Last Monday night, watching the Brewers beat the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, I watched Christian Yelich, one of the brightest young stars on the National League horizon, drop down a bunt for a base hit to lead off the eighth inning for the Brewers. The Brewers were ahead, 2-0, at the time and Yelich had walked and grounded out twice in his three plate appearances in the game prior to that.

Carl Johnson

Yelich, who played five seasons for a terrible team in Miami before being traded to the Brewers for four players, three minor leaguers and centerfielder Lewis Brinson, on January 25 of this year, dropped a bunt against the shift to get on base.
He apparently found a home in Milwaukee as he led the league in hitting this year with a .326 average, in total bases, with 324, slugging percentage, .598 and also in OPS — that meaningless statistic that adds the slugging percentage to the on base percentage, talk about apples and oranges — while leading the team to the Central Division championship. He missed the National League home run title, finishing two behind the Rockies Nolan Arenado who had 38 and the RBI title, finishing one behind the Cubs’ Javier Baez, 111-110.
He came about as close as you can come to a Triple Crown without getting it and, to put that in perspective, the last player to win the Triple Crown in the National League was St. Louis Cardinal left fielder Joe “Ducky” Medwick in 1937, 81 years ago.
Not that Yelich did not do well in Miami. In his five seasons there, he hit .290, won the Gold Glove in 2014 and the Silver Slugger in 2016, for a team that won just 366 and lost 443 games.
Yelich was making $3.5 million with the Marlins but the Brewers thought enough of him to sign him through 2022, when he will be 30, at a beginning salary of $7 million that escalates to $15 million in the last year.
He was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft by the Marlins and made his debut with them in July of 2013, going two for four in his first Major League Game. He is a 6-foot-3 left handed batter who throws right handed and, in addition to his hitting, is a talented defensive outfielder.
Christian Yelich, whose name by the way could come right out of a Harry Potter novel, is a player to watch and one that will have an impact on National League baseball for the next several years.
As you can tell, I have become a Christian Yelich fan. However, the bunt that I described at the beginning of this article, is a sore subject for me. How many times, when a player like Yelich, or the Red Sox’ Mitch Moreland or some other slugger drops a bunt for a base hit against the shift have we heard an announcer or a friend wonder about why hitters don’t do that more often against extreme shifts?
Since the take over of baseball strategy by the Sabremetrics people, baseball fans have puzzled over this question. Since Michael Lewis’ book “Money Ball” and the Sabremetrics so called experts have derided the bunt, the extreme shift has become the way to go in baseball. Everybody keeps saying that batters have to learn to hit the ball the other way to get rid of the shift but that’s easier said than done.
The fact is that it is much easier to bunt a ball to third than it is to hit a line drive down the third base line. The bunt may not be the way to eliminate the shift but it is one action that can be taken to lessen the impact of the shift and encourage managers to modify it significantly.
Most rallies are started by a batter reaching first base, either by a single, bunt, error or hit batsman. For example, in the first seven games of the two league championship series this year, there were 32 times that one run or more had been scored. Of those 32 time when a team scored a run or more, the first batter to reach base has gotten there by a single, walk, hit batsman or error 21 times, or 66 percent of the time. In the 16 innings where multiple runs were scored, (two or more runs for you who are numerically challenged), 11, or 69 percent, were started in that manner.
Since most run scoring rallies are started by a runner reaching first base, not by a home run or other extra base hit, why not bunt? It does the same thing a line drive off the Green Monster does most of the time, puts a runner on base. It may not be as glamorous as a home run, double or triple but it gets the job done.
I was in Florida for spring training a couple of years ago and watched the Baltimore Orioles send two left-handed sluggers up to start an inning. Both dropped bunts down the third base line against an extreme shift and the Orioles had runners on first and second with no outs to start the inning. I defy even the most rabid Sabremetrics advocate to tell me that that’s not a good thing.
Even Money Ball, in a chapter titled “The Enlightenment,” in setting out the rules for hitting said the number one rule for the batter was, “Every batter needs to behave like a lead off man and adapt as his main goal, getting on base.”
The Sabremetrics people created the shift, it’s time they and their advocates in baseball recognized that it’s time to adjust because of that shift. The bunt is the best first step in that direction.
The playoffs have been sensational so far and the World Series that starts Tuesday will undoubtedly be just as exciting. No matter what team is your favorite and whether you believe in the bunt or not, Christian Yelich and the rest of the amazing athletes we have seen this fall will be back in the spring to bring us another great year.
To paraphrase Mark Twain “the reports of baseball’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.”
Baseball is alive and well.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: