Folks have been writing for two days asking my take on The Great Bunt Debate of 2012, not to mention my opinion on whether a real smoked meat sandwich is allowed to have lettuce in it. We’ll leave the food for another time.
As for the bunting, I didn’t want to jump in right away and engage in that great sport of piling on. I kind of like to be first into the pile, not last. But I was off the past two nights and…well, there are a few things I saw that weren’t touched upon, so I’ll throw a few thoughts out there.
First off, yes there is a time and place to bunt.
No, for me, it wasn’t with runners at first and second, none out, Dustin Ackley up and the Mariners down by two runs.
Photo Credit: AP
There, now that we got that little quibble out of the way, let’s get on with life. Oh, wait, you want more?
OK, very quickly, my personal, in-a-nutshell bunting philosophy (always open to change or convincing as any open-minded person should be) is that I like it when all you need is one run and the bunt helps you achieve that run without any further hits or walks.
That’s it. My rule of thumb.
Exceptions? Always. But that’s my guideline.
So, a runner on second base and nobody out? Yeah, I bunt the guy to third.
With two on and none out in the eighth inning, down by three runs and Chone Figgins up? Nah, I’m swinging away right there, even though Figgins wound up grounding into a double-play when that situation arose last month. Stuff happens when you swing away, yes, but like I said, I don’t really like bunting when you need more than a run. As I wrote after that night when Figgins swung away, even if he had bunted and both runners wound up scoring that inning, you’d still be down a run with three outs to go in the game. I’d rather swing away and take my chances at that point.
But when you’re talking about needing one run, it’s different. Especially in the bottom of the ninth.
Once a runner is on third base with one out, the entire dynamic of the game changes. It no longer matters that John Jaso is hitting just .180 or so off a left-hander. He no longer needs to get a hit to score the run. He merely needs to make solid contact, which he is capable of doing against righties or lefties. Takes a ton of pressure off the hitter. Not all of it, but a good amount. Jaso didnt get a hit off Duane Below — as the stats said there was only an 18 percent chance of him doing — and yet, he still won the game for his team because of the higher probability he could send the ball someplace deep enough through contact.
Another thing getting that runner to third base does is eliminate a good part of some late relievers’ repertoires. A pitcher with a drop-dead splitter is going to think twice about burying it in the dirt with a runner on third. Even if he hesitates only a fraction, that can sometimes give a hitter enough of an edge.
Sure, you could have a hitter swing away and get the runner to third with a groundout. But with a bunt, you make it tougher to throw that lead runner out at third. A grounder hit to the left side might force the runner to freeze and retreat to second — or worse, get thrown out at third. But a bunt that forces fielders to charge in for the ball? They will almost always take the sure out at first base, rather than risk twisting their bodies and making a long throw to third. Even the catcher charging towards the bases to pick up a bunt is conditioned to throw to first unless a sure out awaits him at third. Not the same for a grounder to the left side, especially with the infield in.
Lastly, if no manager ever bunted, the element of surprise would be gone. Teams would have a much easier time positioning their defense if they knew there was no way a manager would ever drop a bunt down on them. This way, you keep them guessing. You force them to positon their fielders accordingly, then maybe you surprise them and swing away. I just like anything that keeps an opponent on their toes.
Bunting a guy to second base with no outs doesn’t keep anyone on their toes. It keeps them on their knees, thanking the baseball Gods that they were given a free out.
If you haven’t read The Book by Tom Tango, he’s got an entire section devoted to the statistical outcomes of trying to score in specific base situations depending on the number of outs. Breaks it down into the likeliood of winning games based on the inning the situation is taking place in. Very interesting and worth reading.
By no means is it the last word on bunting, which Tango does not attempt to write.
As he notes, there are always variables, like who is pitching, who is hitting, etc. etc.
There is no perfect formula. And like I said, mine is always open to interpretation. If you’re bunting a guy to third with none out, you don’t want the next hitter to be a strikeout-prone, low on-base guy incapable of hitting a flyball. Because a strikeout in that situation kills the previous bunt strategy.
So, lots to think about.
So no, for the record, I would not have had Ackley bunt. Yes, I would have had Seager bunt.
Now, let’s get on to more important things. Like smoked meat. Hold the lettuce. Always.