The Truth About Bunting

Baseball has dived headfirst into its own information era, and one of the consequences of all the information is the rise of defensive infield shifts. Certain batters have demonstrated certain tendencies, so certain teams have started combating this by moving infielders around to areas most likely to get balls in play. The most familiar version of the shift is against a left-handed hitter, and it involves three infielders around first and second and one infielder basically playing shortstop. That alignment allows for screenshots like this one:

canoredsoxshift

The end result of that at-bat was a double. More specifically: the end result of that at-bat was a bunt double, down the third-base line, against the shift. The Red Sox handed Robinson Cano a free base. He took two of them. So the question everyone arrives at: why doesn’t this happen more? Why don’t people bunt against the shift all the damned time?

Consider: shifts are on the rise. Consider, also, this:

Jeff found that seven players successfully bunted a ball in play against a shift more than once. Of those seven, just one player reached base four or more times.

Mathematically, it seems so obvious. The overwhelming number of grounders in play are pulled. The shift is designed to turn more balls in play into outs. But the shift also leaves a gaping hole in the direction of third base, and with an even adequate bunt, it’s an easy single. There’s no such thing as a bunt triple or a bunt homer, but isn’t an almost automatic hit better than a possible hit and a probable out? Tangotiger has calculated in the past that it’s a good idea to bunt if you can be successful a little over half the time. How is it possible that we don’t see this more?

A common explanation is that hitters are stubborn, or prideful, or what have you. Also, the hitters most likely to be shifted will often be the hitters with the least bunting experience, so that’s something they need to work to develop. But, why not develop the skill? As is, when a hitter successfully bunts against the shift, he looks like a genius. It should be that, when a hitter successfully bunts against the shift, he looks like a normal person with normal reasoning skills. In theory, it shouldn’t take smarts to bunt. In theory, it should take the opposite of smarts to not bunt, and there’s a difference.

But, all right, let’s dig deeper. At present, hitters don’t often bunt against the shift, and our explanation is that hitters are stubborn and stupid. When dealing with something that seems so obvious, maybe the safest conclusion is that it isn’t really that obvious after all. And I’m increasingly leaning in that direction. What the issue boils down to is that bunting isn’t an easy thing. I’ve heard it from analysts, I’ve heard it from hitters, and I’ve heard it from pitchers. Bunting well is easier than swinging well. Swinging well is incredibly hard.

It seems like bunting should be simple. You’re just catching the ball with the bat, right? When I played baseball, bunting drills were the only hitting drills where I could do anything. I had a much easier time with it. But I wasn’t bunting against major-league pitchers, and if you’re bunting against the shift, you’re doing a little more than putting the bat in front of the ball. You’re also aiming and pushing, and pitches are fast and bats are cylindrical.

You know who’s been a prolific bunter? Emilio Bonifacio. It’s one of the ways he’s tried to make the most of his speed. Over the past six years, spanning the PITCHf/x era, he’s fourth in baseball in bunt attempts. Let’s check in on a game Bonifacio played against the Mariners last September. In that game, which went to extra innings, Bonifacio tried to bunt four times.

BonifacioBunt1.gif.opt

BonifacioBunt2.gif.opt

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BonifacioBunt4.gif.opt

Three fouls. Eventually, a successful sacrifice. On bunt attempts in the game, Bonifacio was 1-for-4, with three not even entering play.

But that’s one game, and if I’m going to be honest, it’s a game that was selected specifically to make a frequent bunter look bad. Of far more value would be league-wide numbers, and as it turns out, bunting really is difficult. And that’s just as far as bunting the ball between the white lines.

I collected data from between 2008-2013. I classified things simply: a good bunt is a fair ball in play, and a bad bunt is a foul bunt or a missed bunt. Of course, not all fair bunts are good bunts. Of course, this misses out on bunts that were pulled back at the last second. This tracks only bunts that were committed to. Over the six years, there’s a sample of more than 36,000.

The breakdown:

  • Overall: 49.7% fair bunts
  • Pitchers: 49.9%
  • Non-Pitchers: 49.6%

The sample for pitchers is about 10,000. The sample for non-pitchers is about 26,000. There’s basically no difference. About half the time they’ve committed to a bunt, they’ve bunted the ball in play. That means that, half the time, they’ve messed up.

I decided to look at individual players, and compare guys who bunt often against guys who bunt infrequently. I set the following thresholds:

  • Frequent bunters: bunt attempts on 2.5% or more of all pitches
  • Infrequent bunters: bunt attempts on 0.5% or less of all pitches

The frequent bunters bunted the ball fair 49.5% of the time. The infrequent bunters bunted the ball fair 46.1% of the time. I should note before I forget that I excluded pitchers from this. There’s a clear advantage to bunting more often, in terms of bunt success, but it’s also pretty small, and even the upper-tier bunters, as a group, bunt poorly a lot.

