Miguel Cabrera hit his sixth homer in four games on Thursday night. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Miguel Cabrera didn’t wait a long time to extend his home run streak (now four games in a row) and, by extension, his hitting streak (now nine games)* with a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning. That makes six(!) home runs for the big fella in the last four games.
*He’s gone hitless just one time this month.
Here was the latest bomb:
Unfortunately for the Tigers, the early lead didn’t last. Rick Porcello — who totally wasn’t written about earlier in the day by anyone — allowed five runs over the next two innings to put the team behind. It was the return of “same old Porcello” not the new strikeout artist that we’d seen for nearly a month.
Fortunately for Porcello and the Tigers, the offense would rally to tie the game with three runs in the seventh inning on three singles, a walk, and a Jhonny Peralta double.
Detroit took the lead for good in the eighth inning. Omar Infante lead off the inning with a single, Torii Hunter laid down a sacrifice bunt, Miguel Cabrera was intentionally walked, and Price Fielder hit a near double-play ball that was instead deflected by the pitcher for an RBI single. The sequence worked out nicely for the Tigers, but many fans on Twitter questioned the decision to call for the sac bunt.
Typically sacrifice bunts are bad. Early in games it’s an awful decision to give up an out just for the chance of moving up the runner one base. It’s been shown time and again that doing so actually reduces the number of runs that teams score in those innings. But it’s a different matter late in games. Sac bunts still reduce the run expectancy of the inning, but they can sometimes increase the win expectancy of the game. That’s because the offensive team may not score as many runs as they otherwise would, but late in a game simply scoring the one run can be the difference between winning and losing.
Here’s the win expectancy graph for this game as recorded by FanGraphs:
The biggest reason for outrage against the bunt call wasn’t necessarily based in win expectancy. Everyone knew that if Hunter got the bunt down the Twin would walk Cabrera. The idea of taking the bat out of the hands of the team’s best hitter was not a popular one, but I don’t think this was a cut-and-dried bad call.
According to the graph, the bunt-intentional walk sequence cost the Tigers one-tenth of one percent in win expectancy. That means, on average, the decision would cause Leyland to lose one extra game for every 1,000 such situations. But that’s using league average numbers, not situation specific numbers. Sure, you’s like to see Cabrera hit because he’s better than Fielder, but he might not be so much better as to make a big difference here, especially when we also consider the fact that Hunter (if swinging away) tends to ground into more double plays than does the average hitter.
Good or bad call, if one went through the trouble of calculating all of the necessary variables in play here, the decision probably doesn’t even move the win expectancy needle by a full percentage point. So, either way, we wouldn’t ever be able to perceive a difference between the two strategies (to bunt or not to bunt) unless we kept meticulous track over dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of occurrences of that specific situation.