Miscellaneous Thoughts on Bunting

By Nathan Petrashek

“I reflexively hate bunting….

“The reflexive anti-bunt stuff is getting to be a bit much for me, honestly.

I guess the Governor’s race isn’t the only thing the state is deeply divided on.  You’ll find many defenders of the sacrifice bunt.  I used to be on of them.

Back then, it seemed to me that any opportunity you had to advance runners was unequivocally good.  Isn’t that the point of the game?  Except now, I’ve realized that is not the point.  The point is to score runs.  Scoring runs = good.  Not scoring runs = bad.

Where a bunt falls between these two poles is defined by the circumstances.  We can pull plenty of examples from Wednesday night’s buntfest:

  1. Gallardo sacrifice bunt in the 3rd with no outs to advance Maldonado to 2nd.

I understand that, as a category of offensive talent, pitchers don’t have much to offer.  Still, Gallardo has a silver slugger to his name and some decent pop, so this isn’t a totally obvious move.  Nontheless, the end result is a runner in scoring position with just one out, and you’ve eliminated the double play possibility.  With two of the team’s best hitters coming behind Gallardo (Corey Hart and Nori Aoki), I am okay with this choice.

2. Aoki sacrifice bunt in the 5th with no outs to advance Hart to 2nd.

These are the bunts that I just completely fail to understand.  Aoki is slashing .319/.380/.473.  He was a batting champion in Japan, and we didn’t bring him over here to act like he doesn’t know how to swing a bat.  But the more alarming issue is what ordering Aoki to sacrifice does to the guy behind him.  Ron Roenicke basically wrapped up the inning in a nice, neat bow for Don Mattingly.  Not only did Roenicke give away a free out, but he virtually guaranteed that the team’s best hitter would not have the opportunity to swing the bat.

Ryan Topp valiantly attempts to define this move as a strategic Roenicke effort to put another runner on base in front of Aramis Ramirez.  I suppose that logic works, if you think having your best hitter intentionally walked  in front of a guy hitting .239 is really worth the price of an out. But even if that was the idea, Aoki still has a .380 on base percent.  There’s a pretty decent chance the guy is going to find his way on somehow, so why not let him swing the bat and keep your out?  To be clear, I don’t think Topp is defending Roenicke here; but his attempt to root out Roenicke’s strategy comes up short, I think.

3. Gomez attempts a bunt single in the 6th with runners on 1st and 2nd and no outs.

Let’s start from this premise:  Gomez is not a good hitter.  I think it’s wonderful that Gomez is batting .324/.342/.459 off of left-handed pitching this year, but for his career that line is .247/.291/.396.  What Gomez does have, though, is blazing speed.  And I have absolutely no problem with using that to our advantage by having him take a shot at reaching first via the bunt.  As Ryan points out, Gomez has successfully bunted for a hit in about 38% of his attempts.

Now, Ryan is also correct that Gomez is visibly not 100% – but he’s still playing.  If he’s really that hobbled, put him back on the DL.  Otherwise, let the dude do what he does.  It didn’t exactly work out as intended – Weeks advanced to third, while Ransom advancing to second was forced out – but these things happen.  As Ryan points out, there was always the possibility of a misplay.

4. Maldonado sacrifice bunt in the 6th with runners at the corners and 1 out.

This goes back to my original point:  scoring runs = good.  A squeeze play is very hard to defend and the Brewers have successfully done it five times this year.  With Gallardo coming up behind the untested Maldonado (versus the reigning Cy Young winner, no less), I have no problem with this bunt play either.  After you’ve made the choice to bunt with Gomez – which I think was a reasonable one – and have the results, this is a pretty easy call.

5. Aoki sacrifice bunt in the 8th with runners on 1st and 2nd and no outs.

Ugh.  See no. 2.

The bottom line is that both Paul and Ryan are right.  Roenicke does bunt too much, and some of the bunt calls in this game were flat out terrible.  But, since I do like bunting more than Paul, I also see a larger role for the tactic than he does, particularly in the post-steroid era.  This is where I’m inclined to agree with Ryan: if you want to highlight how Roenicke’s bunt-happy philosophy has harmed the team, Wednesday’s 6th inning is a pretty weak place to hang your hat.

2 thoughts on “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Bunting

  1. One thing to keep in mind about Gomez bunting. It’s much more difficult to bunt for a hit when the defense expects a sacrifice. There is also a hidden cost to bunting, and bunt hit % doesn’t capture it. If you get into a 2-strike count attempting to bunt you generally will no longer attempt to bunt, and instead hit in a very unfavorable count. This does not count against your bunting stats, but it should.

  2. haha I like the name “buntfest” We Dodger fans complain about Mattingly love with bunting. Glad the Brewers are gone. that was brutal being at Dodger Stadium watching sweep.
    -Emma

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