Bunt appropriately, Bunting for hits, Gamesmanship, Taking Advantage of Injury

CC Sabathia Still Has Issues With Boston’s Bunting

Nunez bunts

America is a place where people in prominence can claim ludicrous things and then, after others have pointed out said ludicrousness, double down on their bad ideas. Freedom.

On Thursday, it was CC Sabathia’s turn. Remember just last week when he made the specious, if not downright addled claim that because he was returning from a knee injury, the Red Sox had no right to bunt against him?

If anybody tried to explain to him what a flawed position he was taking, they did a poor job of it. Yesterday, Sabathia again faced the Red Sox, and again the Red Sox did some bunting—starting with the game’s second hitter, Eduardo Nunez, who laid one down in front of the plate, which Sabathia pounced upon … and then threw wildly for an error. “That’s my game,” said Nunez, who also bunted against the pitcher last week, in a Providence Journal article. “You can’t take away my game.”

The strategy proved effective beyond the reach of the bunt itself, when a rattled Sabathia walked the two guys following Nunez in the order, throwing only two strikes in the span of 10 pitches. The pitcher buckled down to escape the jam, then yelled toward the Red Sox dugout as he left the field, explaining in R-rated terms how he felt about their strategy. After the game he said, via a New York Daily News report, that the Red Sox were “scared,” and that “they just think I’m a bigger guy who can’t field my position.”

Well, yes. To which an appropriate response could entail multiple suggestions, primary among them: Figure out how to field your position, or learn to deal with the consequences. Sabathia’s knee is “not my problem,” said Nunez, adding, “If I have to bunt four times in a row, I’d do it. I don’t care if he’s mad or not.”

With last week’s round of complaints, the pitcher effectively offered an open invitation for opponents to get inside his head by bunting. When the Red Sox took him up on it, he responded by channeling a senior citizen chasing neighborhood kids off his lawn.

“I’m an old man,” groused the 37-year-old. “They should want to go out and kick my butt.”

Yes and no. The problem with kicking the butt of an effective pitcher is that alternative paths are sometimes the best route to success. Sabathia earned the victory on Thursday with six innings of one-run ball, and has now won all four of his starts against Boston this season. The Red Sox are obligated to find more effective methods against him.

During the Revolutionary War, the British complained that American forces wouldn’t fight them in formation—a tactic that almost certainly would have led to defeat. With this in mind, why would any team approach Sabathia in his own chosen manner, unless they concurred that it was the best approach?

The Red Sox are being paid to win baseball games, and satisfying the skewed morals of a crotchety pitcher has nothing to do with winning baseball games.

Freedom. Get off my lawn.

 

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Bunt appropriately, Bunting for hits, Gamesmanship, Taking Advantage of Injury

CC Sabathia Has Thoughts on Boston’s Bunting Habits

Knee

CC Sabathia is angry that the Red Sox took advantage of him. The pitcher, returning from a knee injury, tossed a splendid game against Boston over the weekend, giving up four hits and two runs over six innings to earn the win. One of his takeaways, however, concerned the opposition’s sustained insistence on making him prove that he was healthy by laying down bunt after bunt, to test the left-hander’s agility.

Boston’s very first batter, Eduardo Nunez started things off, though his attempt rolled foul and Sabathia ended up striking him out. Outfielder Andrew Benintendi did similarly, and Sabathia fielded his bunt cleanly, after which he motioned in frustration with his glove toward the Red Sox dugout.

“To come out and that’s your strategy, that got me going a little bit,” Sabathia told the New York Post after the game. “Literally, two of the hottest hitters in baseball bunting. If that was their strategy, I [handled] it.”

The pitcher’s anger is misplaced. Any player nursing an injury is a proven liability, not to mention a target for the opposition. If Sabathia was not healthy enough to help his team, he should not have been on the mound. If he was able to help his team—and boy was he ever—then the upside of his pitching had to be sufficient to protect against those who might seek to take advantage of him in other ways.

It’s why Dusty Baker played in the 1981 World Series with a sprained wrist, despite it preventing him from doing anything of consequence with the bat. The threat of Baker in the lineup was itself valuable, and by not openly discussing his injury, sustained away from the field during the NLCS, he hoped that the Yankees would continue to treat him as the dangerous hitter he’d been all season long.

It doesn’t even take an injury to fit this bill. During the 1974 World Series, Alvin Dark called in Catfish Hunter for a relief role to close out Game 1. When Dark said that the hitter, Joe Ferguson, couldn’t handle curveballs, Hunter told him that Ferguson would see nothing but fastballs. The reason: “I ain’t got no curveball today.” At that moment it was up to Hunter—as it is up to any pitcher trying to perform without his full complement of pitches—to keep that knowledge from the opposition for as long as possible. Ferguson had no idea that he’d not see a single bender, and so had to prepare for the opportunity that he might.

Five fastballs later, he went down swinging for the game’s final out. This kind of thing happens all the time.

Sabathia is obviously concerned about his health, and has every right to be. But if he’s not up for fulfilling every facet of his job description, he must at least be willing to act as if he is.

 

Bunt appropriately, Foreign players, WBC

The Most Appropriate Inappropriate Bunt Ever Sparks WBC Brawl

WBC brawlLuis Cruz thought he understood baseball’s unwritten rules. So did Arnold Leon. The former, playing third base for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, responded to a bunt by Canadian catcher Chris Robinson—whose team held a six-run, ninth-inning lead on Saturday—by gesturing for his pitcher to drill the next batter. Leon, the pitcher, did just that.

