posted at 7/26/2013 8:28 AM EDT
The recent series with the Rays provided an excellent comparison between two times who have radically different attitudes about the bunt and who just might both be right.
Maddon loves the bunt, uses the bunt, preaches the bunt, and trains the bunt. Because of that, the Rays use the bunt pretty effectively, as we saw in this series. My favorite was maybe the fake squeeze bunt against Doubront that caused him to throw home--the runner on third, it should be noted, could have scored if Doubront had gone to first-- and allowed the bunter to get to first base easily.
John Farrell follows the James dictum--no doubt endorsed by John Henry, et al--that giving up an out is statistically a bad move even when runners are moved along or whatever. Consequently, the Sox don't bunt much, even in situations when we in the peanut gallery think a bunt would be pretty effective. But Farrell, like Maddon, has committed to his team's philosophy, which means most of his guys are awful bunters because they are not expected to bunt. There are two exceptions to that rule--Victorino and Iglesias, both of whom are pretty good bunters and can bunt to get on base but also to move runners along. Plus Victorino has used the fake bunt to provide a little cover for Ellsbury to steal second.
I say both teams might be right because James statistics probably do justify the Sox philosophy of not giving up outs just to move a runner along, especially when that can be done when swinging the bat, which also has a better likelihood of becoming a hit rather than a grounder to the right side or whatever. The proof of the pudding just might be the Sox overall offensive performance this year--most runs scored and highest OPS in MLB. Not bunting (much) works.
But I think Maddon is right too because he has committed wholeheartedly to the bunt and that clearly makes a difference. Not only can most of his guys bunt reasonably well, but they are all attuned to how to exploit the bunt--thus the runner on third looking every bit like someone who was about to score if Doubront threw to 1B.
I personally like bunts even though I see the overall value of the Sox approach. I think the "bunts waste an out" philosophy might be skewed by the NL, which has to send pitchers to the plate and therefore doesn't at all mind losing an out they would probably lose anyway. Also, I suspect that pitchers over time have become less and less good at fielding their positions because they are so focused on pitching well. Plus there is a big difference between good and bad bunts--it really is a skill that can be honed.
Footnote. I just looked up the AL team hitting stats. Sure enough, the Sox are near the bottom (10) with just 12 sacrifices. But the Rays only have 6 more, a total of 18, so maybe Maddon doesn't love the bunt as much as I say. The sacrifice leaders are Houston, no surprise, with 31, and the Yankees, big surprise, with 28.