Just so no one’s offended, I want to make one thing very clear: I am not here to be overly critical of Tyson Ross, baseball player. Tyson Ross is a pretty good baseball player, who’s succeeding at his primary job. Right now he’s sitting on an ERA in the mid-2s. Over eight starts with the Padres, he’s averaged a strikeout an inning. He can run his fastball up to 95 or 96, and he’s still young, and he’s a righty who manages to keep lefties on the ground. The Padres added Ross for Andy Parrino and Andrew Werner, and right now they’re probably thrilled. Neither Parrino nor Werner looks like a loss, and Ross might be helping San Diego for a while.
On top of that, Ross has a surprisingly dangerous swing at the plate. Before reaching the majors, Ross hadn’t swung a bat since high school, but he looks like he knows what he’s doing, even if he can be exposed by breaking stuff. He takes a strong enough hack to get announcers’ attention. Recently he lined a single off Zack Wheeler. He’s hit a couple line drives off Patrick Corbin, and he slammed a Clayton Kershaw pitch off the wall in center field. When Ross swings and connects, he can put a legitimate charge into the baseball, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him one day club a home run.
But, boy oh boy, has Tyson Ross ever sucked at bunting.
About that good swing of his: it would probably be helpful to give you a visual. This post is going to have a lot of visuals. Here are the hits against Wheeler and Kershaw:
Said Mike Krukow about Tyson Ross, once:
Sets up a sacrifice for Ross although it’s not a guarantee — he swings the bat pretty well. He has no career sacrifices. In fact, only two at-bats in his career. But, it doesn’t take you long to know if a guy can swing the bat or not. This guy’s got a pretty good clue.
This isn’t a post about swings, but these are presented to let you know that Ross isn’t just completely clueless in the batter’s box. He knows how to hit, even if he misses the ball a lot, so it’s not like he holds a bat without knowing what he’s doing. He’s familiar with the rules, and he’s familiar with the execution. Hell, Ross hit that ball so hard off Kershaw he injured his shoulder and slumped over after reaching first base. After that, Ross cut down on his swing and started using a lighter bat. There was some chatter that Ross should start hitting left-handed. A .gif of Tyson Ross hitting a ball hard is indistinguishable from a .gif of a quality position player hitting a ball hard.
So Ross can hit a little. He can at least look like a hitter. Can’t bunt. Can’t look like a bunter. Never learned how to bunt, or the lessons just never took. Which is a problem, because Ross has faced 84 pitches, and 27 times he’s shown bunt. Six times, he’s pulled back and taken a ball. Below, you’re going to see the other 21 times.
Just in case you’re curious, I didn’t go looking for this, specifically. A couple weeks ago, while writing up The Worst Of The Best, I noticed a really bad bunt attempt by Ross, before a strikeout. Then in the most recent update, I noticed a Ross at-bat in which he struck out bunting. I made a note to look into this at some point, to see if there might be anything there. I assumed not, but I investigated, and more and more was revealed, more than I could have imagined. I’ve learned a lot about Tyson Ross, the hitter. I’ve learned a lot about Tyson Ross, the bunter.
Tyson Ross, in his career, has what we might consider 21 bunt attempts. This excludes the six pull-backs on called balls. So, 21 times, Ross has shown bunt and had the pitch count as a strike. Two times, Ross has successfully bunted the ball fair. In other words, 19 times, he hasn’t. I don’t have league-wide statistics on this, so I don’t know where Ross might rank among his peers, but these numbers suck. This is why Tyson Ross is maybe baseball’s very worst bunter. Maybe he’s not, but if someone’s worse, that would be extraordinary.
It’s time for the .gifs, so we can break this down. The splits:
- 4 missed bunts
- 13 foul bunts
- 2 withdrawn bunts and called strikes
- 2 successful, fair bunts
(Ross didn’t realize that was strike three)
The first successful bunt was necessary because Ross had injured his non-throwing shoulder in the previous at-bat, and he was instructed not to take a swing. Which is why he bunted with two on and two out. It was, actually, a good bunt, and Ross is a good athlete, but he was still thrown out to end the inning. The second successful bunt was a legitimate, normal-looking sacrifice. But it involved Ross stabbing at the ball with the bat, demonstrating a good result from bad technique. Though it worked perfectly, that’s how Ross had missed and fouled bunts in the past.
Dick Enberg on June 4, after Ross struck out trying to bunt:
And strike three. No surprise there.
It’s worth considering that maybe Ross just doesn’t really care for the act of bunting. Maybe this is all part of his protest. In 2012, Ross drilled Ryan Vogelsong when he squared around to bunt. Just a few weeks ago, Ross drilled Donovan Hand when he squared around to bunt. Maybe, in this way, Ross thinks somewhat like a sabermetrician. If so, he should probably stop, since he is a player on a baseball team being given instructions.
Probably, it’s just that Ross can’t bunt well. He can throw well, and he can swing well, but if he can bunt well, he has yet to demonstrate either the results or the know-how. He might be the worst bunter in the majors. And, to be honest, this is a good thing for us to observe and be aware of, because it helps drive home the point that bunting isn’t automatic, even for professionals. You can’t take a decent bunt for granted, because you’re still trying to dampen a fast-moving ball with a wooden pseudo-cylinder, and the ball is moving up and down and side to side. It sounds so easy to just say “catch the ball with the bat,” but it’s easy to pop bunts up and it’s easy to miss them completely. It’s tricky to lay one fair. It’s trickier still to do so in a specific area. Bunting is a skill, a skill that requires a lot of practice, and some players can do it better than others.
And probably everyone can do it better than Ross. Bunting is hard. It shouldn’t be this hard. That makes two reasons to just let Tyson Ross swing away.
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