Perhaps in a few years, we’ll be debating super stats and success rate of “the shift” – but for now the strategy of the sacrifice bunt remains in the forefront of water cooler and bar stool conversations about baseball strategies.
In his legendary sketch he called “Baseball vs. Football” (YouTube video here), George Carlin put it this way…..” In baseball, we have the bunt. While in football, we have the BLITZ “. And maybe that’s the crux of the argument. Bunting is being a sissy in a game that rewards power. First and second – nobody out – you go for the three run home run that puts a crooked number on the scoreboard. Or, do you move the runners along and hope for a base hit, passed ball, or maybe a error that will score a run…..and then maybe more…….
But as with virtually everything, it isn’t always quite that simple…..
On the surface, baseball is a very simple game. Your team has 27 outs to score more runs than the other team. And if you put eighteen players on the field to “do their thing”, we might see a very different
game than the one we see today – or even yesterday for that matter. But the complications begin as soon as a manager is employed because he is – after all – PAID – to “manage” the game being played. Thus, he needs to earn his keep by using “strategies” that will help the team win. One of those of course is the sacrifice bunt.
Unfortunately, strategy often gets blown out of the water by reality. Watch batting practice for example when all hitters are charged by the coaching staff to bunt the first three pitches. Most hitters, who are conditioned to hit the hell out of a baseball, robotically oblige and then they dig in and get serious.
For a manager who no doubt notices this, his game plan must take this into account – or he can risk the wrath of these players if he insists that they’d better learn to bunt – or else! So the fact remains that big men do not play small ball limiting the managers actual control of the game. As a result, the sacrifice bunt becomes automatically reduced to a small number of hitters in the lineup.
In turn, this means that all the stars need to be aligned precisely right in order to have the right hitter at the plate in exactly the right time in order to make sense of ordering a sacrifice bunt. In the National League, this is somewhat simplified by the fact that the pitcher bats, but even there strategy can be clouded by presence of a Zach Greinkes or even a Bartolo Colon who surprised even himself with his hitting ability last year……
Nevertheless, sooner or later and at all levels, baseball can be reduced to simple math. How often does the sacrifice bunt produce a run. And how often is that run important to a game’s result……it all can be quantified. Below, you can read some of these sabermetric analyses that I read with disinterest……….because……..
In the end it’s really only a matter of how you choose to play the game. The bunt or the BLITZ…..The majority of baseball fans come to the ballpark to be entertained and there is nothing more entertaining than hearing that sweet sound “crack of the bat” when you just know something special is happening……as opposed to the silent whimper of a bunt.
HERE’S THE SABERMETRICS……
A Statistical Defense Of The Bunt. Athleticsnation