Bunting Your Way To Happiness
Jarrod Dyson cannot bunt. This has been one of the great challenges of his wonderful career. Dyson was drafted in the 50th round of the 2006 draft out of Southwest Mississippi Community College in Summit, Miss. Fiftieth round! I’m pretty sure that around the 38th round every team’s scouting director grabs his car keys, walks out, then pokes his head back in and says, “OK, everyone, draft whoever you want but make sure to turn the lights out before leaving.”
Fiftieth round — Dyson was a one-tool player. But that one tool was something: He could absolutely fly. He signed for $5,000, which is how much it will cost you to get a 2008 Hyndai Electa SE with 137,000 miles on it. Then the Royals went about trying to help Dyson turn that one tool in a baseball toolbox.
Mostly, they tried to get Dyson to bunt.
They tried … and tried … and tried. But Jarrod Dyson cannot bunt. One year, they had the idea of having Dyson bunt every single time he came to play for an entire minor-league season. The experiment blew up before it ever started — he can’t bunt. There is something about bunting that cuts against his nature, something scorpion and the frog about it. He has often said that he wants to bunt. He knows that with his blazing speed, becoming a great bunter could transform him from a fourth-outfielder type guy into a dangerous every day player. But he can’t do it.
In any case, that was what I thought about on Wednesday when all of baseball seemed to be arguing about the ethics of Dyson’s bunt single against Detroit. The situation was this: Justin Verlander had a perfect game going with one out in the sixth inning. Dyson came up and hit a perfect drag bunt.
The purists came out for screaming over that one. There’s some sort of weird unwritten rule that you’re not supposed to break up a perfect game or a no-hitter with a bunt. I’m not sure where it started or how, but it is now very much a part of that unwritten rule book, wherever that thing is. I’ve been wanting to order one from Unwritten Book Amazon forever.
Of course, if I had that unwritten rule book, I’d look in the fine print to answer a few questions:
- When does a perfect game or no-hitter actually begin? I mean, this was just the sixth inning. Is five perfect innings enough to trigger the no-bunt rule? How about four innings? Three?
- What if a defense is playing everybody in the outfield to keep the perfect game going? Are you allowed to bunt then?
- What about hitting a squibber? Does purposely shortening up and hitting a squibber qualify as a bunt?
- Isn’t “squibber” a great word?
- Why is the hitter supposed to take away his own options just so the pitcher can get a perfect game? Is it out of kindness?
- If we’re taking away bunts shouldn’t we take away other stuff too? Maybe in order to keep the perfect game going teams should be forced to use Little League bats after the seventh inning. How about hitters being forced to not swing at the first three pitches? Blindfolds?
I suspect that from those questions you can tell how I feel about that vapid unwritten rule about no bunting. Verlander was dominating the Mariners, destroying them, and it’s the job of Mariners hitters to figure out something, to crack his concentration, to think of a way to break through. Dyson’s bunt single changed the entire complexion of the game. He singled, Mike Zunino followed with a hard-earned walk, Jean Segura singled, Ben Gamel singled, Nelson Cruz doubled, and Verlander was gone from the game. Jarrod Dyson flipped the game with one bold play, and he should have been celebrated for that, and instead there are actually people out there who think he SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE IT BECAUSE IT WAS NOT VERY NICE.
Sorry, I had to pull out the ALL CAPS for that nonsense.
In any case, what I thought was: Man, if Jarrod Dyson could do that on a regular basis, lay down bunt singles on command the way, say, Brett Butler did, he really could be something else. People talk about the bunt being a lost art, but they’re usually referring to sacrifice bunts which are usually dumb. Bunting for a single, though, that really is a lost art. I mention Brett Butler above — Butler was a fantastic player, a 50-WAR, better-than-you-remember player who hit .290 and had a lifetime .377 on-base percentage.
