Some bunts are followed by big innings, believe it or not.
When nerds (your humble narrator included!) argue about bunting, they often rely on a metaphor that's barely a metaphor but is really a way of comparing baseball to other sports. In basketball and football and hockey and rugby and lacrosse and sometimes ultimate frisbee, there is a clock, an explicit timekeeping device used to mark the end of the match (or segment of the match) and how near it draws. If the score on the pitch is 13 to 2 and the hard time cap of 40 minutes is just 90 seconds away, well, it's physically impossible to score that many points in that little time, even for Reggie Miller. Baseball, by contrast, has no clock, only outs. If you have fewer runs than the other team once you use up your 27 outs, you lose. Outs are thus analogized to time, with the idea being that intentionally taking precious units off the clock is not a winning gambit.
The metaphor alludes to the infinitude of baseball, the idea that there's nothing in the rules preventing a game from happening to the end of time in a different way than in timed sports. In basketball, a game could have infinite overtimes, but there's something about the clock starting over every five minutes that feels distinct from the infinite baseball game—I think it's the visual image of an endlessly tied basketball game, where the clock loops back to five minutes again at the completion of each overtime, that makes it feel finite, just a circle that we can hold in our hands and our minds, not a line (score) extending out past our contemplation the way a baseball game does.
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The defensive shift revolution makes for a nice narrative, but how much has it truly changed the game?
Last week, we examined the effects of fielding shifts on fielding metrics. For those who missed out, I’d advise you to go read it, but the short version is that location-based fielding metrics can overstate the importance of fielding shifts to a team’s defense and thus overrate players who are shifted in such an arrangement.
But if the fielding shifts are throwing defensive metrics off, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t contributing to team defense, right? And we are in what some people might term a shifting renaissance. John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions says:
A "Best-Of" team for notoriously unlucky, small-ball lovin' manager Gene Mauch
In 22 full seasons of managing, Gene Mauch’s teams led their leagues in sacrifice bunts 14 times and finished second thrice more. In many seasons, the race for the bunt title, such as it was, wasn’t even close. In 1979, Mauch’s Twins dropped one down 142 times—and those are just the successful bunts. There must have been many more attempts. The second-place team had just 79 bunts, and the league average was only 68. In 1982, the Angels had 114 bunts. The league average was 54. In 1986, the Angels had 91 bunts against a league average of 46.
But for shortstop Roy Smalley, who had 23 bunts in 1978, the players listed here didn’t do a great deal of bunting. The reason is simple: as eager as Mauch was to give up an out to move a runner over, these were his real hitters.
Fueled by reader feedback, Dan makes some adjustments to his new defensive metric.
"The subject may appear an insignificant one, but we shall see that it possesses some interest, and the maxim 'de minimis lex non curat'--the law is not concerned with trifles--does not apply to science." --Charles Darwin, from the preface of his book The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, With Observations on Their Habits (1881)