Naturally, there are better and worse individual bunters. Jeff Keppinger has bunted the ball fair 29 times out of 36 attempts. Adam Everett‘s at 36 of 47. Ramon Santiago has bunted the ball fair 97 times out of 137 attempts. Placido Polanco‘s been successful more than twice as often as he’s been unsuccessful. Chris Getz has a success rate of 68%.

Meanwhile, Casey McGehee‘s 0-for-9. Dan Uggla‘s 2-for-16. Bobby Abreu went 4-for-29. Shin-Soo Choo shows up at 18 out of 85. Rajai Davis is 42-for-156. Bunting is a skill, and as with any skill, there’s a distribution in talent. But what’s made abundantly clear is that nothing about bunting is automatic, even for the most prolific bunters in the league. You’re still trying to bunt a really fast and moving baseball with a stick that isn’t that big.

And again, successful bunts, here, aren’t necessarily successful bunts. They’re just fair bunts, or even foul bunts that were popped up and caught. This looks at all bunt attempts, including sacrifices and bunt attempts for hits, and sacrificing might be easier since you have to worry a little less about aim and contact quality. If you want to bunt against the shift, as a hitter, you have to bunt the ball down the line, and you have to bunt it far enough away from the catcher and pitcher. And if you’re a slugger — the sort of hitter most likely to be shifted — you’re going to need to put more distance between the ball and other people than a guy who can run fast. It seems like bunting should be a walk in the park. The evidence suggests it’s very much not, and the more you think about it, the more that makes sense.

So why don’t we see more bunting against the shift? Certainly, there has to be some element of stubbornness. But it’s also just a hard thing to do, even with a lot of practice, which most shifted hitters don’t have. A foul bunt or a missed bunt is just a strike, a strike that also makes the defense aware of the bunt possibility. The pitcher, as well, becomes aware of the possibility, and might throw less buntable pitches. The math might still work out in the pro-bunt favor — I’m not close to smart enough to work all that out. But I’ve never seen bunt success rates before, and I wasn’t expecting 50%. That’s a pretty low success rate, for bunts that aren’t even necessarily successful.

And against even a hypothetical awesome bunter, you can just move the guy playing short to shallow third, and then you’re not going to see many grounders hit to where the shortstop would be. And the bunt would be all but taken away.

For years, it’s seemed so obvious to me. When Kyle Seager successfully bunted for a single against the shift last summer, it felt to me like a top-ten Mariners moment. If the defense wants to give the hitter an easy hit, the hitter should take the easy hit, without question. I could never understand how hitters could be so stubborn in the face of a potentially high batting average. Turns out there’s no such thing as an easy hit after all. Oh, bunt singles against the shift look easy when they’re successful, but so do Chris Davis home runs. Most of the time, Chris Davis doesn’t homer.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


94 Responses to “The Truth About Bunting”

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  1. Kevin says:

    I guess here’s the question, and its more a value judgment: knowing the difficulty of bunting even when its obvious, do you still do it? Sure, guys like Prince Fielder might still manage to get thrown out (or collapse on the way to first base!), but I’d still say the odds are in favor of even a 50% bunt rate.

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    • tz says:

      Do the Rangers play the Mets in 2014?

      Fielder bunting towards Colon would be the GIF of the year.

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      • bdhudson says:

        I challenge that Colon bunting towards fielder would be more amusing, though not entirely relevant to the topic at hand.

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        • tz says:

          Actually, a lot more likely.

          Could cause a gravitational anomaly though. And any collision would trigger seismographs throughout the NYC metro, which could lead to more repercussions…

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      • tz says:

        July 4, 5, and 6 at Citi Field!!!

        Going on my calendar right now.

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    • JimNYC says:

      Just throwing this out there: since WWII, Brett Butler is the leader in bunt hits with the bases empty, with 188. Other guys in the top 10 include Juan Pierre, Otis Nixon, Kenny Lofton – the usual speedy, light-hitting guys.

      Number 10 on that list? Mickey Mantle. The perfect ballplayer.

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      • Eric Lutz says:

        I suppose it depends on what your definition of light hitting is, no power as in HRs, sure, Kenny Lofton fits the bill. Light hitting as in no batting average or OBP worthy of mention, that is NOT Kenny Lofton, that is vince coleman and billy hamilton

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        • TheUncool says:

          But don’t Coleman and Hamilton fit the bill either way?

          People usually mean now power of course… although I suppose some/many(?) FG regulars might co-opt the label for poor overall hitters instead…

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      • TheUncool says:

        Will Mike Trout, the perfect ballplayer of the current era, eventually join that list alongside Mantle?

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        • TheUncool says:

          Actually, Trout might well be more perfect than Mantle since he’s probably less likely to have off-field issues infringe on his on-field perfectness… near as we can tell at this point… :-)

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    • Baltar says:

      Another choice besides bunting would just be a partial swing. With a whole that wide, even I could hit a dribbler through it (if I could hit the ball at all).

