No Ifs, Ands, or Bunts Work In Baseball
ALSO: AARON JUDGE AND YANKEES ARE $100 MILLION APART
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Did you know…
Toronto slugger Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. staked an early claim on the 2022 AL MVP with a three-homer game at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night . . .
If his onslaught continues for another decade, the Guerreros could become the first father-and-son player pair in the Baseball Hall of Fame . . .
Since the divisional play era began in 1969, no division had four teams with at least 91 wins before the 2021 American League . . .
The Yankees had a losing record (25-32) last year against Boston, Toronto, and Tampa Bay . . .
Xander Bogaerts has been Boston’s Opening Day shortstop nine years in a row but he and third baseman Rafael Devers are demanding much more money in future contracts than the Red Sox are offering . . .
The Red Sox will honor the late Jerry Remy in pre-game Fenway Park ceremonies April 20 . . .
For all the talk about Fenway being a hitters’ paradise, the Bosox hit more homers on the road (111) than at home (108) last season . . .
Over the last 20 years, Boston has won more World Series (4) than any other team.
A Pain In The Bunt
It’s still useless—with three exceptions
By Jeff Kallman
I got to cross one off my bucket list a week ago Thursday.
Thanks to the owners’ lockout and Commissioner Rob Manfred’s capricious cancellation of what should have been season-opening series — the better to enable the owners to keep moving the goal posts another spell — what would have been just the Los Angeles Angels’ home opener became Opening Day, period.
My first experience in a major-league ballpark was at age 6 in June 1962, when my maternal grandfather (a Giants fan displaced by their move to San Francisco) consented to take me to the Polo Grounds to see the Original Mets. (Some might have accused Grandpa Morris of child abuse.) In all the decades since of loving and watching games, in the park and on television alike, I’d never been to Opening Day.
Now, I sat in Angel Stadium with my 28-year-old son, on a fine evening that went from balmy to comfortable almost as swiftly as a Shohei Ohtani fastball. We got to see Ohtani pitch magnificently enough against the Astros, through 4 2/3 innings, with nine punch-outs, one walk, four hits surrendered, and a single run against him.
We got to see Alex Bregman send Michael Brantley (two-out double to the rear of right-center) home with a clean single to left off Ohtani in the third. We got to see Angels reliever Ryan Tepera start his season on the wrong side of the ledger, with Bregman (on the first pitch) and Yordan Alvarez (on 1-1) taking him, back-to-back, into the left-field seats and over the center-field fence, respectively.
We got to see Astros reliever Phil Maton hit Brandon Walsh with a two-out pitch and David Fletcher triple him home post haste in the eighth for the only Angel score of the night. We got to see the Angels’ returning, all-everything Mike Trout—still shaking away the early effects of a long 2021 absence with a torn calf, then the lockout-imposed abbreviated spring training during which he suffered an illness in the final week—go 1-for-3 with a walk on the night.
And we got to see Jose Altuve, the Astros’ pint-size second baseman who hits in gallons, waste an out and an inning with a sacrifice bunt.
Whether this was Altuve’s own idea or that of Astros manager Dusty Baker was anybody’s guess. But you’d love to know why a man with a lifetime .512 Real Batting Average (total bases + walks +intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances), and a .297 lifetime hitting average with a man on second and one out, is even thinking sacrifice.
With the Astros holding a 1-0 lead in the top of the seventh, Chas McCormick opened the inning with a double off Angels reliever Austin Warren, and Martin Maldonado flied out to right immediately. Up came Altuve, whom Ohtani had struck out twice earlier in the game. He dropped a bunt to the third-base side, enough to push McCormick to third but now leaving the Astros with but a single out left to work with on a play that (according to Baseball-Reference) carried (wait for it!) a three per cent added win probability.
Writing in Smart Baseball in 2016, Keith Law figured it out: In six known situations where a sacrifice bunt might occur, four such bunts out of six leave you with a worse chance of scoring a run after the bunt than you had before the bunt; one (a man on second with nobody out) leaves you about the same scoring chance before and after the bunt; and, one but only one (first and second with nobody out) leaves you the better scoring chance after the bunt.
Altuve bunted in one of the four situations that leave you worse off for scoring after the bunt. The single most precious commodity a team at the plate has is outs to work with. With a single-run lead, Altuve left his team with two outs. And lo! after the Angels lifted Warren for Jose Quijada, Brantley flied out to Trout on the center field track to retire the side.
What were Altuve, or Baker, or both thinking? Whomever it was, he wasn’t. I’ve said it before, but it’s well worth repeating: There are only three times you should ever want to see a man on your team dropping a bunt . . .
If you just so happen to have the next Brett Butler on your side. Butler was a pint-sized center-fielder who loved to bunt but hated to waste outs. He dropped 337 bunts in his long, distinguished career . . . and 85 percent of them were for base-hits. Unless you have the next coming of him, don’t even think about it.
If you know the opposing infield has stone hands while playing back just deep enough. Of course, if you know that opposing infield has stone hands, you should wonder whether their general manager was kidnapped and replaced by Mr. Magoo.
