There are so many things I miss so much about baseball. I miss the deep breath the crowd takes in when the shortstop throws the ball a little too softly to second on a double play. I miss the way a pitcher throws over to first so obviously that the runner is diving before he even lets go of the ball. I miss the snap of the catcher’s glove echoing through a packed stadium as the team closes in on a win. What I do not fucking miss at all is watching my favorite players absolutely deteriorate when asked to bunt.
The Washington Nationals, a team I love very much, embarrassed me not once but TWICE in the 2019 season by bunting so badly they injured themselves. Trea Turner held the bat incorrectly and got his delicate little finger smashed by a fastball that put him on the IL for weeks. Max Scherzer, during a batting practice, somehow bunted a ball straight into his own face, giving himself two black eyes. Though this was admittedly hilarious, and he looked cool as hell pitching afterwards, both of these incidents should have been completely avoidable.
Let’s look at this Max Scherzer bunt, as it is absolutely terrible.
Look how his bat is basically vertical. This is not correct. Look how his knees are not bent. Also not correct. Look how his fingers are wrapped around the bat instead of delicately hidden behind the bat like a coy damsel who doesn’t want her FINGERS SMASHED TO BITS. If I had done a bunt like this on a middle school softball team, I would have been made to run foul poles until I vomited.
Everyone is so horny for home runs. Home runs are “cool.” Home runs make everyone yell really loud and give high-fives. And yes, years of sabermetric scholarship has shown bunting to be an inefficient use of an at-bat, but that hasn’t stopped managers from calling for the ol’ sacrifice now and then. The least players can do when that happens is know how to bunt without wounding themselves.
Lucky for me, every single Major League Baseball player cannot practice hitting home runs right now because their stadiums are closed, and most of them are quarantined at home with their wives and several 7-to-14-year-old children whom they rarely see. Now is the time for them to finally learn to bunt like professionals.
Take the oldest and wisest of your little children into the backyard, and have them soft-toss you the ball so that you may bunt it. Go into your home batting cage and just bunt bunt bunt. If you break your nose now, that’s fine. Baseball isn’t coming back for a while. You’ll have time to recover. If you smash your little finger, it will be okay right now–you can still do your cast-iron pot squats while you recover.
Imagine: After months of just allowing your small child to toss balls to you and carefully bunting them down on the ground, you return to the field. There is a runner on first base. The shift is on. The third base line is wide open, and because you have spent all of this bonus offseason practicing, you want to bunt, you need to bunt. You turn your bat and you hide your fingers and the ball makes that awful thunking sound and just glides halfway down the third baseline and stops. A beautiful hit.
Every out on a popped-up bunt is an embarrassment. Every out on a third-strike foul bunt is a disgrace. Stop humiliating me with your terrible bunts and just practice for a little bit while you have nothing better to do.
And while you’re at it, practice your head-down, no-nonsense home-run trot. Not too fast or too slow.
April 23, 2020 — 3:27 pm
Counterpoint: perfect your admirational eight-second home run stare followed by perfect 1440-degree bat flip.
April 23, 2020 — 4:00 pm
Apparently Rougned Odor needs some speed bag work then.
April 23, 2020 — 5:53 pm
Please send this blog to my son Trea Turner, I’m afraid he still has not learned how to bunt and will keep his fingers exposed!
April 23, 2020 — 3:44 pm
Kelsey McKinney says:
I would but I don’t have his email 🙁
April 23, 2020 — 3:49 pm
Guess I’m going over to Nats Park to nail it on the door like the 95 Theses
April 23, 2020 — 3:56 pm
Derry Murbles says:
An extremely belated +1
May 18, 2020 — 2:29 pm
Dr Emilio Lizardo says:
Except for NL pitchers (maybe), I’d rather they practice a more useful skill. Maybe they could teach their managers math so they can figure out that you score fewer runs by bunting and that the team that scores the most runs wins.
April 23, 2020 — 4:01 pm
Blue Eye Brown Eye Black Eye says:
Honest question here – can someone please summarize the 27 different 15,000 word saber metric analyses that I’m sure are on situational bunting that I’m sure are a google search away, but that I don’t actually want to read? I agree the standard sac bunt is a stupid play (except, as you say, maybe when the pitcher is up). But what about when the you’re being victimized by the shift.
Ideally, all hitters should be able to hit to all fields, but in reality, it’s probably easier to bunt away from the shift than it is to learn to pull consistently and on demand.
April 23, 2020 — 5:09 pm
Dr Emilio Lizardo says:
Google “run expectancy.”
Basically, if you have a man on first with nobody out the odds are you are more likely to score a run and more likely to score multiple runs than if you have a man on second and one out. Same thing for men on 1st and 2nd, no outs vs men on 2nd and 3rd, 1 out. So sacrificing is bad. The first goal of any hitter should be to not make an out and sacrificing assumes an out.
This is “context neutral,” so if you have a crappy hitter up, a man on first, and it is the 9th inning of a tie game it may not apply. But roughly 90% of sac bunts reduce the odds of winning.
This does not apply to bunting for a hit, which is generally fine since being on base is good. Whether a power hitting kefty should settle for an easy single instead of a double or homer requires much deeper analysis, but I think most people agree that trying to hit over the shift (and the wall) is better than taking the easy single.
It also ignores that bunts can be fun just from a strategic standpoint, even if bad. Modern baseball has proven that the best offense is a fairly dull offense. At least it is if you are an old man like me who believes that baseball is more fun when more guys are in motion.
April 23, 2020 — 7:19 pm
Garfield Thelonius Remington III says:
It would be interesting to look at the overall impact of bunting for a hit away from a shift. Consensus is that trying to beat the shift or hit a homer is a better move, but what if continually hitting singles away causes them to loosen or abandon said shift?
Theoretically, no team SHOULD abandon that shift, because you’d much rather have a power-hitting lefty dribbling singles to third all day than swinging away for doubles and homers, but that is also context-neutral, and assumes that opposing managers will stick with the shift. We all know that plenty of managers – being both human and sometimes not very good at modern baseball – would adjust away from the shift to prevent the singles.
April 24, 2020 — 11:27 am
Dr Emilio Lizardo says:
My data free opinion is that the biggest benefit of bunting for a single away from the shift is to discourage teams from shifting against you because I agree that most managers don’t have the patience or the mathematical savvy to stick with it and allow, say, Bryve Harper, to go 4 for 4 with four infield singles against them.
April 24, 2020 — 9:53 pm
I miss watching my Astros win while cheating before anyone proved they were actually cheating. And as I’m a true Astros fan, I say “yeah, but does that actually *prove* anything, really? Of course not.
And just as tennis needs more serve & volley, baseball needs more bunts. Screw the percentages. The nerds have ruined baseball!
April 23, 2020 — 4:55 pm
Art by WHOMST?!?!?
April 23, 2020 — 9:54 pm
Kelsey McKinney says:
wow art by me ty for asking
April 24, 2020 — 12:16 pm
I remember seeing an old video when I was a kid, it was Mickey Mantle giving a group of youngsters a lesson on bunting. He demonstrated the push bunt, the drag bunt, all the bunts (so many wonderful bunts, the best bunts really). This is a guy who hit more than 500 homers in his career and he was a better bunter than probably every pitcher in the league today. Seems not that hard to work on!
April 24, 2020 — 2:49 pm