Mickey Mantle bunted.
Mickey Mantle bunted a lot.
Mickey Mantle bunted in the All-Star game and the World Series.
It has nothing to do with the shift and everything to do with making defenders work.
There are fewer balls in play than ever. This means defenders spend less energy moving. This is true over the course of a game, a series, and a season. Expending energy makes guys tired and unless they are conditioned to withstand a certain level of energy expenditure they will eventually become exhausted.
Exhausted players make even more mistakes and don’t hit very well, either.
Speed: it kills. And nobody uses it. Not a single team in baseball, but the Guardians are beginning to flirt with it by embracing speedy gap hitters who slug via double.
There is also the singles hitter who steals, say, sixty bases and is caught ten times. That’s fifty doubles but with a whole lot more fuss than one swing. It all adds up.
The Academy is fully aware that these are professional athletes who are already among the most fit in the entire world. Here is where we run into trouble, though: “fit” is far too small a word to capture what we’re trying to describe here. “Athletic” isn’t it either, and “general athleticism” scoots closer but is no more correct.
Stoicism is what I float back to. We will apply it here as the physical manifestation of resistance to fatigue despite persistent exertion. I am not so sure that the average Major League Baseball player is stoic enough to handle the kind of agility required to play smallball for 162 games. Summers are only getting hotter, too.
The Academy recognizes that deploying a couple of bunts per game isn’t going to revolutionize baseball. However, forcing the defense to prepare for a specific type of play sure wastes their time. If they don’t prepare for it you’re going to see a lot of embarrassed third basemen.
For goodness sake, the batting average for a bunt with nobody on base is greater than .400 and has been for a really long time.
I’m not sure that a bunt-only strategy would yield results, but if you paired it with an offense that always looked to take the extra base or steal they’d get to play against an opponent that is always afraid to make a mistake. Morale matters because it’s called a rout when it runs out.
Eratosthenes was the Librarian of Alexandria for decades and none of his original writing survives.