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  2. tz says:

    Probably the biggest benefit of successfully bunting against a shift would be to force defenses to modify their shifts in a way that would help the hitter regain some production on “regular” batted balls.

    If only it were easy.

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    • TheUncool says:

      Perhaps, such sluggers should consider feigning bunt now-and-again instead of outright bunting… at least until they become more proficient at actually executing bunts-against-shifts. Who knows? Just the real potential of it might give the shifted D enough to reconsider their shifts… although such sluggers will have to commit to a bunt at least once a blue moon to keep the charade going…

      Didn’t Don Baylor used to do that on (maybe more than just) occasion, IIRC.

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  3. Spit Ball says:

    Big Papi has pulled it off a few times. I do think it could be a successful tool in the tool box for some. Particularly when you a good idea the pitcher is going to pitch you away.

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    • Travis L says:

      Baseball wisdom suggests that pitchers should try to pitch inside during a shift. Outside pitches are easier to hit the other way. Strategically and theoretically, teams should throw inside more during the shift.

      Anyone know if there has been a study on this?

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      • uniqueusername says:

        Don’t most pull guys want the ball inside? That is where Power can be best utilized. Can’t be a good thing for a pitcher to become more predictable. Hitters could adjust to a stance to take even greater advantage of inside pitches and lessen the chance of getting jammed.

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        • RC says:

          Even the best guys only get hits on 35-40% of balls put in play. With the shift, its much lower.

          you probably up the chances of a HR a bit by pitching the guy inside, but drastically increase the chance of an out.

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      • tc22 says:

        Although that line of thinking makes sense intuitively, I don’t think that’s necessarily always the case. To play devils advocate, it also makes sense that lefties that hit with shifts try to pull everything. And since hitters that try to pull everything feast on inner half pitching, it might work to pitch them away, hoping that they’ll try to pull anyways and just roll over to the right side.

        Exhibit A: Josh Hamilton. Everybody feeds him a steady diet of sliders away despite the shift, and he generally either misses or rolls over weakly to the second baseman.

        I’m sure there are other examples, but as an angels fan who cringed at every at bat last season he jumps straight to mind.

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        • TheUncool says:

          Agreed.

          There are a lot of factors at play, so what seems to make sense at first glance — like the initial notion of simply bunting against shift (w/out qualifications) — may not actually work in practice.

          RE: RC’s rationale for exchanging slightly higher HR risk in favor of more outs, thing is why even bother shifting (and then opting for higher HR risk on top) if even the best batters only hit safely on 35-40% of balls-in-play? ;-)

          The BABIP profile might not be the same anymore if you start tinkering routinely like that. IF you regularly pitch inside for a shift, the slugger can adjust and his BABIP (on top of HR rate) may improve over what it would be w/out the inside pitching.

          Sure, it might make sense to pitch inside a little bit more often (vs not at all perhaps), but then again, there’s enough at play that it might not be the best tact in most cases. For instance, not all pitchers are equally good at command so as not to leave some additional, juicy fat pitches for the slugger… and some might also not adjust well to pitching inside specifically for these occasional PAs, if they normally pitch away away away…

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        • RC says:

          “why even bother if even the best batters only hit safely on 35-40% of balls-in-play? ;-)”

          If pitching inside with the shift causes David Ortiz’s HR/FB to go from 17% to 20%, but drops his BA .150, its probably worth it.

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      • dominik says:

        I depends on the hitter. some hitters can hit the ball outside the other way while some try to pull the outside pitch anyway and end up rolling over the ball.

        also Players tend to pull GBs more. ted williams said that on grounders is the tendecy to pull and on flyballs the tendency is to go up. this is because contrary to conventional wisdom the swing is a slight Uppercut and if you are early you are on top and if you are late you are under it.

        however that is not equal for all hitters. some are able to pull the inside pitch in the air while others still hit grounders on inside pitches.

        against some Players they even Play the IF to pull and the OF the other way. you Need to look at the spray Charts for every hitter.

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        • FrankDrakman says:

          Just to add on about Ted Williams.

          He was such a pull hitter, he was one of the first that the shift was used against. At the time, he just ‘grit his teeth and hit through it’, but after he’d retired, he admitted that he would have had higher numbers if he’d gone to the other field just enough that they stopped using the shift. Of course, being Ted, he probably wouldn’t have bunted.. he’d have picked out a spot between left side IF and either 2nd or 3rd, and tried to shoot the ball right over it. ;}

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    • J. Bowman says:

      I did not know this, and reading the first half of the article, my immediate thought was Ortiz. “Who would ask Papi to lay down a bunt”?

      This is why I love baseball. There’s always something new to learn, whether it’s why bunting against the shift is a complicated question, or just that David Ortiz occasionally does it.

