Let’s face it, the bunt gets a bad rap these days, especially the sacrifice bunt. We’re in an era where some form of analytics plays a roll in every front office, and air-ball revolutionaries roam the dugouts; nobody on the periphery of either movement is espousing the virtues of the bunt. Shoot, there are multiple varieties of shirts available for anyone who wants to flaunt their anti-bunt lifestyle.
I’ll concede that the pure sacrifice bunt is often a bad play, the kind where you’re telegraphing the bunt early, where the defense is anticipating it, and where there’s little chance of anything good happening beyond moving a runner up a base in exchange for an out. When getting one run is super important, and maybe the batter isn’t so hot, this can be a good play. Often, though, both the run and win expectancy will drop if you pull off a “successful” sacrifice bunt in this scenario.
Take a look at Franchy Cordero‘s bunt from last night, though. To set the scene: the Padres are up one in the seventh, with Cory Spangenberg on first and one out. Forgetting the tank here, a run is important but not necessarily critical in the context of trying to win the game.
That’s a bunt, sure, but it’s not a pure sacrifice.
Notice how late Cordero starts to show bunt:
When Cordero shows the first sign of bunting, Michael Fulmer is half way through his delivery. Generally, when a hitter is sacrificing, he’ll show bunt early, giving himself plenty of time to get into proper position.
Further, check out where Tigers third baseman Dixon Machado is playing:
He’s a good few steps onto the dirt, not necessarily expecting Cordero to lay one down.
Ultimately Cordero bunted the ball too hard and too much in Machado’s general direction, but he was still only out by a half step on a nice bare-handed play, and the throw bounced in the dirt and could have easily skidded by Miguel Cabrera. The Padres were a split-second from having first and second with one out and a bad hop away from second and third (at least) with one out. The worst-case scenario (realistically) is what they ended up with, a man on second and two outs. Still, not so bad.
That’s the calculation that the typical sac bunt analysis can miss. You can’t forget to factor in the chance for a hit or error. In some sacrifice situations, the chance for either of those results is relatively low. Maybe the hitter’s right-handed and slow. Maybe he’s showing bunt early and the third baseman is pinching in well onto the grass. Maybe he’s a terrible bunter. In this situation—if we’re even calling it a sacrifice—with Cordero, we’ve got a speedy left-handed hitter not tipping his hand until the last second in a spot where a sac bunt isn’t obvious. The chance for a hit or error is much higher than usual.
Franchy Cordero has some pop and a good glove in center field. If he can become a good bunter, it certainly wouldn’t hurt his production. He’s got plenty of speed—he got down the line in roughly 3.7 seconds there—and seemingly solid technique.
As for the bunt in general, well, it’s still not exactly thriving. And it can still be a bad play, of course, with some managers overusing it in the wrong situations. However, with the current state of infield shifts, some players would be well off learning how to lay down the occasional bunt. Last night Cordero showed us a good spot for a fading strategical play.