Before Texas Rangers players began dropping like flies during spring training, the most newsworthy thing to spring out of Surprise, Arizona was Ron Washington‘s tirade in defense of sacrifice bunting. In case you might have missed it, this is what he had to say that day.
“I think if they try to do that, they’re going to be telling me how to [bleep] manage … That’s the way I answer that [bleep] question. They can take the analytics on that and shove it up their [bleep][bleep].”
Love him or hate him, Wash doesn’t pull any punches. Personally, I love it. I’m not a huge Ron Washington fan and he has certainly made some questionable calls over the years. However, I love the fact that he is passionate about what he believes and he doesn’t tip toe around it. There’s too much of that in the world today.
I know that there is a whole anti-bunting crusade out there and my intention with this article isn’t to wade into the fight. I just want to point out one simple thing after watching Tuesday night’s come from behind win against the Phillies. Wash bunted, twice. It was successful, twice. The Rangers scored, twice. Those would be the tying and winning runs, by the way.
Hate it if you will, the bunt does work.
Tuesday night, bottom of the seventh, down 2-1. Shin-Soo Choo leads off with a single. Mr. Bunt, Elvis Andrus, bunts him over. Prince Fielder hits a weak ground ball to move him to third. Adrian Beltre drives him home, tie ball game. That’s what’s called engineering runs. It’s a useful tool and more reliable than crossing your fingers and hoping for a home run. If Andrus hadn’t bunted him over, Fielder’s gounder might have been a double play. Wash made the right call.
Bottom of the ninth, tied at two. Choo leads off with a walk. Andrus again bunts him over. This results in a walk to Fielder. Beltre, who is absolutely clutch (see Lisa Weatherall’s piece here), delivers the RBI single. Yes, if allowed to swing the bat, Fielder might have hit a home run. He might have also hit into a double play. Bottom line, Wash made the call, and again, it worked.
Does Ron Washington overuse the bunt? Probably so. Is he misusing Elvis Andrus by making him bunt so much? Probably so. But let’s give Ron Washington his due, the bunt can be and still is a useful tool in baseball. There is a time and a place for it, and he gets that.
The game of baseball doesn’t change that much. The goal is still to score more runs than the other team. In some cases, that means manufacturing runs. Some people may not get it, but you can get a feel for a game. Sometimes you can bide your time because you feel that it’s only a matter of time before the hits and the runs start coming. Other times, you can just tell that every run is going to count and to get them where you can. Tuesday night’s game had that feel, and that was exactly how it played out. A long-timer like Ron Washington gets that too, and there’s no advanced stat in the world to tell you that.
Don’t get me wrong, advanced statistics have definitely changed the game. They’ve helped General Managers make better personnel decisions and they’ve helped managers make better in-game decisions. However, statistics are merely a tool, same as the bunt, and should be viewed as such. Just because the stats say bring in Pitcher X to face Batter Z doesn’t mean that Batter Z can’t get ahold of one and yank it out of the park.
The best managers in the game understand that as well. There are times to play the percentages and times to play a hunch. I don’t know which one Wash was playing Tuesday night, but it worked.