Malinowski: Why do baseball players still bunt so much?

From SABR member Erik Malinowski at Buzzfeed on September 16, 2013:

In the 1870s, just as professional baseball was getting its sea legs, there was an infielder named Ross Barnes who was really only good at one thing. At 5 feet 8 inches and 145 pounds, he had a smidge of pop in this deadest part of the dead-ball era, hitting six home runs in almost 500 career games, but where Barnes really excelled was bunting. As recounted by Bill James in his most recent Historical Baseball Abstract, Barnes made a career of being able to bunt balls that would land fair and then spin over the base lines and off the field. (In the rules of the day, this still counted as a fair ball.) And so it was that Barnes led the league in hits four times and batting average three times.

Ross Barnes would’ve loved playing for Dusty Baker, the 64-year-old Cincinnati Reds manager who, in an era when almost every player is at least something of a threat to hit a double or home run, still has a passion for the strategy of intentionally clunking the ball down softly a few feet in front of a defense that knows it’s coming. (We’re not talking here about using fast hitters to lay down a bunt against unsuspecting infielders. That’s actually pretty good strategy!) Baker’s Reds lead the league in “successful” sacrifice bunts (or, to put it another way, bunts that “successfully” give away one of the three outs teams get per inning), and they’re in the top third of the league in sacrifice bunts by non-pitchers.

Through all the rule changes and improvements that baseball has implemented through 137 years of professional existence, the bunt has persisted. It’s perhaps the strongest legacy of the game’s small-ball origins. And aside from everything Alex Rodriguez does, there’s perhaps no single act on a baseball field that engenders such ridicule and furor among dedicated fans. We’ve known for decades that its efficacy was wildly overrated even in earlier, less power-friendly eras, yet it persists: purposely sacrificing outs in critical game situations to move a runner one single base.

Read the full article here:

Related link: Ross Barnes was selected as the SABR Overlooked 19th Century Legend for 2013

Originally published: September 17, 2013. Last Updated: September 17, 2013.