Last night, the Kansas City Royals encountered a tough loss to division rivals, the Detroit Tigers. It was a back and forth game between the two ball clubs that saw the Royals leave a bunch of runners on base and ended with the best hitter in baseball, Miguel Cabrera, take Aaron Crow deep in the 9th inning to win the game. Some Royals fans were outraged that Crow pitched to Cabrera instead of intentionally walking him. I was more outraged that the Royals bunted during the top of the inning with two outs and a runner on third.
If there is one thing that I absolutely loathe about this Royals team(and thank goodness, there aren’t as many things to hate as say, last year) is that they consider bunting a big part of their game. Manager Neddy Yost loves bunting. LOVES it. The last couple years we’ve had to hear about how good a bunter Chris Getz is, even though he has failed to put down a bunt countless times and even injured himself trying to bunt. How many tweets have I seen this year that beat writer Bob Dutton has put out(tweeted out?) talking about the team practicing bunting during batting practice? Too many. I sometimes feel like this team thinks it’s 1982 and there are still stadiums with AstroTurf on them. The honest truth is I used to not hate bunting so much. All we have to do is go back to 2010…
How many remember the 2010 Kansas City Royals? If you do, you remember that they didn’t have much punch on that team. That team had Billy Butler, Jose Guillen…and…and…well, Yuniesky Betancourt was tied for the team lead in RBI’s-with 78. This was also a team with Scott Podsednik and David DeJesus at the top of the lineup, so if this team relied a bit more on small ball, that was fine. The honest truth was that team probably wasn’t going to score much if not for small ball. It was fun watching this team built more around speed work that speed to their advantage and have a very good April, before they fell off the map later on in May. For that team, it made a bit more sense to use bunting as a weapon. But the last two years? Absolutely no reason to use it at all.
Now, there are a few times that bunting is acceptable and even the best course of action to take, but for the most part it isn’t, and the numbers prove it. If you are in the bottom of the eighth or ninth, and really only need one run, and you have a runner on first with no outs, a sacrifice bunt is acceptable. In fact the percentage chance of scoring one run actually goes up in that case. But if you aren’t playing for one run(and let’s be honest, you rarely should be), this is an awful choice, as your run expectancy goes down. Don’t believe me? Read here. For the most part, you should always be playing for more than one run, as only a fool thinks you should stop at one if you have a chance at more. Letting the batter go ahead and hit makes your chance of scoring go up and give you an opportunity to put more runs on the board. There is nothing more frustrating to me than seeing the Royals bunting…IN THE FIRST INNING!!! Everytime it happens, all I can think of is former Orioles manager Earl Weaver. Weaver once said “If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get”. It might not be like that 100% of the time, but if you look it up, Weaver is right. Playing for one run just seems like a flawed theory and an easy way to have your team playing from behind.
There is one exception in my mind for bunting: if Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson wants to bunt, you let him. Hell, at times you force him to bunt. Dyson has ridiculous speed. Like ‘Herb Washington only pinch runs because he is a world-class sprinter’ type speed. There are certain players in the game that can use their speed as a weapon, and Dyson is one of them. He has game changing speed. Dyson is a guy who can bunt for a hit and even if the infield is in, will probably get it. So in this situation, I am fine with bunting. A speedster like Dyson can completely change the game plan of the other team or even worse for them, wreak havoc on a fragile pitchers psyche. In this scenario, let him bunt.
Unfortunately, the Royals don’t seem to use their bunting in correct or even logical situations. Alcides Escobar is guilty, especially when he was batting second, of bunting in the first inning. Second Baseman Chris Getz can barely get the ball to the outfield sometimes, so bunting is a big part of his game, and not always when he really should. I would like to say here that it is just a situation of the team not having guys who are good hitters, but it goes deeper than that. This organization loves bunting. The manager and the GM are on the same page, both heaping high praise on the players who bring bunting into the game. Well, unless you are Escobar. Then sometimes Neddaniel will throw you under the bus. But for the most part, they applaud the use of the bunt, and that is just as big a problem as the player who goes out there and thinks it gives them a better chance of scoring then standing in the box and actually trying to hit the ball.
So, are there times that bunting is not only acceptable, but should be expected? Of course. But for the majority of time, it should probably be discouraged and left for only certain situations or for certain players. I know the bunt used to be a big part of the game years ago, but the game is in a constant flux of change, and will for the rest of eternity. The numbers don’t lie and show that bunting actually hurts your team’s chances of putting runs on the board. The Kansas City Royals, a team that can’t allow for many mistakes, would be wise to learn a proper time to use the bunt and when it is detrimental. Bunting with two outs in the 9th and a runner on third? Not the right time. When that happens, a loss shouldn’t be a shock. I can only hope the Royals learn this lesson before it hurts them during a crucial time, like making a playoff push.