Red Sox: Why has the bunt become extinct to this run deficient offense?
By Rick McNair
The run deficient Boston Red Sox ignored the simple solution for judicious use of run production – the sacrifice. Bunting also seemed to be rejected by a team in need of run production.
Why has the bunt become extinct to the run deficient Boston Red Sox?
I have a personal fondness for bunting or even slap hitting to get on base or move a runner over. As a young player, I will use the local vernacular to describe my hitting abilities: “I sucked!” As a pitcher I was required to hit – it was that long ago. Coaches would instruct me on bunting and to hit down on the ball. Good things can happen when a ball is in play. Bad things happen when you are three and done.
"Any bunt in which there was a runner on base and less than two outs in which the batter was put out and at least one runner advanced. – Fangraphs (sacrifice)"
If you had a baseball time machine or read Darryl Brocks great book “If I Never Get Back” the concept of moving a runner along would be paramount to a team’s success. Just think the Baltimore Orioles of the 1890’s or the run-scoring philosophy of the Dead Ball Era.
In those long-ago days, the mastery of handling a bat included the ability to put the ball in play to move a runner along. A runner on first would mean an almost automatic attempt to sacrifice – even the heart of your line-up was expected to have this skill. Unfortunately, or fortunately, times have changed, and the bunt is an endangered baseball species especially for the Red Sox.
When you need runs the idea is to generate them as best you can. Despite the notated aggressiveness on the base paths of the 2017 Red Sox they simply ignored the sacrifice bunt and bunting for a base hit. Boston was dead last in the American League with just nine sacrifices. Light-hitting Deven Marrero led the team with three sacrifices.
The Red Sox also had a certain amount of disdain for bunting for a base hit with just 12 for the season. The Red Sox were led by Marrero with three and Sandy Leon with three. Leon took advantage of the shifts employed for an easy hit – if you had the batting competency to lay one down.
Bunting is now both situational and part of the overall repertoire of players who realize that proper execution of a bunt can add points to an average. Is it fast becoming extinct? In the AL the two top bunters were Delino DeShields (13) and Byron Buxton (11). In the National League Dee Gordon (18) led everyone. All three are what is often termed speed merchants.
Listening to Red Sox games announcer Jerry Remy would go on and on about the skill and need to bunt. To quote Clint Eastwood: “A man has to know his limitations” and Remy realized his speed coupled with his bunting skill could keep him employed.
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Many a situation would arise, and Remy would go into his familiar routine of moving a runner along or taking advantage of a shift. I have no idea why the Red Sox had such reluctance teamwide of bunt avoidance. Is it philosophical? A lack of skill development?
Just how much do the Red Sox invest in bunting? How is it prioritized in spring training and the regular season? Apparently, some time is spent preparing pitchers for bunt situations in interleague play, but the rest questionable.
If Leon can take advantage of a shift it should present reasonable evidence to others that the occasional attempt is made to keep defenses honest or to improve your own statistics. Occasionally I would see a batter attempt to push one down in a shift situation and the attempt and results were laughable.
A bunt of significance may impact only a few games, but the idea is the preparation for such situations. I may not be a Patriots fan, but admire the preparation of Bill Belichick. When the unusual happens during a game the team seems prepared and later info comes out that they had worked on the situation. Amazing!
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Jackie Bradley now states he wants to “steal more bases.” An admirable idea especially if it is linked to a vastly improved batting average, but about those shift’s, Jackie? Maybe a nice bunt would instill some defensive honesty?