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Bunting: It’s Not Just For Decoration Anymore!

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers
“Hey, I was probably going to make an out anyway.”
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Yes, today’s potpourri will include some analysis of bunting, but first I want to direct your attention to the fact that during the Reagan administration an A’s player hit a mildly interesting homerun and I also wish to offer a preview of today’s matchup: The teams will be playing each other, with lineups. Am I doing this right? 110 010011 00101 please click.


Anyhoo, back in the off-season I think I mentioned that absent much hitting talent the A’s were going to need to embrace more “small ball” in order to coax runs. Mark Kotsay may have taken my suggestion to heart, and also liver and spleen.

Kots seems to really like his bunts lately, to the point of perhaps forgetting that in most cases sacrifice bunts really aren’t the best strategy. Where they make the most sense, as I see it, are in the following situations:

- When you have a very poor hitter up whose few skills include bunting, and better hitters ahead, a bunt can make useful a batter who would otherwise most likely make the inning worse. Nick Allen, sacrificing ahead of high BA hitters (just pretend the A’s have one), can make sense.

- In the 9th inning of a tie game, where you are clearly playing for “one and only one” run, the marginal upgrade of your “run expectancy” in moving a runner to 2B with one out might be worth it.

- I am sometimes enamored of bunting with 2 on and 0 out, because putting runners at 2B and 3B with one out forces the defense/manager into “no win” choices: play the infield back and concede a run on even a routine bouncer to 2B or SS, draw the infield in at a time when a single can score 2 runs, or walk the bases loaded and face the next batter with “nowhere to put him”. There are several hitters (Allen, Kemp, Bolt, Stevenson) whose profile makes them relatively poor candidates to help produce a big inning but a good candidate to make a “productive out” in that situation.

Lately, though, Kots has been bunting like it’s going out of style. Case in point was the 7th inning yesterday, when Stevenson led off with a single and Kemp bunted him over. Granted, it satisfied the premise of swapping Kemp for on deck hitters Brown and Murphy, but the 7th is a bit early to be playing for one run and the upgrade in run expectancy is pretty marginal. Plus in Brown and Murphy you have “high SLG, not high BA” hitters for whom advancing a runner from 1B to 2B is less essential.

Ultimately in this situation, what you are doing more than anything is “giving up outs”. The A’s had 9 of them left and Kemp had a nice 2-hit day going with a couple line drive knocks including the game’s biggest hit.

So yes, the 2022 A’s need to be more creative in producing offense, and that includes bunting — but only when the situation really does dictate that this is the best strategy. They do need to run more because they don’t slug enough, and I would love to see the “hit and run” employed more, if only to force hitters like Allen and Bolt to swing for contact instead of flailing hard at the pitcher’s motion on every slider.

The Best Is Yet To Come

Just a reminder that the “first wave” of young talent (perhaps that word should also be in quotes) is not the best wave of young talent — it’s just the group that was ready first.

Kevin Smith profiles as either a utility infielder or a bust, but Zack Gelof is the future starting infielder worth getting excited about and he will likely be seen in Oakland sometime in 2023. (Were it not for a fluky torn labrum injury, he probably would have been poised to vie for a job out of spring training in 2023.)

Cristian Pache and Cal Stevenson are excellent defensive CFers with severe questions around their hitting (Pache’s ability to make contact, Stevenson’s ability to drive the ball). But coming on their heels is the electric Denzel Clarke, still at high-A but rising fast.

1B has been a “revolving door of bleah” with something like 11 candidates collectively underwhelming. If you’re not super excited about Jonah Bride and David McKinnon, Jordan Diaz’ .319/.361/.507 line earned him a promotion to AAA at the tender age of 21 (he turned 22 last week) and top prospect Tyler Soderstom, now at AA, is finally seeing more structured time at 1B.

The future of the A’s rotation is not Adam Oller, Jared Koenig, and Zach Logue. It is, however, Ken Waldichuk, Gunnar Hoglund, and JT Ginn (and possibly my “dark horse” SP prospect, Ryan Cusick). Note that Hoglund and Cusick were 1st round picks, Ginn a 2nd round selection, and Waldichuk a 5th round pick who is knocking hard at the big league door.

So this current group, with the exception of Allen and now J.P. Sears, are mostly place holders for better versions to come in the next season or two — at least if things go according to plan.

Remember Baltimore!

If you want to give up on 2023 before it arrives, feel free. I will even grant that in all likelihood the 2023 A’s team, while a lot more interesting than the 2022 rendition, probably will lose more often than it wins.

But baseball is that most unpredictable of games, the sport in which the Giants inexplicably won 107 games last year while this year’s Yankees — once on pace for over 120 wins, are on a 3-14 skid in which their “murderer’s row” lineup can’t seem to score any runs.

If you’re feeling like hoping, instead of giving up ahead of time, let’s use the Baltimore Orioles as a role model. The Orioles lost 110 games last season, so a successful rise might look like “only losing 90”...but don’t tell that to the O’s who enter today a remarkable 62-58, on pace to finish 84-78.

That would be a stunning 32 game improvement from one season to the next, and it’s not as if they are accomplishing it because they went out and signed a couple stars to huge contracts. That was the Texas Rangers, who have since lost 66 out of 120 games, plus one manager and one GM. In fact, at the deadline the Orioles showed up as “sellers” moving middle-of-the-order hitter, and team leader, Trey Mancini with an eye relentless focused on the future.

I’m not saying the 2023 A’s will improve by 32 wins, though 2012 and 2018 should have taught us not to try to predict anything. What I am saying is: It’s baseball. Let it play out and look forward to some genuinely exciting talent coming up soon.

Speaking of which, Sears takes the ball today, armed with a career 4-0, 1.95 ERA in the big leagues. If he’s our #5 SP in a couple years, behind Hoglund, Ginn, Waldichuk, and Irvin, this team could be more than ok...