It seems changing the rules of baseball has become all the rage. The conversations surrounding the MLB lately are seemingly more about tinkering with iconic unique to the game concepts than the game itself. Next up at the plate of change - the sacrifice bunt.
ESPN’s Keith Law has released an excerpt from his upcoming book in which he proposes the MLB axe it’s second big rule in as many years. The 2017 season saw the death of the 4-pitch intentional walk, will the 2018 season see the death of the sacrifice bunt? Mr. Law’s reasoning:
In the majority of situations when it’s used, the sacrifice bunt is a terribly stupid play.
What is the first scenario that pops into your mind when you hear a batter is looking to lay down a sacrifice bunt? If you are a fan of a National League team, it is almost assuredly the pitcher coming up to the plate trying to move the runner on first base over. For those of you thinking to yourselves, “that’s why the NL should adopt the DH”, STOP IT! That’s an entirely different article and you are wrong! If you are willing to fight so hardily for four useless balls being lobbed to the plate for an intentional walk based on the hope a fluke situation occurs, then you have pinned yourself into a corner hoping that when a pitcher or batter lays down a bunt that something wacky happens on the field leading to everybody being safe.
You may be surprised to find out that 23 of the top 50 listed for most sac bunts in 2016 were position players, not pitchers. Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals led the league with 13, Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds led the National League non-pitchers with 11 (tied for 2nd) while Alcides Escobar of the Kansas City Royals led the American League with 10 (tied for 3rd).
Hamilton was second overall in the league last season in stolen bases, so one can safely assume the element of his speed led to legitimate hopes he could beat out the throw to first base. Of all the other top 23, only Jarrod Dyson (then of the Royals) had more than 20 steals, so relying on speed to create issues was not always the precedent.
Philadelphia Phillie Freddy Galvis, Toronto Blue Jay Ezequiel Carrera, ten bearded Washington National Danny Espinosa, and a host of other “top sacrifice bunt’ers” batted under .250. One could safely assume that the manager of the team was not looking at the situation as sacrificing an out but instead trying to stay out of the double play. Really, that’s the major reason why pitchers are instructed to bunt instead of swing for the fences. This logic is thrown out the window though when you consider the 2016 National League batting champion DJ LeMahieu is on the top 20 for most sac bunts.
— The Hit Doctor (@bobbeckbaseball) December 19, 2020
Home run swings are all the rage but laying down a bunt is an art form. Not everyone can crush a ball like Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge, but not everyone can square up on a bunt either. You can throw all the statistics out there that you feel diminish the sacrifice bunt, there is one response to all of them. If the sac bunt put the runner in scoring position and that runner did not score, then the statistic you should be harping on is “batting with RISP (runners in scoring position)”. Whether it be Johnny Cueto, Denard Span, or Nori Aoki bunting the runner into scoring position, they did their job. The failure here is by the following batter not driving them in!
Leave the damned game alone!