There was very little that Francisco Lindor could do wrong last season. The rookie sensation joined the Cleveland Indians on June 14 and hit like one of the best players in the league after the All-Star break while playing superstar-level defense. If there was a knock against Lindor, it was the bunting. The constant, American League-leading bunting.
When the 2015 season ended, Lindor finished 13 sacrifice bunts, the second-highest total in the entire league. In half a season, one of the best hitters in baseball bunted more than every single player in the league not named Julio Teheran. The next closest position player in terms of sacrifice bunts was Alcides Escobar (11), who had 662 plate appearances to Lindor's 438.
How on earth does that happen, and who's responsibility is it to stop it? It should start with the player, but Lindor has showed no signs of slowing down his bunting, even doing so in a spring training game yesterday. So, if a player is doing something detrimental to his own outcomes, and ultimately the win probability of his team, there must be someone to tell him to maybe cut that out. Someone who manages him, perhaps. Someone like Terry Francona.
Here's what Tito had to say about it earlier today, from Indians beat writer Jordan Bastian:
Indians manager Terry Francona, on Lindor using sacrifice bunts to move runners: pic.twitter.com/baVm30xV1F— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 15, 2016
Translating that Tito quote: Likes where Lindor's head's at, putting team first. But, he's too good of a hitter to give away outs too often.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 15, 2016
Francona seems to openly admit that he knows wasting outs is a terrible thing to do, no matter the scenario (let alone in the first inning), but he likes that Lindor wants to put the team first. Shouldn't putting the team first be doing what leads to wins? And what leads to wins is not constantly letting the opposing pitcher off the hook with a one-pitch at-bat that immediately results in an out.
As I found last season, many times when Lindor bunted he was doing so at the worst moments, such as the first inning and when there were no outs with a runner on second. And often times, had Lindor just attempted to get on base instead of laying down a pointless bunt, Michael Brantley would have scored the runner on second anyway with a multi-base hit -- Brantley lead the majors with 45 doubles in 2015.
The way that Terry Francona is handling, or more accurately not handling, the bunting situation is baffling. He consistently says, in public, that he knows that a hitter with as much talent as Lindor should not be bunting as much as he does, but yet it continues.
At some point it comes down to a young player misunderstanding something about the game of baseball and his manager should be stepping in to help him correct it. Instead of just letting it continue and continually say that his head is in the right place but he is ultimately making the wrong decisions. A simple "hey, Frankie stop bunting maybe idk" would probably suffice. Or maybe Tito should channel his inner Lou Brown and make Lindor give him 20 push ups every time he squares up to bunt.