THE RETURN OF THE BUNT

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 

The new-age “experts” will tell you that it doesn’t pay to sacrifice bunt.  Why give up a precious out when it’s unlikely (in their view) to help the team?  In reality, the bunt is the most under-utilized offensive weapon in baseball.  It was never more evident than on Wednesday night in Fenway Park.

    

The Red Sox, trying to catch Tampa Bay and leading the Twins and Yankees for the wild card, really needed another win to maintain or even improve their position.  So what does Terry Francona do?  Bottom of the ninth, 4-4 game with the Orioles, Alex Cora on first, nobody out.  He gives the bunt sign to Coco Crisp, who lays down such a beautiful sacrifice bunt that he beats it out for a hit.  First and second, nobody out, winning run on second and what does Terry Francona do?  He gives the bunt sign to Jacoby Ellsbury, who lays down a good, not great, sacrifice bunt off the third base line.  Orioles pitcher Jim Miller rushes off the mound, fields the bunt, throws to third – and throws the ball into left field.  Cora comes home with the winning run.  Game over.

    

Why is this important?  Well, because virtually everybody (but not Francona) simply accepts the new philosophy (sacrifice bunting is a waste of time and outs) and goes along with the majority. 

    

Take the Yankees, for example.  It looked like, early on, that Joe Girardi was going to reverse the Joe Torre we-hardly-ever-bunt mandate (see Kallas Remarks, 4/4/08).  But, for whatever reason, Girardi didn’t continue it through the season (when recently asked why he didn’t give Johnny Damon the bunt sign, first and second, nobody out, close game, Girardi said that Damon wasn’t “comfortable” bunting).  During a season in which the vaunted Yankee offense has been a disappointment, it was time to adjust and see the obvious – that sac bunts can turn a losing game into a winning one.  But the Yankees never adjusted and that’s one of a myriad of reasons that it’s now virtually impossible for them to make the playoffs.

    

The Red Sox, however, seem to be doing it with smoke and mirrors (no Manny, major pitching injuries, etc.).  Wednesday night, they did it with two bunts.  And that’s the kind of win that separates a playoff team from a non-playoff team.

    

The first and second, nobody out, bunt down third is one of the great offensive weapons in baseball.  Most of the things that can happen are good, no matter what the “experts” say.  Normally, the offense is happy to have second and third, one out.  Sometimes, the pitcher will go to third to leave it first and second, now one out (still a chance for a run-scoring inning).  But every once and awhile, like for the Red Sox on Wednesday night, the offense hits the jackpot, the pitcher throws the ball away and the winning run scores.  Two out of three of the things that can happen are very good for the offense.

    

Many people don’t know that, in Game 7 of the famous 1955 the-Brooklyn-Dodgers-finally-beat-the-Yankees World Series, the Dodgers, up 1-0, had sluggers Duke Snider and Roy Campanella sacrifice bunt back-to-back.  The first bunt was mishandled and that lead to Gil Hodges 400-foot sacrifice fly for the second run of that momentous 2-0 victory.  It was no big deal back then – that’s how you played baseball.  It should be no big deal today.  The Red Sox clearly know that – the Yankees seem not to know that.

    

The reality is that the use of the sacrifice bunt is more of a feel thing than something that can be readily defined by a statistician.  All the stat “experts” need to look at is these two games, 53 years apart, to understand that, even today, the bunt can be a gigantic weapon in a playoff race – or a World Series game.

       

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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