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May 23, 2014

BP Unfiltered

This Week in Bunting to Beat the Shift, 5/23

by Ben Lindbergh and Chris Mosch


Same old intro time: Last month I started a season-long series (continued here, here, here and here) devoted to tracking bunts for base hits with the infield shift in effect; this is the sixth installment. To bring you up to speed on the series’ premise and methodology will take but two brief excerpts. Excerpt one:

Teams are shifting more often; they're shifting not only at higher rates against the usual slow-footed, southpaw sluggers who are classic shift candidates, but also against more marginal hitters whom they wouldn't have bothered to defend before, down to and including Ryan Flaherty; the math suggests that it makes sense for an average hitter to attempt a bunt with third base open as long as he has a >=40 percent chance to get it down; and the more common the shift is, the more worthwhile it becomes for a hitter who hasn't had to do it before to invest the time necessary to become a competent bunter (as extreme pull hitter Brandon Moss did this spring).

More and more teams are getting on the defensive positioning bandwagon. At some point, the batters will strike back, using one of the only anti-shift tactics available.

And excerpt two:

Inside Edge tracks defensive shifts and bunts with the shift in effect, so they’ll be supplying the data for this series. According to IE, there were 40 bunts against the shift in 2012, and 50 in 2013. Of those 90 bunts, 56 led to hits, so you can see why the bunt is so smart: At that success rate, it makes sense for any hitter who can get a bunt down to do so with the bases empty, and the worse the hitter and the emptier the left side of the infield, the better a play it becomes.

And now you’re caught up. Today we’ll cover the games of May 15–21, and boy, have I got some bunts for you (as always, courtesy of Inside Edge). We've added a "shift type" for each bunt/bunt attempt this week, so here's a key, courtesy of IE's Kenny Kendrena:

The 1 and 15 shift types are both 3-Infielders on one side of the diamond types of shifts. The only difference between those is that the 15 is where the fielders are non-contiguous (i.e. third baseman in RF).

The “2” shift is defined as “near 3-infielders to one side”. It’s almost a “1” shift, but not quite. Like this, for example:

Got all that? Let’s lay it down like the left side is open and Asdrubal’s in town.

Date: 5/15
Batter: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Previous Bunts against the shift by this batter from 2012–2014: 1
Pitcher: Michael Wacha, Cardinals
Inning: 1
Outs: 2
Count: 0-0
Runners: 0
Shift type: 1
Outcome: Single

Rizzo beat the shift with a successful bunt against Masahiro Tanaka in April, but his bunting ability had lain dormant for weeks until he caught the Cardinals napping.

Date: 5/15
Batter: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Previous Bunts against the shift by this batter from 2012–2014: 2
Pitcher: Michael Wacha, Cardinals
Inning: 4
Outs: 0
Count: 0-0
Runners: 0
​Shift type: 1
Outcome: Single

Surely he’d never be so bold as to try that ag—

Oh. In his next at-bat, Rizzo gets a breaking ball from Wacha, but he bunts it to the left side again and gets the same reward. The Cardinals can't say they weren't warned, and they can't claim to have forgotten what went down in Rizzo's previous at-bat, but they made no adjustment at all, daring him to do it again. Overshifting against Rizzo again worked as well for Mike Matheny as building another Death Star to destroy the Rebels did for Emperor Palpatine.

"First time I've seen a guy beat the shift with a bunt twice in a game," Kendrena says.

Date: 5/17
Batter: Brian McCann, Yankees
Previous Bunts against the shift by this batter from 2012–2014: 4
Pitcher: Edinson Volquez, Pirates
Inning: 1
Outs: 1
Count: 0-0
Runners: 0
​Shift type: 1
Outcome: Out

More like McCann't, amirite? (Seriously, McCann is having a lousy offensive season.)

Date: 5/17
Batter: Mitch Moreland, Rangers
Previous Bunts against the shift by this batter from 2012–2014: 0
Pitcher: Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays
Inning: 5
Outs: 0
Count: 0-0
Runners: 0
​Shift type: 1
Outcome: Out

Mitch Moreland squared around once with the shift on earlier this season, but this was the first time he went through with it. Unfortunately, he made a rookie mistake—he bunted against Buerhle, who always finishes in perfect fielding position.

Date: 5/20
Batter: Yangervis Solarte, Yankees
Previous Bunts against the shift by this batter from 2012–2014: 0
Pitcher: Neil Ramirez, Cubs
Inning: 9
Outs: 1
Count: 0-0
Runners: 0
​Shift type: 15
Outcome: Single

Buehrle woulda had it, but Neil Ramirez falls off toward first.

