actually results in a poor tradeoff: A runner on second with one out results in an average expectancy of 0.690 runs. The “successful” sacrifice bunt therefore reduces the projected run total by 0.205 runs.
So don’t look for the Phillies to be bunting much if at all this season. New manager Gabe Kapler is evidently very analytics and chart driven. And I have a feeling you may hear Mike Schmidt comment on this during has periodic broadcast gigs during the season. Time will tell …