Within moments, punches were flying and Alfredo Aceves had Satan in his eyes. (Watch the prelude here. Watch the main event below.)

Cruz, however, did not understand the unwritten rules, nor did anyone else on Team Mexico who supported Leon’s retaliation. Because winning trumps any possible Code violation, the WBC’s consideration of run differential matters. The more a team scores, the more likely it is to advance, and, facing the possibility of a three-way tie with the U.S. and Mexico, Canada needed every run it could get. (Also consideration-worthy: Canada was knocked out of the 2006 tournament when coming out on the wrong side of a run-differential tiebreaker.)

It’s undoubtedly tough for players steeped in a certain way of approaching the game—who may well have embraced the Code throughout their entire professional lives—to ignore what is likely second-nature, but there is little excuse for not knowing the rules by which one is playing.

Plate ump Brian Gorman warned both benches after Leon’s first two pitches to Rene Tosoni, the batter following Robinson, sailed inside. On the verge of elimination, however, Leon opted for pride above victory, and drilled Tosoni in the back. Benches emptied, with the brawl starting when Cruz threw a punch at Canada’s Scott Mathieson.

If there is irony in this situation, it is that players coming out of Latin leagues have long been accused of possessing less-than-sufficient understanding of the unwritten rules. This is generally in respect to flair, however—reaction to making a play, not the play itself. Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista—who has a toe in each pool, playing in Toronto and hailing from the Dominican Republic—backed this up, saying from spring training camp in Florida that the structure of the WBC is not enough to merit such strategy.

“I believe in the unwritten rules of the game,” he said in a Toronto Star report. “They should be respected. It’s a code amongst players and everybody who plays baseball at a level higher than Little League knows what it is and there’s no excuse.”

Except that there is an excuse. Ultimately, Canada won both a moral victory and an actual one, its 10-3 win eliminating Mexico from the tournament. It’s fair to question, as Canadian manager Ernie Whitt did after the game, the wisdom of implementing a run-differential system that runs counter to an ingrained facet of baseball, but that’s a discussion for the future.

As long as the WBC—or any other professional baseball outfit—has rules, players can not be knocked for trying to best position their teams to succeed within them.

Update, 3-11: Who knows if or how much the WBC had to do with it, but Leon, a 24-year-old who has never pitched in the big leagues, was just demoted to minors by the A’s.

Bunt appropriately, Cheating, Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians, Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Torii Hunter

Kendrick Bunts, Cleveland Complains, Angels Win

Last week, Anaheim’s Howie Kendrick stirred up some emotions with a two-out, ninth inning bunt that scored Torii Hunter from third base with the game’s winning run.

It came on the first pitch thrown by Indians reliever Chris Perez, who after the game was vocal in his displeasure.

“It was a bad baseball play that happened to work out,” he told MLB.com. “I don’t want to say it was bush league, but you never see that. Ninety-nine percent of hitters in that situation would rather win the game with a hit, not a bunt. It was a stupid play that just happened to work.”

Au contraire, Mr. Perez—it was a smart play that happened to work.

Let’s examine some corollaries between Kendrick’s bunt and another famous bunt that caught some heat: Ben Davis’ bunt that broke up Curt Schilling’s perfect game in 2001.

  • Speed was not remotely part of Davis’ game. “For a backup catcher (like Davis) who had never bunted for a base hit before in his life to do it, I thought that was unnecessary to begin with, and disrespectful, to top it off,” said then-Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly.
  • Kendrick, while not necessarily a burner, is known to steal a base should the situation present itself. Bunting for hits is within his accepted repertoire.

Verdict: Kendrick

  • Davis got lucky with a bad bunt that landed in a good place. “He bunted as bad a ball as you can bunt, to the most perfect spot in the infield to bunt it. . . .” said Schilling. “I never said it was a horses–t play. I thought it was a horses–t bunt.”
  • Kendrick’s effort was a thing of beauty, placed in an ideal spot on the right side of the diamond. The Indians had no chance.

Verdict: Kendrick

  • Davis’ bunt spoiled a significant personal achievement.
  • For Kendrick, there was nothing on the line save for the most important thing on any baseball diamond: a victory.

Verdict: Kendrick

Ultimately—and no matter how you feel about either incident—both Davis and Kendrick must be exonerated for the simple fact that their at-bats mattered.

Davis came to the plate in a 2-0 game; as a baserunner, he brought the tying run to the plate for the first time since Arizona scored its second run. Kendrick’s case was even more stark: he literally won the game with his effort.

And make no mistake, Chris Perez—that was an effort. Sure, it was brains over brawn, but it also took cunning and execution.

Had it been an 8-0 type blowout, Perez would have a legitimate complaint. As it is, if there’s any certainty to be had here, it’s that Perez wouldn’t have said a thing had one of his teammates won the game in exactly the same fashion.

* * *

Earlier in the inning, Hunter exposed another rule: If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. His was perhaps the lowest-grade cheating in the unwritten rulebook, along the lines of an outfielder popping up, glove raised, acting like he caught a ball that he clearly knows he trapped.

In Hunter’s case, he hit a ball into the right-field corner, where Shin-Soo Choo gathered it and threw it to second in time to catch the sliding Hunter. Hunter knew he was out. From his vantage point, even Choo probably knew that he got his man.

Second-base umpire Paul Schrieber, however, called Hunter safe, and he eventually scored the winning run.

When asked after the game whether or not he should have been called out, Hunter rolled his eyes and said, “I’m not going to answer that. He said I was safe, so I was safe.”

He did precisely what he should have done. In big league baseball, that falls within the definition of honesty.

– Jason