Date: 5/20
Batter: Kyle Seager, Mariners
Previous Bunts against the shift by this batter from 2012–2014: 1
Pitcher: Colby Lewis, Rangers
Inning: 2
Outs: 0
Count: 0-1
Runners: 1
​Shift type: 1
Outcome: Out

Adrian Beltre, ladies and gentlemen. This would have worked out well for Seager against almost any other third baseman. We've learned two important lessons this week: Don't bunt against Buehrle, and don't bunt against Beltre.

Season Totals
Bunts against the shift in 2014: 30, 18 successful
Bunts against the shift through this date in 2013: 16
Bunts against the shift through this date in 2012: 6

Bunt Attempts/Threats
Recently, Inside Edge reconfigured their software to allow the recording of attempted and threatened bunts to beat the shift in addition to those that were actually put in play. This is obviously pretty important; as many of you have pointed out, looking at how often bunts against the shift in fair territory result in hits tells us something, but the rate at which hitters fail to get the bunt down is also an important part of the picture. Yes, players are batting .625 when they drop a bunt down against the shift so far this season, which would seem to make bunting a no-brainer, but to say so for sure, we need to determine how often attempts come up empty.

To that effect, here’s the latest list of threatened/attempted bunts from the past week that led to fouls or taken balls or strikes. Eventually, we’ll have a large enough sample to say something about how often bunt attempts give birth to bunts. —Ben Lindbergh

Date Runners Hitter Name Balls Strikes Inning Outs Pitcher Name Event Def Shift On Pitch Result
5/16 0 Alejandro De Aza 1 1 3 0 Collin McHugh Bunt Hit Att. 2 Taken Ball
5/18 1 Adam Eaton 1 0 5 2 Brad Peacock Bunt Hit Att. 2 F
5/15 1 Brian McCann 0 0 9 0 Jenrry Mejia Bunt Hit Att. 1 F
5/15 1 Brian McCann 0 1 9 0 Jenrry Mejia Bunt Hit Att. 1 Taken Ball
5/21 123 Josh Reddick 0 1 2 1 Erik Bedard Bunt Hit Att. 2 Taken Ball

After the (Bunted) Ball
This week’s report from Chris Mosch on how defenses adjusted (or didn’t adjust) to the bunters from last time:

It doesn’t appear that any of the guys whose bunts were unsuccessful saw any different defensive alignments against them in subsequent trips to the plate. The Padres presented the same alignment to Joey Votto during his next at-bat, and the Mets didn’t have a problem leaving the left side of the infield open against McCann throughout the rest of the Subway series. Eric Hosmer and Matt Joyce didn’t have any more at-bats with the bases open during the rest of their respective series.

None of the teams even appeared to change their defensive alignment during at-bats where a batter attempted or threatened to lay down a bunt.

Most teams appear to be fine with letting guys bunt against the shift until they prove they can lay one down for a hit. However, the White Sox may be one of the exceptions, as they appear to be taking steps to crack down on bunts against extreme overshifts.

Josh Reddick
After Reddick bunted for a base hit in the seventh inning on May 12th, the White Sox moved their third baseman to protect against the bunt the next day.



Not only did the White Sox continue to adjust their alignment throughout the series to defend against the bunt with Reddick hitting, but they changed their approach against Oakland’s other resident shift-bunter, Brandon Moss. Here’s the White Sox infield against Moss prior to Reddick’s bunt:



And here is Chicago’s setup the next day:



The White Sox were conscious of lefties beating the shift using the bunt even before Reddick’s bunt single, as they protected against Anthony Rizzo a few series prior (before he laid down his two bunts against Cardinals, but after he got a bunt single against a Yankees shift in April). But their defense against the bunt wasn’t consistent during all overshifts, as evidenced by their setup when Reddick laid down his bunt. Another example comes from Chicago’s previous series, against the Diamondbacks, as their defense resembled a typical overshift.

But Reddick’s bunt single was the first time this season that the White Sox have fallen victim to a bunt against the shift themselves (or even had a bunt successfully laid down against the shift), and they seem determined to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

There’s evidence that since that series against Oakland, the White Sox have shaded their third baseman closer to the third-base line during extreme overshifts against Mike Moustakas, Brian McCann, and Mark Teixeira. Here are screenshots against Moustakas and against McCann, and here’s a GIF from last night’s game that shows the third baseman moving back off the line after Chicago got two strikes on Teixeira.


Asdrubal Cabrera
His bunt against Tampa Bay was the last time he came to bat during that series, so we can’t see whether Evan Longoria would have played further in the next time.

Garrett Jones
The Dodgers got the hint after Jones bunted for single in the second inning. Here’s the defense during his next at-bat. —Chris Mosch

Thanks to Nick Wheatley-Schaller for making the embedded GIFs.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Chris Mosch is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Chris's other articles. You can contact Chris by clicking here

1 comment has been left for this article.

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