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Harper’s decision to bunt pays off

Sep 2, 2013, 10:45 AM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

With two men on and no outs in the eighth inning on Sunday night, and the Nats down by two runs, Bryce Harper didn’t take a swing for the fences, or even swing at all.

He instead took a 0-1 fastball from Mets reliever Scott Rice and laid down a sacrifice bunt to simply move the runners over into scoring position.

It was a surprising move, apparently even for Rice. The pitcher stumbled off the mound and fell as he fielded the ball.

So why, exactly, did one of the Nats’ most capable hitters bunt in that situation?

Harper made the call himself apparently. Even manager Davey Johnson didn’t know it was coming.

“He was doing it on his own,” Johnson said.

Harper’s decision quickly paid off as groundballs by the next two batters – Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman – brought home runs to tie the game.

In hindsight, bunting was the perfect move. But for a player of Harper’s caliber, in that situation, to lay down a bunt could have backfired. If Rendon and Zimmerman don’t cash in, many would wonder why Harper didn’t try for something more.

For Harper though, there are no regrets.

“Runner on first and second right there, you’ve got to get him over,” he said. “Just sac bunt. I didn’t really care. Having those guys move to second and third was huge and started a big inning right there.”

Who knows how Johnson would have reacted if it didn’t work. But given the eventual result, he likes the call Harper made.

“As tough times as we’ve had with hitting with runners in scoring position, putting the tying run down there ain’t a bad idea,” he said.

Johnson was asked if Harper chose to bunt because his sore left knee was acting up during the game.

“He was limping, and I asked him after I think his second at-bat, I said you all right? … but he said he was fine.”

Harper himself shot that theory down as well, but did acknowledge he is playing through pain.

“My knee doesn’t hurt,” he said. “It’s something that some other things hurting me, but I’ll keep those under wraps.”

Harper doesn’t care what people think

I thought I’d also pass along this quote from Bryce after the win, on how he deals with criticism from the media:

“I could care less what people think. Screw what people think. Everybody talks about us all year long saying we’re not going to make this or do that. I could care less what they think. It’s all what we think. I could really care less what the media thinks or anybody else. It’s nice to get that W tonight and like I said, I could care less what people think.”

  1. 3on2out - Sep 2, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    How much less could Bryce care if he could care less?

  2. Eugene in Oregon - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    While recognizing that Mr. Harper cares little about what I think — as is his right — his sacrifice bunt in that situation was ‘the perfect more’ only because it worked and the Nats won. If he had either failed to advance the runners or if the final two outs of the inning had come without both of those runners scoring (and assuming the Nats didn’t score in the 9th), we’d be all over him this morning for giving up a valuable out needlessly. Looking at the run expectancy charts, Mr. Harper only slightly increased the likelihood of the Nats scoring at least one run (from 64% to 70%), while slightly decreasing the expected number of runs scored (from 1.55 to 1.45). If the Nats had been down by one (or tied), I’d say it was the right move. But down by two? Not so much. But it worked, so I’m not complaining.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:14 AM

      Sorry — ‘the perfect move’.

    • Sec 309 - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:30 AM

      A player or manager using run expectancy charts to guide their in-game strategic moves would be like you or me using actuarial tables to guide our life choices. Those aren’t probabilities, they’re accountings of past performance – and we all know what past performance doesn’t predict. Every situation is unique and needs to be managed on its own merits.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:52 AM

        Fair points. As are NatsLady’s below (this hitter, this pitcher). And it worked, about which I’m pleased. I’m just not convinced it was the right play in that situation. But what do I know, I’m just a fan?

  3. karlkolchak - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    I was sitting in the stands for this one and was like “Whaaat?” when Harper laid down the bunt. All the Mets had to do was walk Rendon and pitch to “Mr. Double Play” Zimmerman. Instead, they bailed us out by pitching to Rendon. The whole thing was a real head scratcher.

  4. Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    I think you meant to say you “could criticize less” there, Mr. inOregon. ;)

  5. Candide - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    “Runner on first and second right there, you’ve got to get him over,” he said. “Just sac bunt. I didn’t really care. Having those guys move to second and third was huge and started a big inning right there.”

    Why did Harper do it? Maybe he was able to remember just a few innings before when the Nats had guys on first and second and didn’t do squat with it, and figured it was time to try to manufacture a run somehow or other.

    • NatsLady - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:33 AM

      Yeah. And he’s hitting .190 against lefties, and, in particular, didn’t fare will with THIS lefty reliever the last time out. As Kilgore wrote, run expectancy in a vacuum, the bunt is questionable. But with this hitter and this pitcher, trying something different to get a different result–maybe not so insane.

      • nats128 - Sep 2, 2013 at 12:03 PM

        It worked!

  6. rogieshan - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    A come-from-behind win because Harper did what his manager is loathed to consider: the sacrifice. The all-or-nothing, 3-run homer mentality has hurt this team all year. In retrospect, replacing Morse with Span should have precipitated a tweak in philosophy, more small ball…

    • Candide - Sep 2, 2013 at 12:29 PM

      …Harper did what his manager is loathed to consider:..

      I don’t think Davey is loathed. Lots of people here are critical of him, are disappointed in him, but I daresay nobody here feels intense dislike or disgust for him.

      But if you were to say Davey is loath to consider the sacrifice bunt, yeah, I’d agree.

      /Grammar_Police

      • rogieshan - Sep 2, 2013 at 3:18 PM

        Good eye, Candide. I did mean “loath.” Thanks for the correction. Sincerely.

  7. Section 222 - Sep 2, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    I agree with karlkolchack, and with Eugene. And I was surprised at Harper’s comments since it seems very unlikely he would have done that against a RH pitcher. Also, aren’t sacrifices more likely to be successful if the runners know what’s coming?

    Anyway, sometimes bad decisions work out. At least he got the bunt down. If he had popped it up, I doubt Davey would have had the same reaction.

  8. NatsLady - Sep 2, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    Ha, Brandon Phillips with a bunt in the FIRST inning.

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