If the opposition puts one of those defensive overshifts on against your man at the plate. You want to start cutting down on the shifts? There’s nothing like a delicious little bunt onto that gifted free real estate to make them think twice. Show me all that free frontier, I’ll show you a man on first practically on the house. It’s happened more than you think since the shifts took real hold. It should happen more often.
If you don’t have those three things in your favor, your batter should hit away. Especially if he’s an established swinger with plenty of snap, crackle, and pop in his bat. The only thing a sacrifice bunt sacrifices in five out of six known “bunt situations” is your chances of scoring in the inning. That kind of sacrifice, we don’t need.
Judge Rejects Yanks, May Walk This Fall
By Dan Schlossberg
Aaron Judge just pulled a Freddie Freeman.
Freeman, who won an MVP award and World Series ring during a 12-year career spent entirely with the Braves, found himself out of a job in Atlanta after the team tired of waiting for him to decide whether to stay or leave.
He said he wanted to stay but couldn’t pull the trigger because the team wouldn’t go beyond five years in its offer to the 32-year-old first baseman. That dawdle caused the Braves to trade for the younger, cheaper Matt Olson, a fellow first baseman who also happened to hail from Atlanta, and sign him within 24 hours. Freeman, a Southern California native, got his six-year deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers but wound up with less money because that state’s income tax rate is more than twice as high as Georgia’s.
Judge judged that situation carefully, setting an Opening Day signing deadline, but failing to agree. Complicating the situation is an upcoming arbitration hearing in which the player is demanding $21 but the team is offering $17 million. That’s a gap even bigger than Judge’s size-17 shoes.
Betting on himself to stay healthy as well as productive this season, the 30-year-old right-fielder of the New York Yankees turned down a contract extension that would have paid him an annual average of $30 million a year.
He thinks he can do better — and probably will since Steve Cohen, the billionaire hedge-fund magnate who is doing a very good imitation of George Steinbrener, will gladly pay anything to drag the 6’7” slugger the five-mile distance from the Bronx to Flushing for 2023 and beyond.
Just imagine: Pete Alonso and Judge back-to-back in the same battering order!
Judge, who has his own cheering section behind him in the Yankee Stadium bleachers, is the biggest and best player on the Yankees. But he’s no Mike Trout. Nor is he better than Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr., or some others I could name.
Plus he’s got an injury history that should be a red flag for any prospective suitor.
Consider the fact that he’s missed 156 games since 2017 (including the virus-shortened, 60-game season of 2020).
According to Jon Heyman in The New York Post, Judge asked for $100 million more than the Yankees offered. But the team’s offer was hardly chopped liver: an eight-year deal for up to $234.5 million. The annual average take of $30.5 million would have topped Mookie Betts and trailed only Trout, baseball’s $400 million man.
No doubt he’s a good player, finishing second and fourth in the MVP voting in two of his five full seasons. But in the other three seasons, he played in just 63 per cent of the Yankees’ games.
“I’m disappointed because I think I’ve been vocal about wanting to be a Yankee for life,” Judge said after negotiations collapsed. “I want to bring a championship back to New York. I want to do it for the fans.”
Those words sounded so much like Freddie Freeman’s. But greed apparently trumps loyalty.
“I don’t mind going to free agency,” he said. “At the end of the year, I’m a free agent. I can talk to 30 teams and the Yankees will be one of them. It’s always nice to try to wrap something up, the sooner the better. But we weren’t able to get it done.”
If he does go free agent, Judge will almost certainly be the most coveted man on the market. But even if he hits 70 home runs this season, his financial demands will severely limit the number of bidders.
Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Mets — that may be it.
And will any of those teams be willing to invest so many dollars in a single player without alienating the other 25 men on their roster?
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ eats, breathes, and sleeps baseball — and talks about it whenever given the chance. He covered the Yankees opener last Friday and will be at the Mets opener today, covering for forbes.com. Dan also writes for Latino Sports, Sports Collectors Digest, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and Here’s The Pitch. He’s written 40 baseball books during his 53-year career. E.mail him at email@example.com.
“What prepares me for the knocks I have now and the knocks I took at the beginning. You learn it’s not a personal thing. John Schuerholz and Pat Gillick were criticized and those guys are Hall of Famers. Adversity in life prepares you.”
—Alex Anthopoulos, Atlanta Braves president of team operations
Eric Young coaches first base for two National League East teams; the Braves have the father, the Nationals the son . . .
Before Rafael Devers hit a two-run homer in the top of the first at Yankee Stadium Opening Day, the last visiting player to hit a first-inning homer against the Yankees in the lid-lifter was Babe Ruth — for the 1919 Red Sox at the Polo Grounds . . .
Josh Donaldson’s trade to the Yankees was a godsend for Kyle Higashioka, who copied his swing and then proceeded to hit seven spring training homers . . .
Anthony Rizzo homered in six straight games against the Red Sox before the Yankees first baseman was stymied last Sunday . . .
Legendary Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw is 10-0 lifetime against the Mets and is the only pitcher with double-digit wins without a loss against a single opponent.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [firstname.lastname@example.org] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [email@example.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [firstname.lastname@example.org] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.