This season has seen the start of the career of Billy Hamilton, the player who set the minor league record for steals in 2012. By all accounts, Billy is a great young man (from his Mississippi town of around 1200 300+ drove to see him play in Atlanta this weekend, that tells you something about him). Alas, as Vince Coleman before him and many others have learned, you can’t steal first base. Getting on-base, one of the essential things for every batter when he comes to the plate, is hard, very hard, in major league baseball. Hamilton is working very hard on his bunting, and there are a few guys up and coming in the Rox organization whose bunting skills might make a big difference in their careers. Bunting isn’t easy, and despite what people might say, its also not a waste (the Rockies were always frustrated that Dexter Fowler could never become a good bunter, but his size might have worked against him there).
Since 2011 we have seen the growth of defensive shifts and alignments that has made getting on-base even harder for many hitters, not just power lefties. In a lot of these cases the player could just bunt and get on base, but major league hitters want to get doubles, triples and homers. And you don’t get a high OPS bunting the ball. Or do you?
Maybe the bunt has more power than we think. Friday night in the Rockies game Dee Brown hit a slow roller just far enough to the right of Justin Monrneau, and as DJ L. raced over to try and field it and then throw it, his glove ran over the top of the ball, stopping its progress, but DJ continued moving towards the foul-line, and with the distance between he and the ball, Dee Gordon raced all the way to second base. The play was ruled a double – a bunt double! While I would have preferred to see DJ charged with an error on (single on the hit, error on the advance), I understand the scoring and while DJ would probably say he should have made a better play, give credit to Dee Gordon for forcing the issue.
The announcers on the game acted as if they had seen something truly rare, continuing to talk about it the rest of the game. I thought they might have over-reacted, but in fact…it was a rather unusual occurrence, though more along the lines of a no-hitter than a perfect game.
One of the problems with baseball and getting older is you remember things that never happened. I was certain that during the Whitey Ball days of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1980s I had seen either Ozzie Smith or Vince Coleman have a bunt double. I was wrong. But there were a number of bunt double during that period, taking advantage of both the speed in the game at the time and the Astroturf. In almost all cases the bunt double occurs because the defense responded improperly to the bunt play, with no player fielding the ball in the period between it reaching the pitcher mound area and the baseline between 1st and 2nd. Usually the pitcher falls off the wrong way, the first baseman doesn’t get to the ball (often watching these instances the ball is bunted harder than normal, usually an issue) and the second baseman, focused on getting to first, fails to stop and make sure the ball doesn’t get through the infield. We know that early in spring training teams practice bunt plays, work on the wheel play (it seems like most cases of bunt doubles happen during wheel plays), but properly handing a bunt isn’t easy even when practiced, and by the middle of the season, we know a lot of bad things happen to defenses when a player drops a good bunt.
The bunt double changed Friday’s game, if not its end result. The bunt double – a weapon that caused the Rockies to go 11 for a win instead of winning a nice 2-1 game with Jordan Lyles taking the W. Dee Gordon’s speed certainly is a weapon. Never seen a Rockie bunt double? Correct….but did you know the Rockies have a role in bunt double history? The all-time leader in bunt-doubles is….Juan Pierre! The ex-Rockie (and enemy of sabermatricians for the fact his offense tends to be “empty” despite having over 2000 hits) is a bunt double machine, with three in his career, tying him for the career mark. Other ex-Rockies with a bunt double? Why the always frustrating Mike Lansing, while he was with the Expos. Pierre doesn’t have the title to himself by the way, he is tied with Rafeal Furcal.
Having realized that no Cardinals had any bunt doubles through the 1980s, I went back and realized that I was actually remembering Brett Buttler, baseball’s all-time leader in bunt hits, who had a bunt double in 1985. That year saw 4 bunt doubles! (For those reading under 30, Astroturf was an attempt by man to prove that God didn’t know what grass was – think of grass mass-manufactured in the same factory as Ford Pintos and you get the idea – but it made for fast infields, big and usually sure hops, and very sore legs if you played on it).
According to official scoring (and before WW2 there are none recorded and that may reflect scoring fof the days) there have been 40 bunt doubles before last night. But you know what makes the bunt double really cool? The first player officially bunt double was by a guy named Jackie Robinson! The biggest man to ever have a bunt double? The Gentle Giant – Willie McCovey in 1970! The only catcher with a bunt double? That would be Darrell Porter then of the Royals in 1979. The richest man to ever have a bunt-double…that would Robinson Cano in 2013!
So, as the saying goes, speed kills. Put pressure on the defense and you might be surprised what happens. That is why the rise of strikeouts is so frustrating. As Harold Reynolds said on Baseball Tonight Friday, “A strikeout is an empty out. Only one who had to do anything was the pitcher and catcher. When put the ball in play, a lot of good things can happen. With a strikeout the only good thing that happens is you get back to the hotel earlier (okay…I added the last bit).”With all the defensive shifts on these days, I am going to bet we start to see more bunt doubles in the future. And I am betting that Charlie Blackmon will be the first Rockies player to have one. Maybe tonight?
A few links regarding bunt doubles for your enjoyment:
And here is the full-list of all “official” bunt doubles.