Manny isn’t afraid to play his hunches, but neither was Wedge. Both guys insisted on knowing the numbers, both guys then went with their guts in the end. Manny may have better hunches, but it may also be that Antonetti has given Acta better small-ball players than Shapiro ever gave Wedge. Time will tell.
The other thing is that the numbers against bunting have been wildly over-stated by lots of amateur sabermetricians, including many here. The numbers show clearly that bunting is more or less always the wrong play. Clearly, but not overwhelmingly.
It’s not like batting Choo instead of Adam Everett against a right-handed pitcher. It’s like batting Choo instead of Hafner against a right-handed pitcher. One choice is clearly better but not overwhelmingly better.
There’s an interesting analogue to this in blackjack. Basic strategy says that if you have a hard 16 and the dealer is showing a 9, 10 or Ace, you should surrender the hand. If the dealer is showing an 8, however, you’re supposed to stick with your hand. If you’re a card counter, however, then if the "count" gets high enough, you should also surrender on an 8 against a dealer Ace, and if it gets a little higher, you should surrender an 8 against a dealer 10, and eventually an 8 even against a dealer 9.
Bunting is a lot like a blackjack play. There’s a correct move for the average situation, but there are a lot of variables that make a situation non-average, and as the variables move, the smart move can get dumber, and the dumb move can get smarter.
- As a one-run strategy, a successful bunt is a positive event.
- If the batter is a good bunter, the numbers shift in favor of bunting.
- If the batter is not a good hitter or power hitter, the numbers shift in favor of bunting.
- If the next batter hits for a high average, the numbers shift in favor of bunting.
- If the next batter doesn’t hit for much power, the numbers shift in favor of bunting.
- If the baserunner is faster than average, the numbers shift in favor of bunting.
These shifts are tiny, but the edge a team gets by not bunting is not enormous to begin with. If it were enormous, all teams would have stopped bunting years ago — "the book" is never that far off. Rather than being dismissed as a dumb play, bunting is better understood as a sub-optimal play given an average situation, which may be an optimal or break-even play given certain non-average variables in any given situation.