Last week, I took a look at bunting in the World Series. Unsurprisingly, the college game contains many, many more bunts than the professional game. I surmised that college teams were bunting too often, and I made the (obvious) claim that bunts would make a large impact on the final games of the Series. Let’s take a look at what actually happened.
This game saw a whopping six bunts, with five of them coming from the Gators. Naturally, as I had published last week’s piece as this game was still in progress, Florida’s bunts killed the Commodores. Although the first three bunts (two from Florida, one from Vanderbilt) all came in scoreless innings, the Gators’ three bunts in the later innings were the key to their victory. In the sixth, a would-be sac bunt resulted in a throwing error, and a run scored on a subsequent double play to push Florida’s lead to 4-1. By the eighth, though, Vanderbilt had managed to tie the game. Florida then used two bunt singles — generously called singles, as Vanderbilt pitcher and 18th overall draft pick Sonny Gray had trouble fielding them — to load the bases with nobody out. Florida managed to plate two runs and would go on to win by the 6-4 score.
This game went to extra innings, where everybody plays for one run, so we shouldn’t be surprised by the massive total of nine bunts in this game. Supporters of the bunt in the college game need look no further than the bottom of the 13th inning, as after a leadoff single, the Gamecocks plated the winning run after two errors on the Cavalier’s pitcher on consecutive would-be sacrifice bunts. However, before that, the bunt was futile: all of one run scored on the seven prior bunt attempts, and that was largely the result of an error after the bunt. Now, the pitching on this day was so good that we can’t really say whether or not the lack of scoring was due to strategic error or simply great pitching. My personal opinion is that both played a part — making great pitchers only get two outs per inning just makes their jobs easier.
This game was an absolute thriller, one that had twitterers imploring each other to drop everything and flip over to ESPN. There was only one bunt used before the eighth inning, used by Florida in the fourth. It failed to bring in a run, as the next two Florida batters couldn’t deliver a single to score the runner from second. South Carolina succeeded in a similar situation in the eighth, getting a two-out single to score a run after a sac bunt. The game remained tied at one through regulation.
Here’s when the craziness began. After holding South Carolina scoreless in the top of the 10th, the Gators led off the inning with a single. Naturally, as they’re playing for one run, they bunted him over to second. After a pop-up and an intentional walk, the Gators got the single they needed to win the game… except the runner was thrown out at home from left field. The Gamecocks managed to get a runner on with one out in the top of the 11th, but instead of opting for the sacrifice bunt, they attempted a stolen base. The throw went into center field, and as the runner went for third, the throw back from the outfield went into the stands, allowing the run to score.
The Gators went back to the bunt immediately in the bottom of the 11th as their leadoff man reached once again. The bunt successfully moved the runner to second, but South Carolina’s shutdown closer Matt Price easily recorded the next two outs to end the game.
South Carolina opened the scoring in this game after a sacrifice bunt in the third inning, but once again the real culprit was an error later in the inning, allowing two unearned runs to come in. The Gamecocks also brought in a run after a sacrifice bunt on a single in the 8th inning. The other four bunts in the game were unsuccessful. Alas, for the real bunt enthusiast, this game lacked the drama of the previous three.
Overall, the bunt was largely unsuccessful in producing runs, although, as I mentioned above, we can’t be sure if this was a matter of tactical failure or merely poor offense. Florida and South Carolina can both credit bunts as a large part of their ascent to the Championship Series, but at the same time, Florida’s failure to score runs after bunts in the first game was key to their downfall.
I am still of the opinion, personally, that these teams would be better off bunting less and letting their batters try and put the ball in play — the worse defense in the college game applies on batted balls as well as bunted balls — but the findings and opinions presented here are anecdotal and not meant to be taken as scientific fact in any way.