An excellent topic for baseball fans to discuss is the importance of the bunt. One may be in favor of it completely, while another may only prefer the bunt in certain cases such as a pitcher batting with a runner on base. Some are completely against it, stating it gives away outs- something at the forefront of the “money ball” philosophy. However you feel, the bunt has been part of the game of major league baseball since its origins.
Dickey Pearce, who played for teams such as the New York Mutuals, Brooklyn Atlantics and St Louis Brown Stockings from 1871-1878, was known as one of the first to perfect this maneuver. Pearce referred to it as the “tricky hit” and took advantage of the rule that allowed him to reach 1st base even if the ball rolled foul. The bunt would then become common during the 1880s, but not a common part of strategy until the 1900s. Pearce was also credited with making shortstop the position it is today, something I promise to elaborate on during another post.
Many of the game’s players who rely on their legs use the bunt to get on base. Guys like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Jackie Robinson, Maury Wills, Tim Raines and others used it to dramatically boost their batting averages and on base percentage. Few people associated with baseball will disagree over the use of the bunt in those cases. But many do over the use of it as a sacrifice hit.
I feel the sacrifice bunt has use to a team who does not score runs. While I see the other side of the argument, the chance the bunt can help outweigh the chance will hurt. A sacrifice bunt gives the opposing team one less out to get, something that is duly noted. But, generally a team that has difficulty scoring runs lacks extra base power. A team that leads off with a base runner needs to get probably three hits to score a run in an inning, assuming none are hit for extra bases. That is where a runner at second base is beneficial, even if an out is given up in the process. At this point, there is a chance a single can score a run, when it otherwise may have simply moved a runner to second base.
Assuming the team scores little to no runs, a sacrifice bunt puts the team in an even better position with two on and no out. It is understandable that a team would prefer to take three cracks at it in this situation. But, when a team struggles to score runs, common occurrences include double plays and strikeouts, with a mix in of some pop ups. The end result is usually no runs scored. A successful sacrifice bunt moves the runners to second and third with just one out. Now, a run can score on an out and the force is taken away at 2nd base. There is also the possibility of a run scoring on a wild pitch, passed ball or a balk. The opposing team can follow with an intentional walk to load the bases, something that puts the pitcher in an even tougher situation.
To me, a team the uses the sacrifice bunt when they have run producers is short changing themselves more. Solid run producers generally hit more 2Bs, 3Bs and HRs. And even if the hitter in question is not a run producer, there is a better chance he will get a pitch to hit because of the fear of facing the hitter on deck. While 2nd and 3rd one out is better for a run producer than a non-run producer, the first batter may not get to bat because of the before mentioned intentional walk. Three cracks for guys that are capable of getting the job done are certainly better than two.
Confidence on a team that struggles to score runs may make the one out and runner(s) in scoring position better than 0 outs and a runner at 1st (or runners at 1st and 2nd). And isn’t confidence that much more important to a team that cannot score a run in the first place? Momentum is instrumental in teams having big inning. And assuming there will be little to no extra base hits, it shows this is a more favorable position.
This obviously relates to the most recent Mets games, where I have fully supported manager Terry Collins and his decisions to bunt. I blame the lack of execution in some cases and the inability to get a run in with scoring position with the others. The “extra” out would have unlikely helped the Mets with several key strikeouts, double plays and pop ups. When a team struggles as seriously as the Mets have since the end of April to score runs, more strategy needs to be involved. Perhaps pushing that extra run across the board may allow the team to win a game or two they were expected to lose.