This past February, I forecast here that the intentional walk and sacrifice bunt would begin disappearing from MLB games due to the adoption of the universal designated hitter.
The numbers for both of those things had been declining anyway in recent years as managers got away from those strategies. Teams decided that giving up an out for a base wasn’t good procedure, and the adoption of the automatic intentional walk in 2017 seemed to hasten the decline of that strategy.
Before the universal DH, the vast majority of sacrifice bunts were laid down by pitchers. That seemed clear from the numbers I posted in the February article, which had sac bunts by AL players in general less than half the numbers posted by NL players. Many of those bunts were by AL pitchers in interleague games in NL parks. You can click on the article link above for details.
With pitchers no longer batting, giving up that out has become something that managers simply don’t want to do. The same is true for the No. 8 hitter being walked intentionally before the pitcher’s spot in the batting order comes to the plate.
So far in 2022, there have been 38 sacrifice bunts. Unlike recent years where NL teams would lead this list and almost all the AL teams would be at the bottom, teams are distributed randomly. The Nationals lead the list with five. Next, with three, are the Yankees, Red Sox, Padres, Angels, Rockies and Mets. Twelve teams have none; the Cubs have one. That was laid down by Rafael Ortega April 16 at Colorado. Here it is [VIDEO].
The Cubs did score one run as a result of that play.
With about one-tenth of the season in the books, if this pattern holds there would likely be fewer than 400 sac bunts across all of MLB in 2022. Last year there were 766 such sacrifices (536 by NL hitters and 230 by AL hitters); that would be a decline of almost 50 percent.
It’s the same story for intentional walks. There have been 38 so far this year. The Diamondbacks, A’s and Angels lead with four each; eight teams, including the Cubs, have not issued one so far in 2022. Oddly, the Cubs lead MLB with four IBB issued to batters. Two of those have been given to Seiya Suzuki. Suzuki and Alex Verdugo of the Red Sox are the only hitters this year who have received more than one IBB. And one of the Cubs’ four IBB was given to Alfonso Rivas on Sunday after the Pirates had already run a 3-0 count on him.
Last year there were 703 intentional walks issued by MLB pitchers (471 by NL pitchers, 232 by AL pitchers). Again, with about 10 percent of the 2022 season in the books, that would forecast a decline of about 45 percent.
As these strategies become less and less common, I would anticipate a continued decline, especially with MLB moguls wanting more baseballs put in play. Overall this is almost certainly a good thing.
Hail and farewell, sacrifice bunt and intentional walk.