A Brief History of the Bunt Double

The use of the infield shift has exponentially grown over the past few years. Teams have employed a defensive shift on more than a quarter of the total pitches thrown this season. That’s by far the highest usage rate in the Statcast era (2015-present). It’s become so prevalent, Major League Baseball is reportedly considering changing the rules of the game to curtail teams from shifting too often.

A common argument that comes up when the rise of defensive shifts is brought up goes like this: “Why doesn’t a batter just bunt against the shift? They’re just giving him an easy single.” Ignoring the incredible difficulty of actually bunting successfully, I’m sure every team in the league would happily allow a bunt single to Joey Gallo if it meant he was giving up an opportunity to hit a double or a dinger.

But what if one of those bunt hits went for extra-bases anyway?

On Monday night in St. Louis, Matt Carpenter accomplished something that’s been done only nine other times since 2008: he hit a bunt double. Here it is in all of its glory:

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Carpenter came to bat with two outs. Opposing teams have shifted against him 83% of the time over the last two years and the Marlins weren’t going to buck that trend. The shift they employed was particularly extreme, with all four infielders on the right side of second base. With a 1-1 count, Carpenter dropped a bunt down the third-base line. Because there was literally no one on that side of the infield, pitcher Elieser Hernández was forced to chase it all the way to the outfield grass. Here’s the play chart from Baseball Savant:

As far as opportunities go, this is probably the most ideal situation to attempt to beat the shift with a bunt. The run expectancy at the beginning of this at-bat was a mere 0.1, and simply reaching first base would have raised it to 0.21. Hitting a double raised it to 0.3. Furthermore, the game state was at a point where risking a bunt wouldn’t have hurt the Cardinals’ chances of winning too much. Even though Carpenter had homered in his previous at-bat, the infield alignment was just begging to be exploited. I doubt he had a double in mind when he squared to bunt, but it worked out just perfectly and he found himself on second base with a stand-up double. Funnily enough, his bunt double didn’t deter the Marlins from using the same extreme shift in Carpenter’s next at-bat.

That thread from Mike Petriello got me curious about the other bunt doubles. He lists two others in the thread, but as I mentioned, there have been a total of 10 — including Carpenter’s — hit since 2008. That’s as far back as the Baseball Savant database will go. Here’s a list of all of them with links to the relevant video:

Bunt Doubles, 2008–2019
Date Play Description Inn, Outs Count Video
7/20/2009 Rafael Furcal doubles (17) on a bunt pop to shortstop Jerry Hairston Jr. Bot 1, 0 outs 2-1 Video
4/8/2010 Cliff Pennington hits a ground-rule double (2) on a bunt ground ball to third base. Travis Buck to 3rd. Bot 8, 0 outs 0-0 Video
5/23/2012 Quintin Berry doubles (1) on a bunt pop to second baseman Jason Kipnis. Top 6, 0 outs 0-0 Video
6/3/2012 Juan Pierre doubles (5) on a bunt ground ball to left fielder Greg Dobbs. Bot 6, 1 out 1-0 Video
7/4/2013 Gerardo Parra doubles (25) on a bunt ground ball to second baseman Daniel Murphy. Cody Ross to 3rd. Top 5, 0 outs 0-0 Video
9/13/2013 Robinson Canó doubles (33) on a bunt ground ball to third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Top 1, 2 outs 0-1 Video
9/23/2013 Nate McLouth doubles (29) on a bunt ground ball to second baseman Tim Beckham. Top 8, 1 out 0-0 Video
7/7/2015 Alcides Escobar doubles (14) on a bunt pop to third baseman Evan Longoria, deflected by pitcher Everett Teaford. Bot 8, 2 outs 0-0 Video
9/14/2018 Orlando Arcia doubles (11) on a bunt ground ball to right fielder Jordan Luplow. Mike Moustakas scores. Domingo Santana scores. Bot 6, 1 out 0-0 Video
6/17/2019 Matt Carpenter doubles (11) on a soft bunt ground ball to pitcher Elieser Hernández. Bot 5, 2 outs 1-1 Video

A ground-rule bunt double?! Surely that must be a mistake. When I looked up that play from 2010 in the video archive, I expected to see a bunt popup that was somehow booted into the dugout or a fan somehow interfering with the play. Instead, I found something much more mundane. Here’s what actually happened:

According to rule 5.06(b)(4), a runner shall be awarded three bases “if a fielder deliberately touches a fair ball with his cap, mask or any part of his uniform detached from its proper place on his person.” Adam Moore definitely touched the live ball with his mask, but Cliff Pennington was only awarded second base. The umpiring crew spent a significant amount of time discussing this play and must have come to the conclusion that when Jose Lopez touched the ball, it was sufficient to consider the ball “thrown.” Because of that interpretation, Pennington was awarded just two bases rather than three. We were one loose interpretation of a “throw away” from a ground-rule bunt triple.

When looking into these bunt doubles, I expected to see a fair number of infield shifts, but Matt Carpenter and Robinson Canó were the only two to bunt for a double against an empty left side. I also expected to see plenty of shoddy defending. I’d categorize four of them as the product of bad defense. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the only run-scoring bunt double on the list above, Orlando Arcia’s.

Trailing by one run with runners on second and third, the Pirates decided to play their infield in to try and prevent the deficit from growing larger. Arcia took advantage of Josh Bell’s positioning and pushed a hard bunt right past him down the first-base line. It was certainly a risky move. If Arcia hadn’t placed his bunt perfectly, Bell would have likely fielded the ball and gotten an out, either at first or at home. This wasn’t a squeeze play that went really well, it was an intentional effort on Arcia’s part to bunt the ball past the first baseman.

That’s the reality of the bunt double — it’s the result of a perfect storm of intent, execution, and dumb luck. If it was so easy, we’d probably see it a little more often. Instead, we have these 10 weird, silly moments from the last decade of baseball. This game is always best when it’s a little weird and silly.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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3 years ago

The Juan Pierre was more like a weird chop at the ball.

Also, you don’t see very many doubles that wind up going negative distance from home plate, but that Escobar one did.

3 years ago

I believe Pierre’s would be called a slug bunt.