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  4. BDF says:

    Another benefit to bunting, even unsuccessfully: you (may) influence the shift back toward a normal alignment, thus increasing your probability of getting a hit on subsequent non-bunt attempts.

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    • LHPSU says:

      You fall behind in the count, however, which decreases your probability of reaching base in this PA.

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    • TheUncool says:

      A mix of feigning and actual commitment could make sense. IF you always commit when you appear to bunt, regular failures will just cause the D to laugh at you instead of altering their shift. ;-)

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  5. Charles says:

    Have had more bunting arguments with my roommate than I care to remember. I addition to loving “classic” #2 hitters who bunt and move the runner over, he contends that because they are professional baseball players anyone should be able to bunt. Great numbers in this post, good to know even prolific bunters struggle to put half their attempts in play.

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  6. Michael says:

    the hypothesis here is based on a fair bunt being successful and a foul bunt being unsuccessful, which isn’t exactly true.

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    • Snowman says:

      To be fair, he made that pretty clear in the article.

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      • Ryan says:

        but it also ignores the fact that a fouled bunt doesn’t preclude the possibility of another bunt attempt. If you foul off the first pitch, unless they suddenly swing everyone around, you still have 2 more pitches you could bunt. And once it’s down and fair, against that defense it should be a hit most of the time no matter who’s running.

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        • TheUncool says:

          There are definitely many factors at play, including that.

          However, if the batter really isn’t any good at bunting, that fouled bunt is more likely to just be a hindrance to his overall success anyway. For instance, even if the D alters its shift to be less so, the batter has already lost a strike for that PA in the process of bunting foul…

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  7. Rod says:

    I am guessing that non-pitcher bunting success rates would be much higher in a shift context. The rate for all non-pitcher bunts is 49.6%, but this includes a lot of chances where people are bunting for a hit. A drag bunt, ala Rajai Davis/Bonifacio is a much harder task with a regular alignment and bunt defense in play than the bunt required to beat the shift.

    Bunting is not as easy as it seems. But major league hitters should be able to execute at about 60% in a shift context if they practiced.

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    • n0exit says:

      Key words there ” if they practiced”. Would be interesting to see correlation between bunts practiced and successful bunts. I’ve seen minor leaguers bunt better than some all stars. Teams just don’t give it that much importance for sluggers hence they stink at bunting.

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      • TheUncool says:

        IF you want the slugger to practice bunting, that’s less time/effort he can put into doing other things, which might be counterproductive… unless you can (fairly) convincingly show the added bunt skill will be worth it.

        There’s no free lunch…

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    • TheUncool says:

      That’s purely just an assumption w/ nothing to back that up (much like JS’s original one for the article).

      Although guys like R Davis and Bonifacio may bunt-for-hit a lot, I’m pretty sure their number of attempts are really fairly small in the grand scheme of things and not what you’re likely thinking w/ that rationale…

      FWIW, I suspect (NL) pitchers’ success rates against the shift would be even better since they do actually practice bunting in general (probably a good deal more than most), but of course, they don’t generally warrant the shift either… ;-)

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  8. Spencer00 says:

    Bunting is hard, against the shift, not nearly as much. You have so much room, as long as you hit it past the pitcher you’re home free. Given all the available space it shouldn’t be that hard to get it fair, it takes much less accuracy in a shift situation where there is a pitcher then 100 feet of empty than a normal bunt.

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    • boringdan says:

      explaining why you’re wrong was literally the crux of this entire post

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      • Nate says:

        No, it doesn’t. A bunt against a normal alignment is an effort to control both the direction and magnitude of the contact. Specifically, hard enough that the catcher can’t field it and soft enough that it takes too much time for the 3b to get it. When bunting against the shift you don’t need to worry about being “too hard”. There’s a much larger set of possible bunt swings that could be successful.

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        • TheUncool says:

          That’s probably true… except the data used doesn’t include too many sluggers… most of whom do not practice bunting (much, if at all).

          IF you ask a slugger to do it, his success rate may well be far below that ~50% in the provided data, and even in a shift, it might not be better than 50% in that case.

          And if you want your slugger to practice bunting (enough to be more like the sort who fit the bunting profile for the vast majority of that data), that may or may not be counterproductive. It probably depends on the particular slugger…

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        • TheUncool says:

          And the thing is… they don’t really set up big shifts for every batter w/ HR-power, just the handful who clearly pull on every swing.

          Those are the kinds you’d have to consider whether it makes sense to adjust in this manner… and whether it’ll actually be productive overall (probably on a case-by-case basis)…

          In the end, we’re not talking about a whole lot of players anyway…

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        • TheUncool says:

          Probably makes more sense to try if the specific slugger has seen a significant drop in hitting success due to the shift.

