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Philosophical Bunting Vol. VI

Zhuge Liang led Shu Han to a division title in 221 AD with clever stratagems and a lot of fire.

Zhuge Liang was Chancellor of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. Photo by: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Mickey Mantle bunted.

Mickey Mantle bunted a lot.

Mickey Mantle bunted in the All-Star Game and the World Series.

Other players do not seem able to bunt at will. What if this only happened because Mickey Mantle was Mickey Mantle, and Mickey Mantle could pretty much do whatever the hell Mickey Mantle wanted?

Is this how SEO works?

Evan Longoria bunted this World Series. Here is an excellent clip from Major League Baseball that breaks down why this sacrifice worked. In short, it is not the sacrifice itself but the change to the defensive positioning that it caused. We’ve discussed this hypothetical situation at length in the Academy, and a quick perusal of previous clay tablets enshrined in the Academy will show this to be true.

It is nice to have videographical evidence. Can we get this transcribed to clay tablets? We want it to stick around, you know?

Longoria also schnarfed a bunt hit attempt by Leody Taveras in Game 5. We’ve discussed challenging a fielder at third who seems to be unaware or napping. Longoria is not quite the player we had in mind for this test, but we must emphasize how spectacular a play Longoria makes here.

No two-cent throw here. Brooksie would approve, I think. Still, Leody almost beat it out. The margins on bunts are tiny.

What can we make of all this? Bunting should still be a rare but available tool for an offense. The situations when it is clearly an excellent choice are few and far between. Outside of “Team in a tie game with no outs in the ninth inning or later needs to move runners to scoring positions” situations, the bunt is best understood as a stratagem. It is not, on the face of it, the best tactic available. Why bunt when you can try to hit a dinger?

You do it to catch the opponent off guard when they are expecting somewhere else, and for the advantages that a fielding error creates. That is the long end of the tail, but it’s huge. Perhaps it makes sense to bunt for a hit in mixed sacrifice situations: say, runners on first and second with no outs in the sixth inning when trailing by five.

On the face of it, this sounds silly. One should swing away. But again, we’re choosing to deploy a stratagem in order to change the overall complexion of the game, hoping that a success drastically rebalances the game’s momentum. Things feel much, much different with the bases loaded and no outs due to a cheeky bunt single. Or, when suddenly trailing by four and there are still no outs with runners on second and third because of an error. Now there is a rally on and the pitcher is pretty flustered.

As with any strategem, there is always the chance that you look stupid and lose. Do not play games if that bothers you.