Saturday, June 4


The PD's Bill Livingston has written a fairly predictable piece in his column, romanticizing the bunt in baseball and crediting much of the Indians' early-season success to their willingness to play "Smallball." I know he's not the only one - lots of fans adore the idea of bunting, moving runners over, and other such selfless out-making, regardless of the actual bearing such plays have on team success. I grant that the Indians have effectively used bunting strategies on several occasions this season, and there are spots (very limited ones) where it's a good strategic call to do so. Spots, I should add, that Manny Acta has selected expertly.

That having been said about Acta's work at the helm, it's really, really easy for a manager to be viewed in a positive light by playing "Smallball" (famously derided by as "Outball") and to "be aggressive" and all those things that look like good "fundamentals" (as if hitting the ball hard and throwing strikes don't require fundamentals?) but don't necessarily contribute to winning baseball. Fan approval of such a manager is always going to be high, irrespective of whether his moves are right, because it gives the appearance of being the aggressor, and we tend to remember the successful plays like Cabrera's squeeze and Carrera's drag more than all the times we've been caught stealing already.

Anyway, as much as some of us like the notion of bunting and not being overly macho (Livy's weird angle), the Indians have the best record in the AL largely because they are 3rd in the AL in OBP, 3rd in HR, and 2nd in SLG, translating into a league best OPS+ of 119 (adjusted for Progressive Field being a pitcher's park). But Livy is looking for a different explanation:

Bunting is a lost art in baseball. At times, it is also a reviled one.
Bunting is most definitely not a lost art - guys still bunt all the time. Why do people write things like this? They always say the same in basketball about mid-range shooting every time a guy makes a mid-range jumper to prove the exact opposite point. And bunting is reviled only because it's been demonstrated time and time again, through conclusive statistical analysis, to be countereffective towards an offense's goal of scoring runs.

Acta's predecessor, Eric Wedge, had an unreasonable bias against the bunt in all aspects but the sacrifice. "That's not real baseball," he said of squeeze bunts and other surprise short-ball plays.
Bias against bunting is not unreasonable - it's backed up strongly by statistics. Bias in favor of bunting is (literally) unreasonable, in that it's a position not supported by facts. That Wedge quote is weird - I'd be interested to see its context.

The sacrifice bunt, because everyone knows it is coming, is probably harder to execute than a bunt that is intended to be a hit.
Maybe, though the element of surprise of bunting for a hit is offset by its more difficult criterion for success, i.e. reaching base safely.

Many of the new metrics in baseball argue that the sac bunt is overrated because with it a team gives up one-third of its outs in an inning to move a player one base closer to home.
Correct. Why isn't this the focus of your article?

On the great Indians teams of the 1990s, Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar were all good bunters. No one thought the ploy weakened their competitive fiber. But the lure of the three-run homer was greater in a power lineup.
Lofton's job was to get on base and he was good at it. Anything he did to reach safely was fine in my book. I'm not sure what point is being made here.

In the old days, when players policed the game and umpires issued far fewer warnings for brushback pitches
I'll never understand why old guys romanticize throwing at batters as much as they do, but they all do it. Can one of you drop me a line and explain this?

As for Acta, he is an adaptable man who tailors his offense to his players' talents. He did not bunt much in two seasons and part of a third as Washington Nationals manager. He had the same station-to-station, slow team there as Wedge did during most of his Indians tenure.
Agreed on Acta - I've read him talk about not liking to give up outs. Did I already mention that this team is good because they hit the ball hard, not because they bunt a lot? I want to be clear on that.

But Acta was not doctrinally opposed to the surprise bunt, and certainly not for the testosterone-fueled reasons of Wedge.
Weird anti-Wedgeness here. People can have different opinions of Wedge if they choose, but it's bizarre to suggest that he made the decisions he did for any reason other than trying to give the club the best chance to win baseball games.

The squeeze was an effective play by manager Ozzie Guillen's Chicago White Sox in their world championship season of 2005.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Guillen gave away a prodigious amount of outs that year with his poor offensive decisions and philosophy, and the White Socks finished 9th of 14 AL teams in run scoring that season. Their pitching staff's league-leading ERA was why they won that title, and anyone who credits Guillen's Outball with their success simply hasn't even tried to understand the game. Even Crazy Ozzie himself fell back on 2005 during another one of his ridiculous postgame tirades. This guy is such a buffoon and such a hindrance to his team's chances to success, and, wait, what am I saying? Give the guy an extension!

The grotesque obsession of some players with their image is the problem. They put an unfair connotation on the play. This is not confined to baseball.
This makes no sense. I wonder if the bunting thing was just a pretense, a Trojan Horse in which to hide a criticism of athletes' egos.

The physics of basketball demonstrate that an underhand free throw produces a softer shot with a higher arc, making the ball more likely to go in, than an overhand shot.
Perhaps, but players practice overhand shots almost constantly, from all spots on the floor, and should have great familiarity with that motion. This seems to me a better strategy than learning an entirely different skill, the granny shot.

Yet because it is sneeringly called a "granny" shot,
Ha, I did that. But is that, or is that not, how one would expect their grandmother to shoot a foul shot?

manly players persist in their sub-50 percent efforts with the set-shot approach. Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Dudley and Jerome Lane, former Cavalier bricklayers all, are ready examples.
Dirk Nowitzki shoots 90% overhand. So did Mark Price and Reggie Miller. Cherry-picking three of the NBA's all-time worst foul shooters doesn't bolster your granny shot argument, nor the bunting point you were making before.

There is less of a stigma to "bunting," in the form of laying up, on par-5 holes in golf.
[Falls asleep]

...with offense down in baseball and the value of every base increasing, smartness courts finesse. The people devoted to macho posturing should get over themselves.
This is awful. First off, no one is "devoted to macho posturing." That sentence is pure hackwork.

More importantly, with offense down in baseball, the value of every out increases as well - this is why people like me don't like giving them away. The people devoted to not understanding the counterproductive effect most bunting has on run-scoring should get over themselves. It's not about image, or posturing, or manliness. It's about scoring the most runs and winning baseball games, something a team achieves best by conserving its outs instead of bunting them away.

Maybe you like the aesthetics of bunting, the team aspect of it or what not, but it's annoying to be put on the defensive by suggesting that the only reason I like employing optimal run-scoring strategies is because of some overdeveloped sense of machismo. That's not fair.

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