          Somebody like Adam Dunn should definitely consider it for instance…

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  9. Joe says:

    So, if both the frequent bunters and the infrequent bunters have less success bunting fair than the average player, what kind of success are the guys in between having to bring that percentage up?

    I can only imagine the reason they succeed more than the guys who bunt a lot is because the latter are bunting for hits and therefore pushing the ball foul more often. It’s easier to keep the bunt fair when you’re only trying to sacrifice.

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  10. Richie says:

    Yes!Yes!Yes!Yes!Yes! Finally. This ain’t softball. Bunting is hard. Maybe we should just believe the major league hitters who tell us so?

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  11. DP says:

    I like the topic but don’t think the analysis really answers the question of why bunting isn’t done against the shift. The answer proposed in the conclusion (it is hard) as demonstrated by the little difference between success rate between frequent and infrequent bunters is not very strong. The argument could have been stouter if it had cited analysis with success being defined as reaching base, not just putting a ball in play. The lack of difference between pitchers and hitters bunting success seems to indicate that it isn’t a difficult task. Given that the standard for being successful as a batter was often defined as a batting average of .333 and that it was hard to have that average, makes it difficult for me to believe that something that succeeds 50% of the time is hard (admittedly that is using the weak definition of success as getting a ball in play). This is a hard question to answer because as a number of posters have mentioned, the definition of success should really include how often the defense doesn’t shift and that is very hard to capture. Overall, your analysis was a good start, but I’m not sure that a mathematical analysis can show us why more guys don’t bunt against the shift. I’d lean towards this being a pride or lack of skill problem.

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    • Mike says:

      And he acknowledges all of that in the article. He even concedes that once you account for all the variables and crunch the numbers it may still benefit hitters to attempt bunts against the shift. The point he is making is that we have long assumed it was simply a no brainer that you should bunt against the shift when in fact, the question is a little more complicated.

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      • TheUncool says:

        Agreed…

        And the thing is that there probably aren’t really *THAT* many sluggers who’d benefit anyway.

        It’s not like teams employ the shift for every single batter w/ some HR-power afterall, especially these days w/ fewer HRs being hit…

        In the end, we’re really only talking about a very select group of batters, so the statistics just might not be viable to argue in favor of it. Probably just needs to be a case-by-case basis kinda thing… which is what seems to be happening already.

        I’d say someone like Adam Dunn, for instance, should definitely give it a try, especially since his decline has been career-threatening… unless of course he’s fine w/ retiring sooner than later, which he might be…

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        • Mike says:

          Interesting that you should mention Adam Dunn. Grantland recently did an article on beating the shift which partly featured Adam Dunn making a concerted effort to drive the ball the other way. While, I’ve never been fully onboard the bunt bandwagon for beating the shift, I have always felt that every hitter should be learning a swing that allows him to hit the ball the other way as it is a skill that will likely be far more useful than bunting.

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  12. Nick O says:

    I agree with the basic premise of the article, but the data doesn’t really mean a whole lot to me. Prolific bunters, when bunting for a hit, have a pretty small margin for error, and are going to bunt it foul a lot because they’re essentially aiming right for the line. The same won’t be true for bunters bunting against the shift, who more or less just have to get it past the pitcher and to the left side. Sacrifice bunters, e.g. Adam Everett, are going to focus more on bunting it fair, which is why their percentages are higher. Seems like two pretty distinct sets of bunters are being combined and not a whole lot of useful data is being collected out of it.

    I actually agree that bunting against the shift isn’t as easy as it may seem, just not sure if the info shown in this article really supports that conclusion.

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    • TheUncool says:

      Aye. IMHO, it’s really a SSS problem because we’re really only talking about a rather select group of batters who’d need to consider bunting against the shift anyway. They are nowhere near league avg or like the typical bunter profile.

      At the end of the day, I suspect it’ll just have to be a case-by-case basis of making adjustments, etc. Some sluggers may need it more than others and/or may be able to adapt better than others in this regard…

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  13. Paul G. says:

    Putting down a successful bunt against a shift is a lot easier than any other kind of bunt. One not need be Phil Rizzuto or Eddie Collins to take advantage. All you need to do is bunt it to the third base side with enough force that the catcher and pitcher cannot field it. And don’t pop it up anywhere they can catch it, of course. No need to try to hug the line or deaden the ball or any of that sort of thing that a bunter would do against a normal defense. If you bunt it too hard that is actually a good thing. A plain old terrible bunt will suffice most of the time not matter how slow the batter.

    What we may be seeing here is a “what’s the point?” situation. To make the bunting work requires at least some bunting skill, else all that is happening is giving up a strike. Not a lot of skill mind you, but some. However, once the slugger starts getting automatic bunt singles every time he comes to the plate, the defense will get wise and stop using the shift. This is an advantage to the batter, who gets to face a normal defense, but now this bunting skill is fairly useless as he would have to be a really good bunter to get hits against a normal defense. Now he has to spend time on a skill that he will never use, which may be to the detriment of his normal swing. Perhaps it is a better use of time to just focus on hitting and hope that the shift takes away less than the bunting practice would. It’s not like the batter faces the shift every time to the plate and it doesn’t matter on balls hit to the outfield.

