Bunting against the shift

David Ortiz laid down a nice bunt the other night when he was the lead off batter one inning. With the defense in the shift, he could have walked to first base and still beaten the throw. Is that the correct move for a power hitter who frequently faces the shift? Only when he’s up first in an inning?

Ted Williams famously never altered his hitting approach to counter the defensive shift, but I think that a player like Ortiz (and others who often face it) benefit greatly from occasionally bunting. Yes, it gives up a possible extra base hit, but will keep the defense on its toes and gives you an almost guaranteed baserunner.

So baseball mavens, how often should a hitter bunt against the shift?

I think they should probably bunt more, particularly if they’re at least somewhat adept at it. Almost certainly if you’re down by two or more late in the game and the defense has a big shift on.

Almost no hitter is so prodigious pulling the ball into a shift that it’s better than even a 50% chance of a successful single. Even 40% is pretty good.

So I’d say if you’re down by two or more with nobody on facing a big shift and you think your success rate is above 50/50 you should go for it.

Most power hitters won’t, of course, for various reasons (ego, money, fear of failure).

Good for Papi. Without getting into why I don’t think the shift is a good idea, yes, if you are a good bunter, do it. Why not? They’ll give you 1st base, take it. Granted, a lot has to do with the actual game situation.

Let’s say Papi will hit 30 doubles and 30 HRs in 500 ABs. There is a 12% chance he gets an extra base hit. (Come on, he ain’t hitting triples). I’d put his odds of laying down a good enough bunt against the shift at 50/50 at worst. I’ll take that. At least do it once or twice just to keep them honest.

Heck, do it every single time. Players like Ortiz are valued for their OBP as well as their power. A bunt single is as good as a walk, with the added bonus of making the other team look stupid.

Also, if you get your lead-off batter on base, percentage wise, you will score about 1/3 of the time.

What was the situation as to the score and the inning? Had he take any pitches ahead of the bunt? If it was late with the score tight did they pull him for a pinch runner?

Basically, I like the strategy. Keep the other team honest which ups the percentage for getting a hit.

Obviously it depends on what you think your odds are of successfully executing the bunt.

If you think your odds are, say, better than 45%, every hitter in baseball should drop the bunt every single time. With practice, I suspect it WOULD be 45% and potentially much higher. If you could push your success rate over 50% it would be insane to ever attempt a regular swing against a shift.

He had already hit a HR in the game, and the Sox were leading 1-0 or 2-0 fairly early. He was lead off, got on first. Went to second on a ground out, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on a single.

He didn’t even disguise the bunt; as soon as the pitcher was in his windup for the first pitch he squared around and the 3rd baseman just couldn’t react in time.

Well, just like in football, sometimes you have to throw in a gadget play or an onside kick. He ended up scoring which goes back to my earlier stat. So, if he gets on first and scores that probably has better odds than his batting average.

There used to be a play, I think it was called the chop bunt. The hitter would square around and as the 3rd baseman charged in the batter would try to knock it just over his head. I don’t think I’ve seen it used in awhile. Maybe that’s what froze the 3rd baseman. Too bad they don’t teach and use plays like that more often. Power hitters just swinging for the fence gets a bit boring. The excitement of watching sports is to witness the unpredictable. Good for Ortiz. He’ll have them thinking the rest of the year.

Especially since, with the shift in place, your bunt doesn’t need to be anywhere near as precise as it would in a normal setup.

If there’s no-one at third base, then all you need to do is get the ball going in the right direction. It doesn’t matter if you bunt it a bit too hard, because there’s no third baseman charging in to make the pickup and throw. In fact, bunting it a bit too hard in that situation is actually preferable, to ensure that you get it past the pitcher and out of range of the catcher.

One advantage of bunting when there’s a shift on is that it can convince the other team not to use the shift any more. Then the batter can go back to pulling the ball and hitting for power, but against a defense that’s playing him straight up.

He decided to take conditioning seriously last winter, for the first time in years, knowing it’s really possible he’ll get traded or nontendered. Ortiz is visibly at least 40-50 pounds lighter this year, that takes some load off his knees, he’s running the bases better, and I do think he has a triple or two in him this year.

Now, perhaps the front office will stand behind the manager and support his efforts to get the rest of the multimillionaires to put in some damn gym time …

I totally agree with the sentiment in the OP. It used to drive me nuts here in Cincinnati with Junior when he would never, ever bunt against the shift that defenses put onto him at every single AB he would have.

I remember once sitting in the Diamond Club seats at Great American ball park, which are right there behind home plate and Griffey was on deck about to walk over to home and a guy yells “Griffey, lay a bunt down against that shift!” and Ken turned around, looked at the guy, gave him a smirk and shook his head as if to say “Aw hell no.”

He then proceeded to ground out.

Well, other than when you’re down by a run or tied late in the game with two outs. In that case-- without checking actual stats-- I think I’d take the chance of homer or double over a bunt then another hit. (But anyone with actual, you know, facts, can convince me otherwise)

But I do wish Papi would do this more. I thought the Red Sox were all about sabremetrics and OBP.

Sure, there are rare occasions when it’s not the right move, but that’s like 10 at bats a year out of 600.

It seems weird to me that players aren’t bunting their way on against the shift, beause it DOES work; Carlos Pena did it three times agains the Blue Jays in one series this year.

Fun fact. He is one of only two players in the league to have at least one triple per season for the previous twelve seasons.

[/Paul Blart]

Too late to edit post. He’s now the only active player in the league to do that, since Carlos Guillen has retired.

Exploiting holes in the defense is a big part of the offensive part of the game. At the end of the day, putting men on base and moving them around is what wins you ballgames – if the defense sets up in a manner that essentially donates 90 feet to you, why would you not take it?

This ties in with a zillion aspects of hitting philosophy.

A quality bunter, like Ichiro, forces the infield to play in to try to take away that option, but it also opens up holes that he can drive hard hit ground balls through.

After spending a bunch of time talking to Ted Williams, My main man Tony Gwynn went out and set a career high for homers in a season, while also leading the league in hits and batting average. Gwynn was telling Williams that he always wanted to hit the outside pitch the opposite way, as that was his bread and butter, but pitchers knew this and were jamming him. Williams responded that Gwynn needed to turn on those inside pitches and make pitchers pay for it. Punish enough of those pitches and pitchers will stop throwing them to you and go back to throwing you the away stuff you want to see anyway. The strategy worked like a charm.

R.P. McMurphy, we call that play the “butcher boy” and my ballclub practices it quite a bit for use in game situations. Defenses get pissed off when you do it, because it forces the corner fielders to crash, putting them in a vulnerable position when the batter pulls the bat back and takes a full hack. But it also works because it opens holes in the defense and also puts all these new possibilities in the defense’s minds. And once you’re in the other team’s heads, they’re practically already beat.