I know. It’s not a revolutionary idea. I bet it’s not even the first time I’ve mentioned it. It doesn’t even apply to only David Ortiz. It probably works for just about anyone who sees a crazy defensive alignment when they’re at the plate. I really only bring it up because I was at Fenway this weekend. I saw the shift Chicago played against Ortiz in full. I didn’t like it. He needs to bunt.
Right off the bat, I need to admit that I’d prefer he didn’t actually bunt. My preference would be for him to slap a ball down the left field line instead. Maybe he’d get a double out of that. But, I’ve heard enough people say that you wouldn’t want to mess with your swing like that. I can see that shifting your mechanics like that could affect other at-bats as well. So, I’ll settle for a bunt. A nice push bunt to third would be perfect.
I know what you’re thinking. David Ortiz isn’t paid to get bunt base hits. If he bunts, he’s just doing the other team a favor. His job is to drive in runs. I hear that. I really do. It’s just not that simple. Let’s start with the middle question. Is Ortiz doing the other team a favor by bunting? That depends, I suppose, on what the other options are. Is he bunting instead of hitting a home run? In that case, he’s doing them a favor. Is he bunting instead of striking out? In that case, I’d bet the other team would prefer the strikeout. As for his job being to hit home runs? I’m not really sure about that. I would bet his job is to give the Red Sox the best chance at winning the game. Now, I admit, there is never an at-bat in a major league game where the best result isn’t a homerun. If you put one in the seats you are always doing the best you can. David Ortiz hitting five home runs a game would be doing the best he can to help the team win. But, when was the last time Ortiz hit a home run every time he batted in a game? Has it ever happened? Maybe as a pinch hitter? So, other than hitting a home run, the best thing David Ortiz can do to help his team is to get on base. Just get on base anyway he can. Bunting would certainly accomplish that, right?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Ortiz should bunt every time he strides to the plate. There are cases where it’s worth the risk to swing away. But, if he bunted a bit more than he does now…wouldn’t the other teams at least have to stay honest? If he dropped a bunt down once a game, for instance, wouldn’t they have to drop out of the shift just a little bit? Wouldn’t even a little relaxing of the shift improve his chances of getting a hit when he swings away?
Let’s take Saturday’s game, as an example. Ortiz came up in the bottom of the first. There was no score, two outs, and Victor Martinez was at first. The ChiSox put the shift on. They may have held off a bit because of Martinez on first, but I bet it was a pretty standard shift. If Ortiz had bunted for a base hit, the Sox would have had runners at first and second for Adrian Beltre. If Ortiz happens to hit a single, it’s the same result. If he hits a double, Martinez may score. It’s not a great chance, but it could happen. It would definitely put runners at second and third. If Ortiz hit a triple, we would have all fainted in out seats. If he hit a home run, two runs score, and the best result occurs. So, if he bunted, it’s guaranteed two on with two outs. Otherwise, his batting average is .250 or so. So, it’s about a 25% chance that one of the other events happens. It wouldn’t be a big risk to just lay one down. What did Ortiz do? He grounded into the shift, and was thrown out by the second baseman to end the inning. Advantage: bunting.
The next time up, Ortiz led off the fourth inning with the Sox trailing by 1. Again, if he bunts the Sox have the lead runner on. If he doesn’t, he has that 25% chance of something good happening. In this case, he got lucky. He hit the ball into the shift again, but the second baseman misplayed it into a single. Advantage: Push, although only by luck.
The third time up, there were runners on first and third with two outs. The game was tied. With the runner on third, the shift was out of whack. Swinging away is really the only choice. Ortiz ended up grounding out to first, on a fine play.
His last time up, the Sox were training by 2 as Ortiz led off the eighth. Even if Ortiz hits a home run, the sox still trail. If he bunts, the tying run comes to the plate. Ortiz grounds into the shift, and is thrown out by the second baseman. Advantage: bunting.
So, Ortiz went 1-4 in the game. If he had bunted every time it made sense, he would have been 3-4. He would have had the same number of doubles, triples, home runs, and RBI (0) if he bunted three times instead of swinging away.
No, I don’t want Ortiz to turn into Juan Pierre. I don’t want him bunting every time he comes to the plate. But, what if he lay one down in the first inning on Saturday. Would the shift be a bit relaxed in the fourth or fifth? Do the grounders into the shift become base hits? What if teams knew that when he led off an inning, there was a 50% chance he’d bunt? Could they even use the shift? Doesn’t that help all his other at bats, along with adding base hits to his stats? What’s the downside?
Just bunt it.
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