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    • TheUncool says:

      Agreed on the whole… though there are some finer points I’d differ on somewhat, but still, agreed on the whole…

      One thing. They do also employ outfield shifts though maybe not as often and/or as drastically as infield shifts… and probably not drastic ones for both at the same time…

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  14. HawaiiFO says:

    So if you bunt twice in a row in the same at bat, (2 strikes) it’s fair roughly 75% in an at bat? Sounds good enough against a shift to me.

    Is there a way to see If defenses stuck with a shift after a bunt single?
    The key to me is, even if the shifted against player was only “successful” 50% of the time or less, but that was his first at bat of the game/series, will the defense stick with the shift the next ab? The next game? IF the defense gives up the shift then the value of bunting is far far higher than the single it produces since the player may now gain back the 50 points or so of BABIP he’s losing in a shift.

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    • Mike says:

      Nope. The statistic doesn’t work that way. Please reference:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambler's_fallacy

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      • RC says:

        The gambler’s fallacy has nothing to do with this.

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        • Mike says:

          You might want to look at the article a little more closely. Substitute the word bunts with coin flips and have the first example.

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        • Viliphied says:

          What? If you flip a coin twice, you’ll get at least one heads (successful bunt) 75% of the time. Or rather, 50% of your first attempts will be successful, as will 50% of your 2nd attempts. But 50% of the time, you won’t NEED a 2nd attempt, so there are only half as many 2nd attempts, so you end up with:

          Average successful attempts per AB – 1 * .5 + .5 * .5 = .75

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  15. Dang says:

    Confused by the math.

    Non-Pitchers: 49.6%

    Then frequent bunters are 49.5% and infrequent bunters are 46.1%, excluding pitchers

    What is the number breakdown in the sample that allows 49.5% and 46.1% to somehow average out to 49.6%, greater than both of those numbers?

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  16. pmreddick says:

    Also having never seen bunt success rates, I’m surprised that they are so low for pitchers. Bunting is really the only thing they are expected to be able to handle at the plate and they’re still no better at it than any other hitter on the bench.

    Perhaps the number of hours that need to be put into improving are a lot (who knows?), but it sure feels like it would be worth it when that situation arises. Then again, 50/50 is still better than letting them swing away.

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  17. bob says:

    In that first Bonifacio GIF, it looks like his back foot is out of the batter’s box, to say nothing of how he risked the possibility of tipping a foul ball into his face by moving his head closer to the plate.

    I’m guessing it’s a kind of “unwritten rule” that bunting isn’t done in spite of it being good strategy because it’s not as much fun for the fans.

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    • John C. says:

      I had the same reaction – Bonifacio was clearly out of the batters box. And still couldn’t get the bunt fair. Ooops!

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    • RC says:

      “I’m guessing it’s a kind of “unwritten rule” that bunting isn’t done in spite of it being good strategy because it’s not as much fun for the fans.”

      I really, really doubt that.

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  18. PackBob says:

    Just for comparison, what is the success rate for full swings with success defined as a fair ball?

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  19. O's Fan says:

    Bunting the ball out of play is “messing up,” I guess, but since the cost is usually just a strike rather than an out it’s not that bad a mistake.

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    • TheUncool says:

      True that… although you’re not gonna bunt w/ 2 strikes though.

      Also, the whole point of this exercise is to help the (few) sluggers who face the shift. Bunting isn’t their usual thing. And ideally, they should just be swinging away to be more productive. So for them, a missed bunt will likely be more negative than for typical bunters/situations. Yet another factor that needs to be considered in this whole thing…

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  20. Tim says:

    “Tangotiger has calculated in the past that it’s a good idea to bunt if you can be successful a little over half the time.”

    Was that a steroid-era calculation? .500/.500/.500 would have a good argument for best hitter in the league lately.

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    • MGL says:

      A bunt hit is only worth around .42 runs. An out is worth around -.25 runs. So, at a 50% success rate, the PA is worth around .08 runs. A slugger who is shifted on has an average per PA value of around .025, so that is above break even. At a 40% success rate, the value of a bunt is .018. So, the BE point for a slugger is somewhere between 40 and 50%, depending on the batter. For someone like Ortiz or Fielder, their average PA is worth .06 PA, so their BE point is closer to 50%.

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  21. HiFidelity says:

    Even if the conclusions of the article are correct it would still make sense for hitters to use the bunt as a ‘keep em honest’ play. The batter wouldn’t have to sacrifice an entire at bat to the strategy, just a pitch here or there.

