January 30, 2023

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'It worked': Blackmon homers early, bunts late

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DENVER — “It worked.”

Manager Bud Black put it concisely when he was asked about Charlie Blackmon’s sacrifice bunt in the pivotal eighth inning of the Rockies’ 5-3 win over the Giants at Coors Field on Wednesday afternoon, their first win against San Francisco in their last 13 tries.

Well, you know what they say: “You can’t argue with results.”

“I mean, the whole world changes if Charlie makes an out there [without moving up the runner],” Black said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. But today, it worked out.”

With a runner on first and nobody out in the eighth, and the Rockies trailing, 3-2, up stepped Blackmon. He had already hit a leadoff homer in the game, launching an 0-2 changeup from Giants starter Logan Webb into the Rockies’ bullpen.

Black didn’t call for a sacrifice bunt. It’s a hot topic in baseball between the analytics and “old-school” communities: Down a run late in the game, should you bunt the tying run over to second even if it means giving up the chance to do more damage with an extra-base-hit threat at the plate?

Blackmon laid the bunt down, trying for a hit at best and a sacrifice at worst, and catcher Joey Bart fielded it and threw to first for the out. Moving to second base was Connor Joe, who led off the frame with a pinch-hit single, the first hit for Colorado since the first inning.

Then, the floodgates opened. The next batter, Yonathan Daza, singled home Joe to tie the game, Ryan McMahon followed with a single and C.J. Cron struck the big blow by launching a 454-foot homer to left.

In dropping the bunt down, Blackmon wasn’t thinking about what the run expectancy of swinging away vs. bunting was in that situation.

“Yeah, I just thought, ‘That guy throws sinkers, and sinkers turn into double plays,” Blackmon said. “I didn’t really mean to bunt it, like, for a sacrifice bunt; I was kinda trying to show late and the third baseman was back. But I also felt really confident about Daza and Cron, and thought that was a good bet.”

The bet paid off. Daza had been 0-for-3 in the game to that point, but he extended his hitting streak to 11 games with his single. He’s hitting .433 (13-for-30) over his last eight games. And Cron, whose homer made him the first in the National League to 10 this season, has been the Rockies’ best hitter in 2022.

Whether you’re trying for a bunt hit or a sacrifice, the most you can expect as a result is one base. Though Blackmon has struggled at the plate overall this season, his home run rate is up quite a bit from last year, when he hit 13 in 582 plate appearances — his homer Wednesday was his sixth in 138 plate appearances in 2022.

There is, generally, a higher run expectancy (average number of runs expected to score based on a given scenario of runners on base and number of outs) with a runner on first and nobody out than with a runner on second and one out (the result of a sacrifice bunt). Of course, if Blackmon had been able to bunt for a hit, it would have been runners at first and second with none out, yielding a higher run expectancy than either of those other situations.

But Blackmon went old-school this time, trusting that the guys behind him would deliver at least one run to tie the game, even if it meant sacrificing the potential for more had he had swung away.

Don’t mistake “old-school” for “didn’t analyze the situation on multiple levels.”

“Well, three batter minimum, right? [José Álvarez, a lefty] has to throw to those two righties behind me, right? You can’t pull him out of the game, and so I figured, statistically, I was maybe the worst matchup of the three against that guy.”

Blackmon said he wouldn’t necessarily bunt in that situation the next time, but for him, it was the right move with what was going through his head in the eighth inning.

Another player who may not have done it is a younger, more inexperienced one.

“Here’s a veteran player trying to get the winning run on base after Connor’s leadoff single,” Black said. “ … And we got a guy in scoring position and Daza got the base hit.”

You can’t argue with results.

“I made that decision because I felt like it gave us the best chance to win that game,” Blackmon said. “And we needed to win a game. And it worked.”

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