MLB: Texas Rangers at Tampa Bay Rays

Baseball fans of a certain…ilk really don’t like bunts. They hate when teams begin bunting in high leverage spots, giving away outs willynilly. It is easy to understand the outrage. Bunting is often counter-productive in addition to being, well, hard.

A hard task to perform well which only maybe sorta improves your chances of winning? Where do I sign??? Not to say all bunts are bad and the act of bunting should be stricken from the game, but sometimes it might be better to take a second and reflect on the wisdom of your decision.

Last night alone saw 13 different bunt attempts in the late innings. It’s the middle of September, these games drip with meaning and importance, after all. Time to do the smart thing, am I right?

Of those 13 bunt attempts, five failed in their expressed purpose as “sacrifices.” One resulted in the bunter reaching on an error. Tellingly, of the five botched bunts, four came in the most “logical” bunt situation – runners on first and second with nobody out. Four times a bunter attempted moving the runners over but only succeeded in increasing the out total by one. If WPA is your thing, the only bunt which increased its team’s probability of winning was the ROE.

Only three of the bunts resulted in the bunting team score runs, one of which included the Royals, who put up three runs in their bunt inning thanks to a series of walks (three in the inning, in addition to an error) which boosted KC’s lead from two to five runs.

The Reds showed bunt the most, with two sac bunt attempts – one of which was foiled hilariously, as seen below.

So The Perfect Weapon stands on second base and a competent base stealer stands on first and the Reds STILL insist on bunting? With the leading RBI guy on your team? AGAINST THE ASTROS? Just let the game breath, Dusty!

But he would not the let game play itself out, as in the identical situation to the one botched above (Hamilton and Choo on base, nobody out), Brandon Phillips showed bunt AGAIN in the 13th inning. A wild pitch did the heavy lifting for the Reds, who did go on to win on a sac fly by Jay Bruce (after Phillips grounded out and Joey Votto was intentional walked.)

Intentional walks, bunts, does nobody want to win the old fashioned way?

It isn’t that all bunts are bad. The Blue Jays attempted to bunt against Mariano Rivera with two runners on and nobody out when down a run last night. Bunting against Mo isn’t a bad idea as the batter is probably just going to strike out anyway and there aren’t many hitters left in the Jays lineup these days. Setting up for a single to win the game seems a more proactive approach than praying Mariano Rivera gives up just the sixth walkoff home run of his career.

Playing for one run (or setting yourself up to win the game with a single) isn’t the end of the world. It just seems like the ability and context required to get down a good sacrifice bunts is taken for granted. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is difficult to get down a good bunt, especially against the toughest relievers in the game.

Munenori Kawasaki, who attempted bunting for Toronto against Rivera, comes from a baseball culture where fundamentals are drilled and practiced and valued as much as any other. He is a player with no practical power, one who works on bunting every day before the games. His bunt against Rivera? Awful. Right at hard-charging Yankees first baseman Lyle Overbay, who calmly threw to third base for the force out.

If Munenori Kawasaki can’t get a good bunt down in a key spot, what hope does a noted slugger and “run producer” like Brandon Phillips? It’s anything but automatic, let’s say.

But the bunts will keep coming, whether they are beneficial or otherwise. The three times out of 13 they figure into a run will overwhelming the ten times they turn into nothing. It’s the nature of the dogmatic beast. Change comes slowly to baseball, even if it just change for its own sake.

And the rest

This is the UNbunt.

Words and phrases used in the aftermath of my tweeting the above homer during the game last night: My Lord, Dear God, Sweet Jesus, “Lawd“, as well as different variations of OMG WOWOWOW and oh my. Giancarlo Stanton, he does things.

Adeiny Hechavarria does fewer things but when he does them, man.

Similar to #bunttalk, the fury about fundamentals. [Lookout Landing]

More on the Pirates great defense [ESPN Sweetspot]

Always germane to the bunting conversation.

Hunter Pence is not normal [Sports on Earth]

Billy Hamilton is melting even my cynical heart.