A recent post in ORG got me to thinking about the extreme shift that is put on against Ken Griffey and Adam Dunn (among others); and what their response to it should be. The post (and rebuttal) only mentioned Ken Griffey by name, but it seems as though the same situation applies to several players. It was hinted that Ken Griffey was 'selfish' for not taking what the opposition gave him and bunting for a base hit. The rebuttal was that bunting would be a foolish response.
But what is the truth? Can a 'truth' even be found? I am just gonna throw out some points and some numbers and let everyone decide for themselves.
Premise:Junior should take what the defense offers and bunt for hits.
Rebuttal:Bunting is what the opposing team wants Junior to do, which makes swinging away a smart idea.
Point one:Just because the 'book' in baseball says it is wise to play a shift against an extreme pull hitter does not make it gospel. If the new wave of sabermetrics has taught us anything, it has taught us that a number of instances of 'playing it by the book' are questionable if not flat-out wrong. Among these are sacrifice bunts and the value of striking out. So, IMO, trying to justify Junior's reluctance to bunting, by saying that is what the other team wants KG to do, is not necessarily proof that Junior is right in his approach.
Point two:Perhaps the opposition is counting on Junior (and every other slugger in an extreme pull situation) not altering his approach to make the strategy work. And maybe that is the reason they employ the shift in the first place. Maybe only the 'unwillingness to take what is offered is what makes the shift successful. It would be interesting to see how long the defense stayed in that shift if a hitter started to take what was given him. I am of the opinion that the opposition would discard that shift very quickly. Pure conjecture on my part to be sure.
Point three:This is a minor point, but I feel a valid one. The rebuttal states that if KG got good enough at bunting to take
advantage of the shift he would be 'stifling' his game. I take the position that adding another skill can never 'stifle' a person's game, only enhance it. Although they are few, situations still exist where 'small ball' can win you a game. How being prepared to take advantage of these situations is considered 'stifling' eludes me.
Point four:The rebuttal states that accepting a 'bunt single' while giving up the possibilty of much more is a bad tradeoff. This is interesting. Substitute the term 'bunt single' with the word 'walk'.
Haven't we been told repeatedly that taking a walk instead of swinging away ,if nothing good is offered, is a good thing? The situations aren't identical, but similar enough to make me wonder. I am just throwing that out there as something to consider.
Point five:This is where the numbers part is gonna come in. Bear with me. We have been told many times on that OPS correlates highly to runs scored. It has been written on this board that GPA correlates even more strongly. So how would KG's bunting translate GPA-wise. In other words, how proficient would Junior have to be at bunting to result in a GPA number that would make bunting worthwhile.
For his career KG has a .374 OBP and a .555 SLG. This works out to be a GPA of .307.
We know that if a person bunts everytime his OPB and SLG will be the same. For example, if a hitter is successful 3 out of 10 times
(30%) his OBP and SLG will both be .300. At what rate would he have to successfully bunt to have a GPA of .307? Working backwards gives us the answer. A hitter would have to be successful 44% of the time to give us an equivalent GPA. So the question is this:would a batter with no one manning the left side of the infield (being invited to bunt; no, make that, being given the bunt) be successful more than 44% of the time? I certainly don't know the answer to that one. Everyone has to decide that issue for themselves.
In summation, I am not advocating that any hitter that faces an extreme shift should start bunting like crazy. I am just not willing to dismiss it out of hand all that easily. This dilemma will probably never be solved on a practical basis. But that is also part of what makes baseball so enjoyable. Discussing things such as this over a cold beer.
It should also be pointed out that using Junior as an example is probably a poor choice given his history of leg injuries.
So is swinging away into the teeth of an extreme shift 'selfish' or 'smart'?