The Seldom-Seen Two-Out RBI Bunt

Yesterday, I was very casually listening to the radio as the Mariners played the Royals. I wasn’t paying attention to any details, really; it was the sort of listening where I wasn’t truly listening, and I could be reached only by an announcer raising his voice. An announcer did raise his voice when, in the fourth inning, the Mariners stretched their lead to 3-0. A run was driven home by Ketel Marte, and you can see the play right here:

Among the significant factors:

  • left-handed pitcher, falling slightly off to the third-base side of the mound
  • Kendrys Morales playing first base, instead of Eric Hosmer
  • two outs

In a sense, the situation did call for a push bunt: Brian Flynn wasn’t ending up in a good position, and Morales doesn’t move around so well these days. But that last bullet is a big one. I’m not saying it was dumb — it was, after all, wildly successful! The last bullet just makes it unusual. As my attention was drawn in to the broadcast, half my mind assumed the announcer was just getting the number of outs wrong. You don’t see many similar bunts. I made a mental note to generate the InstaGraphs post that you’re reading right now.

What’s the frequency of a two-out RBI bunt, or of a two-out RBI bunt attempt? We go to the Play Index. Two-out bunts, in general, are of course fairly rare, as bunts go. There’s nothing to sacrifice, and there’s not much margin of error.

bunt-attempts

This year there have been 107 two-out bunts. Out of those, 18 took place with at least one runner in scoring position, and 13 took place with a runner on third. There have been five such RBI, and just days before Marte in Kansas City, Kolten Wong dropped down an almost identical and successful bunt against lefty Jeff Locke and the Pirates. Colby Rasmus has one of the RBI bunts, Chris Rusin has another, and Asdrubal Cabrera has the last. Note that this considers only bunts put in play — no consideration is given to missed or fouled attempts. That’s always one of those complicating factors with bunts, but if we’re judging just by outcomes, then Marte’s result, indeed, was unusual.

To me, the most important number is the 13. The number of two-out bunts in play with a runner on third. For a sense of scale, this season there have been 20 complete-game shutouts. Or, alternatively, this season, the Atlanta Braves have scored 20 runs. Marte’s bunt wasn’t one of a kind, but it’s not something an opponent would expect, which, in turn, makes it worth trying. It’s additionally worth trying because Marte hits poorly but runs well, so, here we are. You don’t see a lot of two-out RBI bunt attempts. Bunting is hard, and confidence is a factor. Yet there’s nothing wrong with a two-out RBI bunt attempt; it’s all a matter of evaluating probabilities. That Kolten Wong bunt, from earlier? Kolten Wong sucks against lefties. Why not try a bunt? It’s a perfectly valid tool made available to the mediocre.





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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Joser
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Joser

If the pitcher doesn’t transfer to his throwing hand — but instead makes a successful shovel pass to the 1B — the ball beats Marte to the bag. But he has to make a successful shovel pass (or, alternatively, barehand the ball and underhand it). The transfer is what cost him the out.

Shirtless Bartolo Colon
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Pitchers need to practice bunt plays more often. And then be quick on their feet.

the wiener
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the wiener

Tell that to Marcus Stroman