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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Shift fear: why are managers afraid to order their batters to bunt against the shift?

Managers are no longer afraid to deploy the shift on defense but they are afraid to order their batters to bunt against the shift.  What gives?

Batters are dumber than usual this season, hitting into the shift most of the time.  Monday, April 7, 2014

But here's the thing.  These batters don't even need to change how they swing.  Don't swing at all.  Bunt.  Bunt for a hit.  Bunt for a double.  It's almost a sure hit and if the hit is for two bases the batter pads both his on base average and his slugging average and thus his OPS (on base plus slugging).

So what would we call someone who does not do this?  Dumb.

And what should we call a game like this?  Boring.

Here are the top ten active players in hits:

I'm guessing that most, if not all, would bunt for a hit against the shift.  Maybe home run hitters would be reluctant but I'll deal with that below.

How about the top ten in hits all time:

Again, maybe some home run hitters would be reluctant but Rose and Cobb would surely bunt.  They bunted against the normal fielding alignment.

Former Yankee manager Joe Torre, recently elected to the Hall of Fame, would not order Jason Giambi to bunt against the shift.  Torre is number 133 on the hit list with 2,342 hits, more than Giambi, number 277 with 2,002.

Current Yankee manager Joe Girardi will not order Mark Teixeira, tied at 508 with 1,591 hits, or Brian McCann, to bunt against the shift.  Teixeira is on the disabled list  and McCann can't buy a hit.

McCann has five singles in 33 at bats (AB), plus one walk.  OPS .328, OPS+ -7.  Yes, NEGATIVE 7.  With the Yanks needing a base runner, not necessarily a home run (HR), McCann will not bunt for a hit against the shift.  For his career McCann's HR rate (AB/HR): 3,896/176=22.  So his chances of hitting a HR are about one out of 22, about 4.5%.

I'm guessing that any major league batter has about a 90% chance of bunting for a hit into the empty area of the shift, especially a lefty batter who is already closer to first base and the open area near third base the longest infield distance away.

The defense is giving the offense a single, possible double.

Why won't the batter take it?

Why won't the manager order the batter to take it?

1. Batter doesn't want to hit to the opposite field, he wants to pull the ball.  Also, batter does not want to mess up his swing.

2. Batter does not even consider bunting away from the shift.

3. Batter does not know how to bunt, partly because he's not asked to sacrifice bunt, partly because it's beneath his status as a slugger.

As mentioned in the previous post on shifting:

"These batters don't even need to change how they swing.  Don't swing at all.  Bunt.  Bunt for a hit."

We're not talking about bunting for a hit against the normal boring fielding position.  We're not even talking about bunting to sacrifice when the fielders are looking for a bunt.  We're talking about bunting for a hit against the shift, which leaves a huge infield area unprotected.  That does not take skill at bunting, just a little hand-eye coordination.

Novak Djokovic was born May 22, 1987 in in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and began playing tennis at the age of four.  He is generally considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time.  I'm guessing that Djokovic never played baseball.  I'm also guessing that with a little practice Djokovic could successfully bunt for a hit against major league pitching against the shift.  He'd be in his age 27 season.

Mantle won triple crown by bunting.  Friday, February 24, 2012

Mickey Mantle led AL in 1956: 130 RBI, 52 HR, .353 BA.  Ted Williams was second in BA: .345.

Mantle had 188 hits in 533 AB.  Mantle attempted the most bunts in his career: 21 PA; 12 hits in 20 AB.  Without the bunts: 176 hits in 513 AB: .343.  Williams leads in BA and Mantle does not win the triple crown.

Kansas City (As, not Royals) shifted on Mantle a little early in that 1956 season but mostly Mantle was bunting for hits against fielders in their regular positions.

In 1956 Mantle hit 52 home runs in leading the American League (AL) in batting average (BA), RBI, HR.  Vic Wertz was second in HR with 32.  Brooklyn center fielder Duke Snider led the National League with 43.  Mantle and Snider were the only 1956 batters with at least 40 HR.

Mantle homered twice against Camilo Pascual April 17, 1956 and two off Billy Hoeft on June 20, 1956 for 27 to that point in the season.  Mantle was chasing the season home run record of 60 set by Babe Ruth in 1927.  Yet Mantle bunted the most times in his career.  Mantle's Yankees won the AL pennant and World Series in Brooklyn in 1956.

Apparently real men do bunt.

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