Brett Gardner, Bunting Machine?

The first case comes in the third inning, with no outs and Russell Martin on 1st. Gardner lays down an unexpected bunt that rolls up the first base line, forcing Miguel Cabrera to come up and field it, though he does and throws Gardner out by a step. This is actually a case where I think managers could stand to gain just from throwing in a bunt-for-hit attempt roughly 10-15% of the time at random. Because the defense isn’t expecting it, the likelihood of success increases, and once it’s established that you like to do this, teams will have to change their defense.

In addition, in this particular circumstance you have a first baseman who’s hardly the most graceful fielder in the league working on a wet field. If Cabrera’s reaction is a split second slower or he is less than perfect in fielding the ball, or even if the ball rolls up the line just a touch slower, Gardner has this one beat out by a step or more. Not a bad call at all.

The second one is a little bit dicier, both because Gardner has already bunted once and also because he showed bunt more than once in the at bat, taking away the element of surprise. It came in the seventh inning with Phil Coke on in relief, no outs and Russell Martin again on first. This was something of a more “obvious” bunting situation as well, with the Yankees holding a one run lead thanks to Curtis Granderson‘s home run, and the Tigers staring down the dynamic duo of Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera the rest of the way.

Still, I’m a little hard-pressed to get too worked up over it. With a left-handed pitcher on the mound, the pitcher is going to tail to the third base side on his delivery, forcing him to move the other way to field the bunt. Add in Gardner’s speed and the wet conditions, and this is another circumstance in which the slightest mistake results in Gardner reaching safely. Coke fielded the ball nicely, but if he’d had trouble coming up with the ball cleanly, getting his footing underneath of him, etc. Gardner would have beaten the throw.

So on the whole, I really don’t have much of a problem with Gardner’s bunts today, though that’s in no small part because of the wet field. If this because a too regular occurrence, such that Gardner is really just sacrificing and hoping to get lucky, I reserve the right to revisit my assessment.

Update: Moshe Mandel of The Yankee Analysts wrote about the same topic last night.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

8 thoughts on “Brett Gardner, Bunting Machine?

  1. I'm become less and less enamored with Gardner's offense. Pitchers now know that there is no sense throwing anything but two strikes to get Gardner in an 0-2 hole because Gardner will not swing. And now he is going to bunt two times a game? No, don't like it.

  2. I think it is good to see Gardner finally getting bunts down, but I agree with Brien. The bunts in yesterday's games were not necessarily bad ideas, given situations, potential for hits, etc, but if he starts doing this on a daily basis I will probably shout at my tv a lot. My softball coach in college used to call for bunts whenever we had a runner on and less than two outs, even if our best power hitters were up – it got to the point where everyone knew it was coming and she'd still do it. Made me crazy. Still, I am glad Gardner has finally learned to bunt for those situations where it is called for or when he can get on base.

  3. Or – we COULD just give Girardi and his brain trust credit for ALLOWING for the field conditions, and taking advantage. Hadn't Cabrera already made one error? The field was wet, slow, and sloppy; as has been posted here, it was also COLD.

    If Joe starts having Brett bunt with two out in July – sure, fine, whine. AFAIC, Gardy might well go for two weeks without even laying a bunt down – but the bunt attempts are now in the scouting books, and it will be in the back of everyone's mind. Works for me.

  4. Assuming he can consistently execute successful sac bunts, how often would gardener have to actually get on base safely (hit or forced error) to make it worthy of a standard play in that situation, 1/5, 1/7?

    • Something reasonably close to the OBP he'd achieve without sacrificing, at least. Especially since bunting Martin to second really doesn't do much for the Yankees.

  5. There's nothing wrong with a few well-executed bunts, particularly when you can run like Gardner. That said, its a tactic that can only be used sparingly as it is too easy to defend against (high pitches, play close at 1B and 3B) if used so often that it becomes predictable. This is particularly true for batters who do not present much a of a threat when actually swinging the bat.

    Mickey Mantle could get bunt hits because 1) he could run fast, 2) no first- or third-baseman in his right mind was going to move in on him and 3) he was probably doing the other team a favor by not swinging away. Despite his gaudy OBP numbers from 2010, Gardner is not much of a threat when he swings away. He benefited from a high BABIP aided by infield hits and bloopers that were taken away from him when teams tightened their defensive positioning against him. That alone mitigates against bunting being a tactic he would be able to employ often since teams are playing him tight anyway.

    Gardner's speed might enable him to beat out a few bunt hits (especially against uncertain fielders) but if that's all he's got he (and the Yankees) are in trouble. Without the threat that he will consistently drive the ball through the infield for hits teams will be easily able to take the bunt away from him.

    In summary, bunting on selected occasions is a good thing for Gardner to do but there's no way he will be be able to do it often enough to make a major difference in his results.