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Is baseball post-sacrifice bunt? Should it be?

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The sac is a dying art, or so it seems. What is its future?

Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Talking about bunting in baseball is one of those "danger zone" ideas. That this is the case is typical of many things in the game today. Many people seem to have become "I've made up my mind. Don't confuse me with more information." When someone tosses out an anecdote, the social bunt-free warriors like to spring into attack mode, complete with their #neverbunt hashtags. Here's another anecdote.

Baseball fans of "a certain age" tend to be more appreciative of a successful sacrifice bunt. That doesn't mean they're appreciative of a bunt that results in an infield pop-out, though. The reality is that bunting is a skill, and it's always been difficult to bunt 97 and up in the zone, effectively. To bunt well, the goal should be to use the bat to "catch" the top portion of the ball. With 97 and movement, that's a bit more difficult than with a batting practice arced lob of 54 miles per hour

The math is also bad for bunting in general. When a team only gets 27 outs in a game, giving the opposition one or two outs willingly isn't necessarily wise baseball. On the other hand, in the 2015 NLDS, the Cubs/Cardinals series hinged when the Cubs scored on successive bunts. That the inning continued long enough for Jorge Soler to crush a homer helped to make Games 3 and 4 what they were.

Generally, bunting is bad baseball. That said, in those cases where a bunt is useful, having players able to execute a skill that is usually counter-productive is very useful in winning. Both can be true. I put it forth that both can be true. The assumption tends to be that with the sacrifice bunt, the out is a given. That's absurd, and putting that forward almost disqualifies your opinion.

Teams likely bunt too often in games. Moving up a runner 90 feet while giving up an out often reduces run likelihood, and can even diminish the likelihood of the target runner scoring. This applies even more with a hard-to-hit (or bunt) hurler on the mound. A pitcher who maxes out at 88 miles per hour specializing in a sinker should be easy to bunt on, and shouldn't be a heavy strikeout risk. Those types of pitchers, who were popular bullpen options in the 1980s, are a rarity now. Even with a runner on third and one out, teams have taken to training their 100 or so pitchers under contract to avoid contact. Skidding a ground ball to the open spot in the infield, or hitting a routine fly to left is no longer a given.

Let's assume the Cubs lead a game in Wrigley next season by a run. A bottom of the order hitter doubles to start the home eighth. The next batter comes to the plate, and the proverbial managerial wheels start turning. If you say "definitely bunt," I disagree. If you say "definitely swing," I disagree. The defensive alignment calls what's next. If the third baseman is playing defense in Winnetka, a bunt is in line. Not because bunt are good things, but because defensive placement matters. If the third baseman creeps in to defend a potential piece of strategy, the strategy has already bumped up the on-base percentage.

Numbers can adjust either way regarding bunting. If "never bunt" is the hill you want to die on, it doesn't take many outliers for you to lose negotiating space. Since the Cubs have the leadoff runner on second in this situation, who is holding the runner on? If it's the second baseman, the right side of the infield likely has a crater-sized hole in it. That gives a hitter of any competence at placing the ball another avenue to examine. Or, perhaps, the shortstop and third baseman are widely separated. The manager picks his poison.

The pitcher looks in for the sign. What is the catcher requesting from this pitcher, likely from the non-leverage portion of the bullpen? High hard one, so as to limit the bunt chance? Maybe a sharp-breaking curve? All these machinations are underway well before the hitter has given a hint of what he's doing. If the catcher calls something low and away (to a right-handed hitter), a sharp grounder to second merged the usefulness of the bunt with a possible RBI single to right. Jam the hitter, and a sacrifice bunt makes every sense, particularly if the defense isn't respecting it.

Baseball discussions used to tend to be fun. You could play "What if?" in an age where people discussed ideas, instead of brandishing inflexible positions like machetes. Sometimes, the defense screws up. On occasion, an attempt to move up a runner with a defensive action results in another base runner. Don't fall for the premise of knowing everything. This is a time in baseball history where a pitcher with an ERA north of 5 can one-hit a first-place club for six innings. When a new idea comes along, feel free to consider it for two or three hours (or years) before criticizing it.

Bunting is a strategy. Stolen base attempts look foolish when they backfire, as do unsuccessful bunts. I'll buy that 90 percent of the time, giving away an out is a bad thing. However, kids playing ball in the pipeline ought to still practice the bunt every batting practice. Most hitting prospects should be expected to bunt a certain number of times, in game situations, as well. With all but the most elite batsmen, that rare situation may play out at a key time. If the right pitch is left in the appropriate place, move the runner along. Make the defense make a play, and give two teammates a chance to drive in a run.