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    • TheUncool says:

      This I can agree w/. Actually, the slugger might not even often need to commit to bunting on a pitch. He could probably feigning it most of the time just to keep them honest… that is until the book is out on him that he just cannot bunt even against the shift, even if he tried…

      Could be treated like a cat-and-mouse game… a bit like the whole throw-to-1B-against-speedster thing. Some (maybe many?) pitchers good at holding runners don’t actually throw over that often. A little deception can often go a long way…

      FWIW, I seem to recall Don Baylor doing that on occasion back in the day…

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  22. MGL says:

    “Then frequent bunters are 49.5% and infrequent bunters are 46.1%, excluding pitchers.”

    It seems to me that is good evidence that it is NOT that hard to bunt a ball fair. If the most and least prolific bunters basically have the same fair percentage, then how hard can it be to bunt the ball fair?

    And using a “success” rate based on fair and foul is ridiculous, as several people have pointed out. If almost any player can bunt the ball fair 50% of the time, then the chances of bunting a ball fair given three chances (let’s assume that it is correct to bunt with 2 strikes, which it is not for most batters) is 87.5%! Again, that proves how easy it is to bunt the ball in play.

    And as several people have pointed out, that 50% rate includes lots of bunts for a hit, where you are trying to bunt it down the third base line and thus get lots of foul balls.

    My guess would be a 60% fair rate into a shift, which gives you a 94% fair rate per PA!

    Should I repeat that?

    Just tell your batter to bunt until he is out or walks, and he will put it into play around 90% of the time.

    That 50% you keep reciting to support your narrative about how hard it is to bunt, is incredibly misleading, as I just pointed out, and so did several people.

    No, it is not hard for a major league baseball player to bunt the ball in play DURING A PA. Of course that depends on your definition of “hard.” But let’s please not use 50% as the baseline for anything.

    In any case, if you can bunt for a hit with the shift on around 40-50% of the time, it is correct to do so for most hitters. I would guess that almost all hitters can do that with or without practice. Unfortunately, I don’t have any hard evidence for that opinion, but I don’t see any hard evidence in this article to suggest that that isn’t true.

    If putting the bunt in play at a 50% clip per attempt means that it is so hard to bunt, why do even the most prolific bunters hit over .400 on bunts (which they do), yet they only put the ball in play less than 50% of the time? And they aren’t bunting into a wide open infield? I’ll tell you. Because when you don’t put a bunt into play, the AB is not over! You actually get another chance or two!

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    • Jayson says:

      Your math is only correct if you assume the success rate stays the same if you fail on the first pitch. Drag bunting and sac bunting are very different things.

      I’d really like to see someone drag bunt down the 3rd base line when the pitcher knows he is trying to do it and actually has something other then a rule straight fastball. That would be golden to watch.

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      • MGL says:

        I don’t think I agree with that. When a batter is sacrificing the pitcher typically knows that the sacrifice is coming especially if a pitcher or light hitter is at bat. So the pitcher’s job is to throw the toughest pitch to sac against. Yet, that 50% number is based on mostly sacrifices, so clearly it is not appreciably harder to bunt the ball in play when the pitcher knows you are bunting.

        And the “hardest” pitch to bunt is the high fastball. The high curve is an easy pitch to bunt. Pitchers don’t like throwing “tough” breaking pitches in bunt situations because the last thing you want to do when someone is bunting is to walk them.

        And the whole point of the discussion (or at least one of them) about bunting into the shift is that you DON’T have to drag bunt down the 3rd base line. You just have to make a decent bunt to the left of the pitcher.

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  23. Tom Selleck says:

    I live. Therefore.

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  24. Mariners fan says:

    The big black box here is certainly how much practice time is spent on bunting. And, thats just a guess but still, I think when they do bunting drills they focus much more on the sac bunt instead of the push bunt along the 3rd base line.

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  25. Donald Trump says:

    This was great. I have wondered about this. Thanks.

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  26. Carlos Gonzlalez attempts to bunt against the shift fairly frequently. Most of the time it’s a foul ball, but it does pull the defense out of the shift. The bonus is the look of disdain on Gonzalez’s face as he glares around the field. He probably ends up with a bunt single this way three or four times a year.

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    • TheUncool says:

      IF they shift against him, definitely makes sense for him to try dropping bunts now-and-then. He has more margin-for-error than most big-time-pull sluggers since he also has the speed to make it on less-than-ideal bunts. He’s also likely more athletic/agile (and maybe skilled-type) than the avg pull slugger too, so that’s likely more viable for him than most others who face the same situation…

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      • TheUncool says:

        I wonder if he opts to do that more often on road games though. Probably makes less sense to waste the thin, dry air effect on a bunt at Coors… though maybe he can still feign it perhaps…

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        • Right. Based only on my memory, he usually fouls them off before the defense resets. He also is a very good base-stealer, so a bunt single can find him at third without a PA passing.

