Brace for Bunting

The folks at Baseball Info Solutions–John Dewan and Bill James among others–do fantastic work. Thanks in part to their diligence, we know just about everything concerning baseball; from the correlation between home attendance and team performance to how bald players fare on the base baths compared to their hirsute counterparts. Well, maybe not that last one. But this group of sharp minds is doing much to drive advanced analysis in the sport and they can tell us a heck of a lot about bunting.

In this article, born from work on a sub-project for the third volume of Dewan’s ‘Fielding Bible,’ plenty of helpful information is given on the success rates of bunting for a base hit. What Dewan tells us does not bode well for the Detroit Tigers–specifically for Miguel Cabrera at third base.

In 2011, Dewan wrote, batters faced with non-sacrifice situations who successfully laid down bunts had a .438 average on those bunts. The reason that number is so high is that only the best, the fastest, try bunting for a base hit and those who do so are experts in picking their spots. Keep in mind, though, that there will be no spot better than when standing in the batter’s box and seeing Cabrera at the hot corner.

The high average above doesn’t even tell the whole story. Dewan and his team broke the infield down into six zones–three on each side of the pitcher’s mound and second base. The zone in which hitters had the most success placing their bunt hit attempts was, unsurprisingly, the one hugging the third base line. There, the Juan Pierres of the world had an astronomical .720 average bunting to get on base. That figure will balloon more with even an immensely trimmer version of Cabrera than we’re used to manning third.

Speaking of Pierre, the guy is a certified pest on the baseball field and a perfect example of the type of player who will be perpetually looking to make Cabrera work over at third. I’m glad Pierre isn’t a Tiger, but I’m equally glad he’s no longer with the Chicago White Sox or even in the American League, having recently signed a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Within the division this year, it’ll be guys like Alcides Escobar of the Kansas City Royals and Alexi Casilla of the Minnesota Twins putting Cabrera’s glove to the test.

In the grand scheme of things, the trouble the Tigers will face on the defensive side of the ball with the addition of Prince Fielder will not outweigh the benefits of having two of the best hitters in baseball in their lineup–it takes quite a few bunts to erase a home run. Still, it’s interesting to note that it’s very likely teams will and should try their best to exploit this area; we’re going to see a lot of bunting this year in Detroit.

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Topics: Alcides Escobar, Alexi Casilla, Detroit Tigers, Juan Pierre, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder

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  • jgorosh

    How many bunts did teams lay down on Mark Reynolds vs. the rest of the league last year? How many of those were hits? I’d love to see that data.

    • garretkc

      @jgorosh I have no idea how reliable this data is (it’s from Baseball-Reference but I don’t know which plays they include in this sample–is it bunts fielded or bunts hit to, etc.), but B-R has him fielding 12 bunts at third and only four resulted in outs. They also say Cabrera has fielded 51 bunts at third in his career and 75% ended in outs. League average last year for third basemen was 64%. I’m really surprised by this, but it doesn’t look like Cabrera will have an inordinate amount of trouble at all. Thanks for making me find that.

      • jgorosh

        @garretkc The thing is, only 8 guys had more than 10 bunt hits last season. 4 of whom are currently in the national league, and one is on the Tigers. Of the remaining 3, two are on the Angels, and one is Brett Gardner. So, you’re not exactly worrying about the whole league, here. Guys like Bourjos and Gardner are going to bunt for a base hit even if Brooks Robinson is playing over there. They’re really fast.

        Moreover, only about 25 guys had more than 5. It’s hard to do. Most of those good guys still averaged less than 50% success.

  • Tigers1234

    The thing is I don’t think Cabrera will play 3B as much as expected. When Rick or Fister pitch I think Inge will be playing third to sure up the defense since they are ground ball pitchers. Max and JV I think have the stuff to mess up a few bunt attempts here and there. I don’t think this will be as big a deal as it is being made out to be.

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