How to Bunt for a Double

Over the past several years — going back to 2010 — there have been seven bunt doubles in Major League Baseball. Had I written this story a day ago, I would’ve said there have been six. On Tuesday in Kansas City, Alcides Escobar put down a bunt for a double in the eighth inning of a game against Tampa Bay. Escobar didn’t end up scoring — and the game story was entirely about the ninth-inning hero — but this isn’t a page about game recaps. The Royals won, but I’m more interested in the hit.

What does a bunt double look like? I’ve written about these a couple times before, but I do that because they’re so curious. Just off the top of your head, a bunt double doesn’t seem like it ought to be possible. Infielders always have bunts surrounded. How does one end up with a bunt double instead of a bunt single and an error? Using what video is available, let’s break down what’s probably an incomplete list of the ways. I’m sure there are other ways, but this is what recently has happened.

Defensive Misplay

Might as well start with Tuesday. Here we’ve got Escobar bunting with two outs and ending up in scoring position. The bunt itself didn’t do what Escobar intended — bunts that get popped up tend to be virtually automatic outs — but this was a pop in just the right place. It didn’t just drop in to give him one base; it came down close enough to Everett Teaford to compel him to dive. His dive was short, and the ball rolled away. It has some of the ingredients of an error, but because Teaford went to some effort to get himself in that position, the scorer decided not to penalize the defense. And to think, if it weren’t for a pretty heads-up Asdrubal Cabrera, this could’ve become a sort of bunt triple, as the third baseman had converged on the initial pop. Escobar bunted for a double on a ball that ended up behind home plate.

Defensive Miscommunication

Years later and I can’t get over the fact that Nate McLouth bunted for a double into the shift. You could say that defensive miscommunication is a sort of defensive misplay, but in the case of the Escobar bunt, at least a play was attempted. Any attempted play here was shut down almost immediately, with all three Rays players figuring one of the other two Rays players was going to go ahead and take care of the baseball. What actually happened was that the three players just watched the baseball roll by, and they pointed at it, like they were walking by a river and they saw a big fish. “Look right there, a big fish,” says the man, who has no intention of reaching into the water to try to capture it. You want to call this an error — you want to call this a thousand errors — but no one really made a physical mistake. The Rays just mentally embarrassed themselves.

Against the Shift

We can all agree that infield shifting is on the rise. You’d think we’d see a corresponding increase in the number of bunt doubles. But we don’t see that, and as a matter of fact, there wasn’t a single bunt double last season. This Robinson Cano double is kind of exceptional. For one thing, it was a bunt against the shift by a good hitter. For another, the ball was struck so well and placed even better. There’s nothing too absurd about this. We’re accustomed to seeing doubles hit on the ground down the line. This is just one of those, only without the part where the batter swings. When you vacate a whole part of the playing field, you know it’ll take time for a defender to retrieve a baseball in the area. Cano put a baseball in the area. It’s an ordinary bunt against the shift, turned up to 11.

Line Drive

In the Cano example, the defense didn’t do anything wrong. It was just made to pay for its initial alignment. In this Gerardo Parra bunt example, the defense also doesn’t do anything wrong, and there’s not even a shift on to exploit. Parra bunted, but he more or less bunted a line drive, such that his bunt was like a moderately sharp grounder through the hole. The second baseman couldn’t get over, and though you could be critical of the angle taken, no second baseman would expect a bunt to come off the bat quite that hard. I wish now that we would’ve had Statcast information in 2013, but we’re left only with our imaginations. The batted-ball velocity here was sufficient to get the ball to the grass, but it wasn’t struck so hard that it got anywhere close to the outfielder. Parra immediately recognized what was happening, and he booked it right out of the box. Weird bunt. All of these are weird bunts, based on what happened on them.

Partial Swing

This is something Rafael Furcal would do. Not that Furcal invented it, but he’s a recent example. Juan Pierre executed this one perfectly, and while we can’t say what would’ve happened had the defender in the vicinity not been Hanley Ramirez, said defender was Hanley Ramirez. This is a bunt with an asterisk — Pierre took a little hack — and I’m not sure what to call this. It doesn’t seem quite like a butcher boy or a slash bunt or a slug bunt. This was more of a bunt than a non-bunt — a sort of turbo-bunt — and it counted for the scorer. If Billy Hamilton could do this he might win the MVP.

