To bunt…or not to bunt? That is the question.
Baseball’s new analytics — and a Greek chorus of bunt-loathing fans and media — will tell you that the sacrifice bunt is the most self-defeating tradition in baseball.
In fact, a member of the spring training media tried to tell Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington just that Sunday morning. Washington wasn’t angered by the question. But as often is the case with Wash, a topic that’s passionate to him unleashed a passionate and colorful response.
“I think if they try to do that, they’re going to be telling me how to [bleep] manage,” Washington said. “That’s the way I answer that [bleep] question. They can take the analytics on that and shove it up their [bleep][bleep].”
Washington has heard all the moans and complaints about his bunting.
“Mike Scioscia dropped 56 sacrifice bunts on his club, the most in the league, and he’s a genius,” Washington continued. “But Ron Washington dropped 53 and he’s bunting too much? You can take that analytics and shove it.
“I do it when I feel it’s necessary, not when the analytics feel it’s necessary, not when you guys feel it’s necessary, and not when somebody else feels it’s necessary. It’s when Ron Washington feels it’s necessary. Bottom line.”
The reporter’s original query, it should be noted, was framed against the backdrop of the Rangers’ daily situational hitting drills. Washington’s team isn’t just working on its bunting. It’s trying to become more proficient at the plate in recognizing the moment and responding accordingly.
Washington had a lengthy, stats-based observation of his own to give to the media.
“Our weakness the past couple of years going down the stretch has been situational hitting,” he said. “Having runners in scoring position with less than two out and not being able to get them home. Having runners at second base with nobody out and not being able to move them. Having runners with the infield in and not being able to get the ball to the outfield. Having the infield back and not being able to play pepper with the middle of the infield.
“Those are the little things that killed us the past two years. Yeah, our offense went stale, but if we could have executed in those situations, it would have made a big difference, especially against the Oakland Athletics.
“Look back at the games we played against Oakland and the opportunities we had just to execute. I’m not talking about getting doubles and triples, but where we didn’t execute and left runners on the bag and when the game was over it made a difference. Look.”
Until his team shows that it can be trusted to rise to the appropriate situation, Washington reaffirmed Sunday that his preference is to bunt, no matter what baseball’s new math says.
Signaling for a bunt early in the game will depend upon who the opposing pitcher is, Washington said. An early bunt opportunity may be one of the few opportunities the Rangers have on that night.
And don’t expect to see Prince Fielder or Adrian Beltre bunt. They are the lineup’s “bus drivers,” Washington said.
Until others in the lineup — Washington named Jurickson Profar, Leonys Martin, Elvis Andrus and Geovany Soto — show that they can execute properly in a situation, the manager asserted Sunday that he will continue to call for his “safer” choice.
“The percentages for me in that situation go up by them squaring and bunting it rather than me allowing them to swing,” Washington said.
Don’t blame just him for bunting too much, in other words. Blame the Rangers for not giving Washington the confidence that they can identify the situation and execute.
That’s what the Rangers’ daily situational hitting drills have been for. That’s also what spring training is for, no matter how colorfully the manager wants to put it.