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The Royals Are Fine With Bunting To Oblivion

TORONTO, CANADA - JULY 4:  Alcides Escobar #2 of the Kansas City Royals bunts during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays July 4, 2012 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - JULY 4: Alcides Escobar #2 of the Kansas City Royals bunts during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays July 4, 2012 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)
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This Royals team... I tell you... Every day it's something new.

On Tuesday, it was Nervous Ned Yost explaining why he's OK with Alcides Escobar bunting Alex Gordon over from first with nobody out in the first inning.

...Yost: "Do you know what our record is when we score first?" (It's 38-16.) "That's why I don't have a problem with it."

Good grief. It's as if they're running a 386 PC with Prodigy dialup service at One Royal Way. Yost's comment is just so hollow... But it's just another day at the office for Dayton Moore and his crew. Sadly, this is what we've come to expect from the Royals Brain Trust.

This was posted as a FanShot, but it deserves much more than that. So much more.

Scoring first can be important. However, I would submit that all runs are important. First runs, second runs, fifth runs... Each time a player crosses home plate has value. And then, there's the context in which a first run is scored. Is it early in the game? Or late? We know that the later in a game (i.e. less outs available) the more valuable the run in a 0-0 game. Win Expectancy backs this up.

For example, take Saturday's game in Baltimore. We know how that one started. Alex Gordon hit one out of the park. First batter of the game. Now, if we go into that game thinking all things are equal and each team has a 50-50 shot at coming out with a win, that A1 homer pushed the outcome into the favor of the Royals. How much? According to the Win Expectancy used by Baseball Reference (and first presented in The Book) that one swing of the bat tilted the Expectancy by a full 10 percent. Yes, just three pitches into the game and the Royals went from having a 50 percent chance of victory to a 60 percent chance. It feels substantial.

The Royals went on to win that night. But they had to tack on other runs. A home run by Salvador Perez in the second pushed the team's wWE to 78 percent and another solo home run in the third by Billy Butler gave the Royals a 3-0 lead and a wWE of 84 percent. Of course, this is baseball, so there is no sure thing. No stone cold lock. There was always a chance the Orioles could stage a comeback.

In Saturday's game, the Royals didn't surpass a 90 percent wWE until the bottom of the fifth. Yet the score was still 3-0.

(This is the part where I hope the Royals have their Prodigy account current.)

They finally made it to a 90 percent wWE because the Orioles were running out of opportunity to score runs. In other words, they were running out of outs. Even when the Orioles tallied two runs in the seventh, they weren't able to push the Royals wWE to under 90 percent, because according to Win Expectancy, the Orioles didn't have enough outs left to mount a serious challenge.

Now let's look at the strategy of giving up the first out of the game in order to advance your runner 90 feet.

Let's take Sunday's loss to the Orioles as an example. In that game, Gordon leads off with a single. Runner on first with nobody out in the first inning and the Royals gained four percentage points in wWE. Good start. Then Escobar bunts him to second. In that situation, it reduced the Royals wWE by two percentage points. Reduced. Because outs are valuable. Read this person in the Royals front office tasked to police the blogs: The Royals gave up an out and it reduced their chances of a win.

Another way to look at the situation is by using Tango's Run Expectancy Matrix.

According to the Matrix, a runner on first and nobody out, a team will score roughly 44 percent of the time. When a team sacrifices - moves the runner to second with one out - the chances a team will score actually drops. It's 42 percent. Is it worth throwing away an out just to advance the runner? There may be situations where it's justified, but if you think it increases the chance a team will score, you're only kidding yourself. Just like Ned Yost. Basically giving away an opportunity to score that run is huge in the big picture of a nine inning game. They call it a sacrifice because a batter is giving himself up for the betterment of the team. They should be calling it a sacrifice because a manager who is shackled to conventional wisdom is sacrificing an opportunity to improve his team's chances of winning.

This all leads me to the insanity that is bunting in the first inning because it allegedly sets up a run and the Royals record is so gosh-darn good when scoring first. Yosty is giving us a split. A meaningless nugget that tells us absolutely nothing. Most teams win games when they score first. That's the Win Expectancy model I discussed above. To cite the Royals record when scoring first is just like when they were talking about juggling the rotation to start Brian Bannister in day games or some such nonsense. Splits are fun (at least to me) but by no means are they something you should build game strategy around.

Because in baseball, it really doesn't matter who scores first. What matters is who scores most. And the best way to ensure you score the most runs is to value your outs.

The Royals don't understand the value of the out. That's why they win 43 percent of their games.