He, like Dyson, was a non-prospect, late-round pick in the draft. He, like Dyson, was 5-foot-10 and weighed about 160. He like Dyson could fly. Dyson is a better defensive player than Butler was, I think.
But, man, Butler could bunt. From 1988 on — that’s how early we have the stats — Butler laid down 378 non-sacrifice bunts, and hit .489 on them (some of those were sacrifice bunts that turned into hits, which does raise the average). That was AFTER he turned 30 — you can imagine how many bunt hits he had before 30 when he could really run.
Dyson has only bunted for a hit 92 times in his entire career before Wednesday (being successful 38 times). Some pulled out the folding fans and fanned themselves while nearly fainting over the etiquette of Dyson’s scandalous move, and they missed out on the more telling point: A bunt destroyed Justin Verlander. A bunt can be a powerful thing.
The streak lives! The Orioles looked like they would break that five-runs allowed streak at 17 games, which was already the longest such streak since 1924. It’s HARD to allow five runs in a game every game for approaching three weeks. That kind of pitching awfulness has to end sometime.
And it sure looked like it would end on Wednesday. Kevin Gausman started for the Orioles, and for four innings he was lights out. The Cleveland hitters could not touch him; he was painting corners with that mid-90s fastball, getting some swings and misses with that split-fingered fastball, he was looking good.
Then he ran into trouble in the fifth, finding the middle of the plate to Roberto Perez, who smashed a double, and then to Francisco Lindor, who homered. That made it 3–0. It’s funny, I was doing the Twitter show “#TheDugout,” and our own Brittany Ghiroli, who covers the Orioles, started talking about sending Gausman down to Class AAA. That seemed unduly harsh. I mean, he went 5 2/3 innings and allowed three runs. For this Orioles team, that’s contract-extension stuff.
Anyway, those three runs were all that Orioles pitching allowed into the ninth inning, meaning that the streak was just about ready to end. Miguel Castro was pitching, and he got Austin Jackson to ground out weakly. One out!
And then: Single … single … single … single … single.
That barrage was good for two runs — enough to push Cleveland over the magical five-run mark. The 18 straight games of allowing five runs or more is an American League record, and now just two away from the 1924 Phillies.
An Inside-The-Park Error
OK, I got into a bit of a tiff with a handful of Rangers fans (and, surprisingly, Blue Jays fans) after I sent out this Tweet:
You can’t really get across too much in a Tweet — it’s obvious that they were not going to call an error on Blue Jays left fielder Steve Pearce even though:
- He misjudged how the ball was hit.
- He lost it — perhaps in the lights.
- He took a terrible route so that the ball ended up behind him.
- He mistimed his leap or whatever that was.
- He put his glove in the wrong place to actually catch the ball.
I’m not sure what else he could have done wrong — I guess he could have directed Transformers while on the ground. But, yeah, I’m well aware that he was not going to get an error call because he didn’t touch the ball … and because you basically have to touch the ball and pull a Three Stooges pratfall to get an error in the outfield. I get it.
But, seriously, that’s an inside the park home run? That? If you look at the Statcast numbers on the GIF above you can see that balls hit at that height and that speed are hits 7% of the time. Seven. Statcast also shows Pearce had roughly the same first step and route efficiency as a little Electric Football player going for the end zone.
The ball hit the bottom of the wall so there was no reason to jump for it.
Then he smashed into the wall and fell down and hurt himself.
Oh, and yeah, NOBODY BACKED UP THE PLAY. Nobody. You can sort of see the centerfielder running over at the very end of the play like somebody woke him up. The third baseman ran out and beat him to the ball which is why the play-by-play reads, “Inside the park homer to 3B.”
Look, it’s funny that Joey Gallo got an inside the park homer, and he was chugging so give him credit for that. But come on. I’m all for getting rid of errors entirely, I don’t really see the point for them in the game. But if you like errors, believe in errors, how can you look at this play and think, “Oh yeah, inside-the-park home run, absolutely?”