Bastiat on Baseball
By David Henderson
Without question, advancing a runner to the next base makes it easier for the runner to score. You can literally see the runner move to the next base. That’s easy.
But as Bastiat declared, “”Stop there! your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”:
It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.
The problem with the bunt isn’t that it might marginally improve the team’s situation. But rather, it’s the opportunity forgone, since that advancing doesn’t happen in a vacuum or without cost. And it’s the cost that is the unseen part. After all, stadium scoreboards don’t directly keep track of outs — think how much differently we’d view outs if the jumbotron had a big countdown from 27. But the reality is that outs are a precious commodity. When a team sacrifice bunts, it virtually guarantees an out.
This is from “The sac bunt: That Which is Seen and That Which is Unseen,” at Fungoes: Cardinal News from a Sabermetric Point of View. The point will not be new to those familiar with Moneyball. What’s refreshing is that the author, as you can see above, explicitly ties his analysis to Bastiat.
Actually, I do have one criticism: scoreboards do keep track of outs within an inning, but not outs overall. I’m not convinced that managers would view outs much differently if they counted down from 27.
HT to my former student, Zeb Daniel.
Commenter Brandon, on the post referenced above, makes two good points:
1) The other “unseen” element that is usually dismissed is the failed sacrifice bunt. So it isn’t just that Jay has better than a 30% chance of successfully reaching base without making any outs at all, but it’s that Jay did not have a 100% chance of successfully bunting to begin with. Fans see the successful bunt and say “what a team player! That’s smart inside baseball!” What they didn’t see is that the batter making the deliberate attempt to make an out did not have any assurance that even his humble objective would be accomplished.
2) There is also an opportunity cost in roster construction – if you intend to bunt with guys on base all the time, it is probably suboptimal to construct a roster full of power hitters who get on base a lot but cannot run.