All right, it’s been an ugly little stretch, but some neat things have happened. Felix mowed right through probably the best offense in baseball. Michael Saunders is turning it on just as Nick Franklin is turning it off, which is necessary to maintain our semblance of a positive attitude. Yesterday’s game, though nightmarish, afforded a number of different things to blame, like umpires, and relievers, and a non-manager manager gesturing with the wrong arm. Things haven’t been dull or completely and utterly bad, and Kyle Seager bunted for an RBI base hit.
That was Thursday. This is what Seager looked at, defensively, as he stood in the box with a runner on third:
That’s a heavy shift, with three defenders between first and second and the third baseman playing shortstop. Mike Blowers remarked it was the first time he could remember seeing Seager get shifted. It’s been unusual to see a Mariners hitter get shifted, because it’s usually good hitters who get shifted, and, yeah. Shifting, defensively, makes a lot of sense, depending on hitter traits and pitcher type. But this kind of shift leaves a big gaping obvious hole at third. That’s the kind of shift that can be beaten by a well-placed bunt. Wouldn’t you know it:
Seager dropped a well-placed bunt and the Mariners scored a run. Here’s the video. All people could talk about was how smart Seager is, how heads-up that play was. People complimented Seager’s situational awareness, and it felt like a real clever gamble. The only thing about this being considered smart baseball is that it’s actually really obvious baseball.
You bunt to beat the shift. If the defense is going to shift like that, you beat it by bunting. No, you’re not going to be successful all of the time, but you’re going to get a lot of hits, and you’re going to produce more than you would by swinging away. That’s all but guaranteed, at least with a little practice, and everyone who gets shifted ought to practice bunting. People don’t bunt mostly because of their egos. Hitters feel bad about altering their approaches, and they don’t want to sacrifice their power. Defenses exploit this mentality. In a word, that’s stupid. It’s all testosterone-y and stupid. Maybe bunting feels weak, or cheap, but hits are hits. Hits are good for your line and good for your team.
Yeah, if you get shifted and you constantly bunt, the defense is going to respond by un-shifting, at least to such an extreme degree. That’s when you swing away, because the thing about this game theory is that it’s apparent when you’re in the box what the infield is doing. Nothing is hidden. The third baseman can either field a bunt down the line or he can’t. Then the hitter can respond to that. When shifted, you bunt. When not shifted, you don’t bunt. Maybe you don’t bunt against the shift in every single situation, but you do in most. Even being successful half the time will make you amazing, relative to what would get done otherwise.
There are basically two possibilities. In one, it’s smart to bunt, because it’s a free hit, and hitters are dumb for not doing it more. In the other, it’s a lot harder to bunt decently than you’d think, so it’s less obvious. In the former, a bunt attempt is the clear preference. In the latter, it’s less clear, and a quality bunt is less about being smart and more about just executing well. When a hitter hits a dinger, people don’t say he played smart baseball. He just executed well with the swing.
Obviously this isn’t intended as anything against Kyle Seager. Kyle Seager is making me love him, and that was a hell of an RBI bunt single against the shift. He’s an All-Star level position player, on the Mariners, and he’s young and under team control forever. This is more about our collective response to the bunt attempt. Seager was praised for being clever and creative for doing the really obvious thing that would benefit both him and his team. It’s not so much smart that Seager bunted as it is stupid that other people don’t bunt more. So Seager is smart relative to the lefty-hitting norm, but the lefty-hitting norm isn’t smart.
I guess everything’s relative. I’m glad Kyle Seager isn’t a lefty-hitting idiot. He should be commended for not having so much of an ego that he did a dumb thing instead of the obvious thing. Bunt. Everybody, bunt against the shift. You’ll be amazed how quickly that shift would go away. They’re giving you a hit and you don’t even have to swing. We’ve grown so accustomed to decisions so dumb we lavish praise on that which simply isn’t. Again, glad about the whole Seager thing, but as a broader point, this is what we take to be smart baseball. Think on that for a minute.