Technicality

What you see first is a defensive misplay — Jason Kipnis failed to retrieve the baseball, and then he fell down. Based on that, you wouldn’t think of this as a unique bunt double. But watch Quintin Berry and watch the umpire. Berry and Kipnis make contact, and the umpire immediately signals obstruction. Berry was going to be safe no matter what, but he was granted second base automatically. It’s a rule-book bunt double, which counts because it contains the words “bunt” and “double.”

As a different example — and one for which I unfortunately don’t have any video — we go back to April 2010. Cliff Pennington bunted against the Mariners, and, a brief description:

[…]Cliff Pennington dropped down a bunt that bounced off the glove of third baseman Jose Lopez and started to roll towards foul territory down the third-base line.

Fortunately, catcher Adam Moore was in good position at the time and scooped the ball up before it got too far away. Unfortunately, he performed said scoop with the catcher’s mask in his right hand, rather than the glove on his left.

The miscue led to a meeting between the umpires and the eventual decision to award both runners an extra base, putting Pennington on second and Buck on third.

As weird as that is, here’s the Baseball-Reference play log:

Double/Bunt (Bunt to Weak 3B); Buck to 3B

This is what MLB.com says:

Cliff Pennington hits a ground-rule double (2) on a bunt ground ball to third base. Travis Buck to 3rd.

Cliff Pennington didn’t just bunt for a double — he bunted for a ground-rule double. Or as it’s probably better put, he bunted for an automatic double. He didn’t bunt the ball beyond the defenders. A defender just made a stupid decision. When I watched that play happen, I didn’t know it was a rule. As I reflect on that play now, I had forgotten it was a rule. This didn’t stick with me through the years. You’d think it would’ve.

There’s your presumably incomplete key to bunting for a double. You can do it on a technicality. You can do it on a partial swing. You can do it on a line drive, or you can do it against the shift. You can do it with defensive miscommunication, or you can do it with a defensive misplay. How else? It’s not easy to think of other potential bunt doubles. But if baseball has proven anything, it’s that it’ll explore all of its space. There’s lots of baseball left to go; lots of bunt doubles left to observe.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Armand Hammer
7 years ago

These bunt doubles are unorthodox, but they’re nothing compared to what you need to do for a bunt triple.

https://books.google.fr/books?id=eqLo0mLykaYC&pg=PA47&lpg=PA47&dq=bunt+triple&source=bl&ots=-C2dcjqH48&sig=ntuCfiu8Cpt2MoidcEfTw6G9jAY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=KiKdVe2zOob2UpqxvqAL&ved=0CEEQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=bunt%20triple&f=false

I challenge Jeff to find a bunt home run somewhere. In the meantime, anyone who can locate a gif of the triple will be entered in a drawing for a prize of one million Zimbabwean dollars.

Sean
7 years ago
Reply to  Armand Hammer

Luis Terrero (AZ) hit a triple to the pitcher in a game against the Dodgers on May 29, 2005. It wasn’t a bunt but I’ve never seen anything like it.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/recap?gameId=250528129

The triple was rewarded because Terrero hit the ball into the ground and it bounced over the pitcher. The pitcher threw his glove and hit the ball in the air. By rule, Terrero was given two extra bases (he reached first safely) and officially given a triple. Ironically, it was the only triple of his career, despite possessing above-average speed.

Bitten Corndog
7 years ago
Reply to  Armand Hammer

Ichiro once hit a bunt HR against the Red Sox.
If it’s on Youtube, it’s definitely true!
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch23n6g8gYk

Jon
7 years ago
Reply to  Bitten Corndog

It is often event!

Bunt homers were very common in 1986
7 years ago
Reply to  Armand Hammer
Armand Hammer
7 years ago

I give that play two Buckners.

Jon
7 years ago

Never take your eye off Benito Santiago and never play as an all-star team in RBI, it’s just not fair.