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Happy Fodder’s Day: Let’s Talk Fundamentals

MLB: JUN 14 Rays at Athletics
“Situational hitting is hitting as many double play ground balls as humanly possible, right?”
Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Here’s a “chicken or the egg” question to ponder on this Father’s Day: is it hard to execute the fundamentals when you’re bad, or is it hard to be good when you can’t execute the fundamentals?

As one grumpy manager was heard to say when asked what he thought of his team’s execution: “Yes, I think they should all be executed.”

So here are the 2023 Oakland A’s, not very good at hitting, pitching, or fielding but also somewhat breathtakingly terrible at bunting, advancing lead off doubles, hitting the cutoff man, and so on.

Is this just an extension of the whole “Not as good at baseball as their peers” thing? To some extent, actually, yes. Because some of the fundamentals aren’t actually all that easy. While others, well, kind of are. Let’s dissect...

Lead off Doubles: “Get ‘em over, get ‘em in”

As frustrating as it is to see runners stranded who could score on mere outs, it’s not simple to advance runners against skilled pitchers who know exactly what you’re trying to do. In particular, right handed batters have no “sure fire” way to advance runners from 2B as it’s difficult to put inside pitches in play on the ground the other way. (Left handed batters, in contrast, can reach out to pull outside pitches and “roll over” on them.)

You also don’t want your hitters turning into “intentional out makers” even when not bunting, working hard to try to bounce out to the 2Bman when a base hit can “keep the line moving” towards a crooked number and when the batter may have big time power to LF and not be much of a “punch and judy” hitter. Sometimes you need to let hitters be who they are if you want them to have any success at all.

Then there’s the “simple issue” of scoring runners from 3B with less than 2 outs. Across the entire league batters fail at this plenty, with league average this season usually running at around 55% (I think I saw it was actually down from even that this year), maybe as low as 52%).

That all being said, what irks me in a hitter — and has shown up plenty with your 2023 A’s — is a batter so clearly unaware or indifferent to the situation. In a sac fly situation, if a hitter gets a pitch up and fouls it back, so be it. With 2 strikes sometimes you have to just protect and try to hit the ball hard somewhere. But to watch a hitter, following a lead off double, lean out to chase a first pitch down and away, trying to pull it and hitting a predictable bouncer to 3B? That’s irritating and reflects poor fundamental understanding of how situations are supposed to dictate approach.

If I’m managing a team I want my players to at least show, in their approach, that they recognize the situation. If you miss your pitch, that’s fine, but were you at least hunting for pitches up, pitches you could take the other way, etc.?


This team bunts far, far too much and that’s not on the players it’s on a manager severely lacking tactical chops. Perhaps “Moneyball” was too long to get through or “The Book” too wordy, to learn about the importance of not being too eager to make more outs on purpose.

One of my “rules of thumb” is that you mostly want your sacrifice bunts to come from your worst batters who are your most accomplished bunters, and only when decent hitters follow. What you don’t want to do is to take the bat out the hands of your few successful hitters, or make outs relying on other poor hitters to come through.

It’s also rarely useful enough to bunt with a runner at 1B and 0 outs as the increased run expectancy is marginal due to how much it decreases odds of a crooked number. It’s fine, sometimes, in the 9th inning of a tie game but rarely makes sense throughout the course of the first 8 innings.

The time to bunt, if you’re going to do it at all, is with 2 on and 0 outs and a bad hitter at the plate. Bunting runners to 2B and 3B with 1 out has many advantages, starting with the fact that a hit can score 2 and still give you a crooked number. It also forces the infield either to concede a run on a ground ball up the middle, or play in and invite that crooked number to dinner. And at least it avoids the back-breaking DP.

So sure, the occasional bunt by Nick Allen ahead of the top of the order is fine, as is getting something out of a JJ Bleday “left on left” matchup. I would say bunt with Tony Kemp but he seems to think the point of bunting is to pop it up as high as you can. Actually, that describes Bleday pretty well too. And, come to think of it, most of the A’s hitters.

Which brings me to the “fundamentals” part. The A’s shouldn’t bunt nearly as often as they do, but when they do they could at least be better at it. It’s about getting the bat at the correct angle and getting to the pitch rather than waiting for the pitch to get all the way to the batter’s box. Tap it softly towards the ground and you have what we call a “bunt”. What the A’s do is more like just more bad hitting only choked up on the bat.

Cutoff Man

Here’s my pet peeve. Baseball is really hard, and at the big league level nearly everything is incredibly difficult. Just making contact with pitches, reading fly balls off the bat, reacting to ground balls, blocking balls in the dirt — easy to criticize from your living room couch but humbling to try to succeed at day after day.

Hitting the cutoff man is not hard. It’s the cutoff man’s job, guided by the fielder at the base behind him, to position himself precisely such that if the outfielder throws the ball at his chest, if he lets the ball go it will one-hop over the bag.

Thus, as an outfielder you have one job and it’s the same every time. Fire the ball on a line right at the chest of your cutoff man. You don’t have to worry about where he is because he will have, presumably, put himself in the ideal spot. And you don’t have to worry about whether you have a good shot at the runner or not because the infielders will decide whether or not to let the throw go through.

Sure you can try to be a “hero” and fire it on the fly to the bag and you can also balloon throws over the base and the pitcher backing up, or short hop the bag or discover too late that you had no chance and now other runners have moved up.

You were taught, right around Little League, the simple art of firing the ball to the cutoff man’s chest, and if I’m managing the 2023 A’s I tell my team, “Look, we may be short on talent, athleticism, experience, whatever, but we are capable of being as good as anyone on fundamentals like hitting the cutoff man. And if your throws aren’t aimed right at your cutoff man’s chest, you’re not playing for me. Because that’s something we can actually be great at.”

In summary, many of these “fundamentals” are not actually pieces of cake. For the 2023 A’s: recognize situations and do the best you can, with your limited skills, to at least show that you know the score, the inning, who’s on base where and how many outs there are, and what that situation calls for. Stop bunting so much, but when you do lay the bat out flat and go tap the pitch to the ground instead of whatever “letting the pitch get in deep” thing you’ve been doing. And just hit the cutoff man because it’s good baseball and every outfielder can do it, and should do it, and on a well managed team will do it.

And let’s ward off those pesky Cleveland Spiders, maybe even those “not-so-miracle” Mets, and get us at least some 43 wins.