After a fairly typical number of sacrifice bunts in 2013, Terry Francona’s first season as manager of the Cleveland Indians, the team led the American League in that category in 2014 and again in 2015. Given that many bunts decrease a team’s expected run-scoring, back-to-back seasons with more of them than any other AL led to a lot of frustration among a substantial segment of the Tribe fan base, and a lot of criticism of Francona.
It hasn’t received much attention, but quietly, the Indians have been bunting a lot less in 2016. After 51 sacrifice bunts in 2014, and 47 of them in 2015, the team has just 21 so far this season, putting them on pace for 29. That would still be an above-average total in the American League, but not by much.
The difference is even more noticeable if you focus on bunts by position players (most fans aren’t much bothered by pitchers bunting runners over, given their typical success rate when swinging the bat), with 49 such sacrifices in 2014, 46 in 2015, and only 17 so far, putting the team on pace for 22, not even half of the total from each of the last two seasons.
Notably, the Indians haven’t had a sacrifice bunt in any of their last 17 games, a streak that dates back to July 29, when Lonnie Chisenhall laid one down. This is the most consecutive games without a bunt the Indians have played during Francona’s time as manager.
As I already said, the Indians’ total this season is still just above the AL average (17 non-pitcher sacrifices for the Tribe, compared to the AL average 15.67), so it's fair to argue there's still room for giving away even fewer outs, but the change is still pretty dramatic, and worth mentioning. Worth giving Francona credit for, if you were blaming him for all the bunts during the previous couple years.
As I wrote about yesterday, the Indians are stealing a ton of bases, and doing so with a fantastic success rate, and that's a much better way of advancing runners from one base to the next. While the team doesn't have a bonafide hitting superstar, the offense as a whole has been really strong this season, scoring more runs per game than any AL lineup other than the behemoth in Boston. The Indians are scoring those runs by getting above-average production from almost every part of the order, and by effectively implementing a strong plan of attack with runners aboard.