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  27. longbeachyo says:

    It doesn’t even need to be a bunt… Just frickin slap the ball down the line! Putting the ball where you want it to go with a half swing should be much easier for these professional hitters.

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  28. DaveO says:

    Using your same metric, how many swings result in a ball in play and not a foul or a swing and miss Far less than 50% I would imagine.

    If 49.7 % of bunt attempts were fair, then all 49.7% ended a plate appearance, while for the other 50.3%, most of those were just strikes. At most, only 16.7% of bunt attempts ended a plate appearance without the ball in play, ignoring for now the fact that hitters are far less likely to bunt with a count of two strikes. Thus it is closer to a 75% success rate.

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  29. For some shifts, bunting might not matter as much since the first baseman won’t be out of position even for a right handed pull hitter. So basically, we’re talking about players who normally hit the ball to right field and might have some incentive to bunt down the third baseline. Not all bunts attempts make contact or hit the ball in play and even those that do, there’s still the pitcher and catcher to defend against the bunt. Then, there are some bunts that would’ve been hits even without the shift. I’m just not sure if a shift makes a team as susceptible to a bunt as one might think.

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  30. Dave says:

    But isn’t the real question how much more likely a batter would be to succeed against the shift if he tried to bunt instead of swinging away? Just because bunting isn’t as easy as people may assume does not answer the question, though it does add to the discussion.

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  31. Can somebody do an analysis on the benefits of bunting? How often does a sacrifice bunt lead to a run, for example? From 1st to 2nd, or two runners on, runner on 2nd only?

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  32. Alex says:

    1) Bunting for a hit and a sac bunt are two completely different forms of bunting. Often you will see those that are accustomed to one, struggle with another. It’s not quite as easy as one may make it seem.

    2) I believe a big reason you do not see hitters bunt against the shift is very simple… Shifts are typically deployed against hitters that cannot just pull the ball but also guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark. For someone like David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, Matt Adams, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, etc. to lay down a bunt is almost playing right into the opposing teams hands. Yes, I realize you don’t want to just give the base away, but what would you prefer to see? David Ortiz bunt a ball down the line for a single or swing away and stroke a three-run home run? The answer seems a obvious. Especially if you’re not guaranteed to reach via a bunt.

    3) It’s easy to say just “slap the ball” down the line for a hit but anytime you ask a hitter to change his approach (i.e. the defensive setup it typically results in more harm than good. Baseball is a thinking man’s game and the last thing you want is for a hitter to be overthinking where to try and place the ball.

    4) While people may think it’s okay to give a strike away by attempting to bunt down the line, that is definitely not true. Take a look at how hitters tend to fare when facing an 0-1 count. You only get three strikes and you better make them all count.

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    • dominik says:

      Alex, the shift is usually only employed with bases empty. with 2 runners on I would agree with you but with bases empty it is about reaching base anyway.

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  33. Andre says:

    “Three fouls. Eventually, a successful sacrifice. On bunt attempts in the game, Bonifacio was 1-for-4, with three not even entering play.”

    Not to be picky, but the 3rd foul should have resulted in a strikeout. A foul ball on a bunt attempt with 2 strikes is a K.

    On a shift, a slap swing would be ideal as it could go down past 3rd into no man’s land. Bunting is down (in my perception) from yrs ago because its not as easy as you might think (especially with the pitchers today). Bunt singles and sac bunts don’t get the big contracts.

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  34. dominik says:

    You don’t even Need to be a saber expert to see the bunt against the shift is profitable.

    According to some articles the league successfully sac bunts 70% of the time. to do that you Need to Keep it fair, off the pitcher and make the fielder come in enough.

    the bunt against the shift is even easier since you only have to do the first 2 things (no Need to “deaden” the ball). A simple push bunt past the pitcher will do the Job.

    well sluggers are not great bunters but even if he only bunts .500 he still produces a 1.000 OPS on this Play. which lefty can produce a 1.000 OPS against the shift? babe ruth and barry bonds maybe? last year only one left handed batter (2 hitters Overall) produced a 1.000 OPS (davis).

    yes I know sluggers are paid to drive in runs but with bases empty reaching base is premium anyway. so bunt .500 for a 1.000 OPS seems to be a good deal.

    that would not only give them hits but maybe even force Teams to Abandon the shift since with a Little Training a slugger could probably lay the bunt down successfully 60% of the time and produce ruthian OPS numbers against the shift. that would mean more opportunities to hit into the open field if the defense adjusts.

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  35. dominik says:

    Also regarding the bonifacio example: he tried to drag bunt really Close to the line. that is a tough bunt. a bunt against the shift is much easier since you don’t have to be Close to the line and you don’t have to deaden it. you just Need to get it past the pitcher.

    I’m sure bonifacio could lay down that Kind of bunt 70% of the time. of course a guy like davis or Ortiz is less skilled but I don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to lay it down at least 50% of the time.

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