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The Orioles are bunting at a league-leading rate. How often does it actually work out?

When Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said that the team’s proclivity for bunting is personnel-driven as opposed to a philosophy, it’s pretty clear why.

With the absences of José Iglesias (sore hamstring) and Austin Hays (fractured rib), the team has found more playing time for Cedric Mullins and Andrew Velazquez, who are the fastest players on the team and have proved the ability to lay down a bunt.

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Mullins ranks second in all of baseball with 11 bunts put in play, while Velazquez ranks fourth in the American League with six. The Orioles have 13 bunt hits this season, almost double the second-place Colorado Rockies (seven), and 41.9% of the Orioles’ bunts have been hits, by far the highest rate in the majors.

Nearly three dozen examples of the team bunting in a variety of situations this year shows what both conventional wisdom and analytics-based analysis would lead one to believe: It’s a fine strategy for a base hit, but giving opponents a free out on a sacrifice has mixed results.

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MLB’s Statcast data on BaseballSavant.com classify 31 balls in play by the Orioles as bunts, 17 of which were bunt attempts for hits. The remaining 14 were sacrifice attempts.

Using an expected run chart that shows, on average from the period of 1950 to 2015, how many runs score from every situation of base runner and outs, the Orioles’ attempts for bunting for hits have accounted for a total of 2.179 runs.

For example, a leadoff situation in an inning with no runners on and no outs typically yields .481 runs in that frame. A leadoff bunt, the way Mullins has reached several times and the way Hanser Alberto did Sunday in a series-clinching win over the New York Yankees, raises the run expectancy for that inning to .859.

The Orioles have seven such leadoff bunt hits in an inning this season. On three of those occasions, they scored multiple runs.

Similarly, the team’s one-out, nobody on bunts have been productive from an expected runs standpoint.

However, no matter the value of advancing a runner into scoring position, the same can’t be said for their sacrifice bunt attempts. The cumulative value of their sacrifice bunt attempts is minus-1.285, although the reality has worked out better. They’ve scored 14 runs in those innings, thanks to some extra-base hits that followed. It’s possible they might have scored either way in many cases.

Even bunting both runners over in first-and-second, no-out situations successfully drops the run expectancy for that inning from 1.437 to 1.376. A bunt typically would take a double play that could kill the inning out of the picture, but three opportunities to drive in runs with full swings would yield more runs on average than bunting both into scoring position would.

Often, the drop is slight. Losing less than a tenth of a run in expected value while bunting at the bottom of the order and creating advantageous situations for the top of the order isn’t going to damage teams too much in the long run.

What’s clear, though, is there’s a difference between the value of the bunt hits that the Orioles’ speedsters lay down and the sacrifices. And for a team with as fine margins as they have, those add up.

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