Bunting Sucks…But…


Fresh off a sweep of the Minnesota Twins, I am sure that everyone is feeling a little bit better, and while I am not here to rain on the happiness parade, I do have to take issue with something I saw in today’s game…

The approach of Jim Leyland in the 9th inning.

Much has been made about bunting in baseball. Heck, it has probably provided a couple jobs for stat geeks holed up in a basement somewhere who are looking to prove that bunting in baseball should never be done. For the most part, I tend agree with those pocket protector wearing geniuses about bunting. Any bunt laid down that isn’t for a hit before the 8th inning is silly, given that there is no reason to be playing for one run before that point. If baseball is a game of averages, one has to logically concede that by giving up outs, you are going to lessen your ability to score.

But at times, it isn’t a bad play and that scenario presented itself today.

Let’s just look at the Tigers approach in the ninth today when the Tigers were down by one run. Quentin Berry leads off with a single, which of course in a game where the Tigers were down by one run, many were assuming that Andy Dirks would be sacrificing him along with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder coming up. After all, Dirks had already successfully sacrificed much earlier in the game, which is partially the origin of my disgust that I will get too in a little bit here.

Anyway, after the lead-off single, Jim Leyland surprised many of us by sending Quentin Berry to steal on the 2nd pitch of the Dirks at-bat, which Berry successfully stole. Obviously, kudos to Jim Leyland in that regard. Sending Berry to steal a bag is a higher percentage play, if we can assume his continuance of his minor league success rate (19/22), than bunting him over to 2nd and giving Matt Capps an out. It’s always good to make Capps get outs, since he doesn’t do it very easily.

The trouble I have begins when Berry was standing on the 2nd base bag with nobody out and a 2-0 count on Dirks. It is at this point when the bunt actually becomes a pretty usable tool. Putting the runner at third with one out was the optimal situation there, “never bunt” stat geeks be damned, and I am baffled as to why Leyland didn’t do it. For somebody that utilizes the bunt in the middle of the game, which should never happen, it was strange to see him let Dirks swing away. The result was the same as what a sacrifice would’ve produced if Leyland didn’t have Berry steal the bag, and bunted him over to 2nd. Essentially, letting Dirks swing away was akin to eliminating the positive outcome of the stolen base, because now, your runner is at 2nd with one out, instead of 3rd with one out.

Now, I am assuming of course in that scenario that Dirks successfully completes the sacrifice bunt, and that isn’t a given. But if he didn’t bunt successfully, you don’t lose any probability there unless Berry is thrown out at third, but given his speed, that isn’t a likely scenario. In both scenarios, 1st base is open, so they were pitching to Cabrera regardless. They just should have been pitching to Cabrera with a runner on third and one out.

Ultimately, Cabrera bailed out Jim Leyland by hitting the ball out of the park, so the lack of moving the runner to the third with less than two outs didn’t hurt, but if that ball would’ve died at the track, the Tigers could’ve easily not scored that run. Regardless, that was a bizarre management decision given that Leyland had shown earlier in the game, and in recent games, he is willing to have Dirks lay down a sacrifice.

The whole point of sacrifice bunting is to score one run, and why Leyland would do it in the fifth inning, but not the ninth seems to lack common sense, especially given the situation.

We’ve been pretty fair to Leyland here at Motor City Bengals. While lots of fans have called for his head, and at times have rightfully howled about his lineups and decision making, we haven’t made too much about his decision making to this point. For the most, players win the games, and for the most part, players lose the games.

But Jim Leylands decision making when it comes to the usage of bunting is at the very least perplexing, if not downright infuriating sometimes.

What do you think? Were you as perplexed as I was that Leyland didn’t at least have Dirks attempt to move Berry to third with one out?