Jeter’s bunt

It was a play that screamed for second guessing and almost led to a triple play. It did lead to a double play, which obviously, Girardi was trying to avoid. Here is how it unfolded: Ichiro Suzuki led off the inning against Mike Adams, the Rangers’ setup guy. Adams was in the game to keep it close and give the Rangers a chance to win it in the ninth. Ichiro pounded an Adams pitch into the dirt for a high chop that Adrian Beltre put in his pocket. It was the second time in a row that Ichiro had beat out an infield single. That brought up Jayson Nix.

It needs to be mentioned here that Mike Adams is one of the easiest pitchers in baseball to steal a base against. The ESPN broadcast of the game pointed it out and the numbers back it up.  For his career, 38 base steal attempts have been successful against Adams in 43 attempts. That is bad enough, but it gets even worse as 26 of the last 27 attempts to steal against him have been successful.

Ichiro was brought to the Yankees in part because of the speed element. Is not that what we were told? And yet the first time Ichiro singled, he was erased on a double play begun by this same Jayson Nix. Everybody on the planet expected Ichiro to try to steal. But he stood rooted on first and fortunately, Nix hit another single to put men on first and second with no out. That brought up Derek Jeter.

The first point here is that Jeter is on a hot streak. He is batting nearly .380 in his last dozen games. Secondly, he has owned the Rangers this season with an on-base average of over. 450. But the point also has to be made that Mike Adams is a ground ball pitcher and Derek Jeter is currently third in the league in GIDP. Got it.

But you also have Ichiro on second with a still excellent stolen base percentage with a pitcher on the mound where base stealers have more fun than splashing in a wading pool. Jayson Nix is not a great base steal guy, but he is the trail runner and can basically coast into second following Ichiro. Such a move requires little risk and huge rewards. Jeter would have been all set up with two ducks on the pond and no chance to be doubled up.

But as Jeter stared at the third base coach during his at bat, a sinking feeling started to settle into the gut. And sure enough, on the first pitch, Jeter squared to bunt. The lovely wife on the couch started to yell, “Don’t bunt, Jeter!” But sure enough, again he tried. Mercifully, he fouled it off. He did not foul the third attempt off (he pulled the bat back for a ball on the first attempt).  With almost no wiggle room with two fielders charging and the Rangers employing the wheel play, Jeter popped the bunt up. It looked like Adams was going to catch it. Both runners froze.  Adams smartly let it drop and threw Jeter out at first. The trouble was, the two base runners were in dead space. Since it was now a force play, the runners were dead ducks. Nix was caught in a rundown between first and second. Ichiro wisely hugged second so he would not be out too.

It was an infuriating play. And extra padded run would have been nice there because Josh Hamilton was leading off the ninth and had already hit two solo homers. Even if Jeter had rapped into a double play, there would be two outs and a man on third. This play resulted in two outs and a man on second. Ichiro was brought in for speed and a bunt was deemed a better play than a steal. Adams can’t stop potential base steals and yet bunting seemed like the better play.

Now it is possible that Jeter did his own thing there and it was not a called bunt. That seems unlikely since he peered intently at the third base coach during the entire at bat. The call, in this case, had to come from the dugout. It was an epic strategy fail.

The bottom line is that the Yankees won the game. The other bottom line is that those comments the last few days about the job Girardi is doing are not wrong. You cannot argue with the success. But holy Hannah, rip that stupid bunt page out of Girardi’s notebook and burn it in a public event with the world watching as witnesses. That bunt was just a train wreck of a decision and it is fortunate the play did not derail the game.

About William Tasker

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at since 2003.

11 thoughts on “Jeter’s bunt

  1. There have been GOOD, well-played, well timed bunts in this series. The Texas infield defense has played so poorly, I can see the temptation. That said, Jeter seems to bunt as poorly, if not worse, than Gardner. Last night was horrible – done properly, as has been done by Ichiro and Nix – it could have worked.

    I'm not convinced that it wasn't Derek's own bright idea, just as Swisher had his brain-freeze bunt last season. I could almost believe Derek saw the other guys bunting successfully, and figured it would cement his rep as a team player if he also laid one down.

    If, otoh, you're correct and it came from the bench – well – all I can say is that you might expect a better bunt from a hit-to-contact HoF shortstop than we saw last night. ;)

    • The one weakness in your rejoinder, Jay, is the pitcher. Adams has nasty stuff. Bunting against nasty stuff does make it much more difficult to do so successfully. Which is another good reason not to do it in the first place.

      • If Adams stuff was so nasty then how did Nix lay down such a perfect bunt on the play before?

        My only problem with the bunt call for Jeter was that once Texas showed the wheel play I would have pulled it back and had Jete hit away. That being said all baseball strategies look stupid when they fail, there was nothing wrong with the idea of the bunt play, it just didn't work out.

  2. William with all due respect. And understand I like Jeter as much as the next guy. But to somehow fault Girardi for Jeter's absolutely horrendous bunt to completely misguided. The Yankees lead the game by a mere 1 run and lets not forget how many DP's Jeter has hit into this season already. I may get slack from other Yankee fans here but any professional ballplayer should have been able to lay down a bunt that would have advanced the runners in that situation. In my opinion the failure of that play falls squarely on Jeter NOT Girardi.

    • The point is that there would be no fault to give Jeter OR Girardi if the Yankees created the same results with a double steal. There were better options on this play then the one that was chosen.

      • +1 to the double steal idea. Which would make the entire bunting debacle a moot point.

        Agreed, Will. Bunting was a bad idea, whether it was Jeter or Joe's idea. Luckily, it didn't come back to haunt us. (Say, in the fashion, of Washington pulling his starter Tuesday so Swish could hit the game winning home run)

        I have no idea what is going on re Ichiro and stealing – unless Girardi is so dependent upon having him in the field that he's unwilling to risk having him steal. Which, from all the things I've read, is a fairly dangerous proposition, in terms of injury. Should Ichiro get hurt, the outfield flexibility gets that much tighter. I wish he'd steal more, too – but the thought of him getting injured and having to see Jones in the field every game….

      • Guys, we know the bunt failed but we assume the double steal would have worked as the reason for the "better option" theory. I'm not sure I get the logic. Please don't take this the wrong way and I certainly understand this is what blogs are for. But I would like to think that Girardi had/has a better feel for the game and what's going on within the lines then we do as if you'll pardon the term as "Monday Quarterbacks" except in this case it's Thursday 2nd guessers. In any case I'm happy the Yankees won. Enjoy the game today gentlemen.

  3. I was pissed as well because the pitch he bunted wound up being a hanging slider that woulda been one of the easiest "hits" he's had all season..

    but u can't know that, gotta assume he's going to pound a ground ball somewhere, it was the right move, just didnt work

  4. Calling for a steal of 3rd takes way bigger balls than calling for a bunt. If Jeter had done his job, this article wouldn't have been written. Not Girardi's fault that Jeter failed at bunting 101

  5. The lead was 3-2, and Josh Hamilton was leading off the 9th inning. A sacrifice in that situation, potentially setting up an insurance run in the team's last chance to bat, is completely defensible. But that's pretty much the only time.

    Late game batting order versus the size of the lead — i.e., can you get enough runners on in front of the big bat? — is one of the most underrated things in baseball. In this case, they didn't need any runners to get to Josh.