Even at FanGraphs, I’m one of the last people you should ask about swagger. Among the few things I know about swagger, though, is that Jarrod Dyson has it. He plays his game with a particular flair, and it was on display earlier Thursday, when Dyson struck a pose after lifting his 14th career home run. You wouldn’t think that a hitter with Dyson’s profile would necessarily recognize a homer off the bat, but for a fleeting instant, as Dyson’s body twisted on its right heel, he looked like he’d done this a hundred other times.
Dyson knew it right away. Apparently, so did the catcher. The game was one of those miserable new Facebook broadcasts, so I can’t speak highly of the viewing experience, but as the feed rolled into a replay of the swing, one of the announcer’s voices cracked as he exclaimed, “He bunted last night! With the bases juiced!”
He wasn’t wrong, and if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have known. On Thursday, Jarrod Dyson went deep. On Wednesday, he dropped down a bases-loaded bunt. Both of these events are unusual, but I’d like to now focus on the latter.
There was a time that a Dyson homer would’ve been worthy of its own post. We went through that, collectively, with Ben Revere. But Dyson has now homered twice in three games, and he knocked five homers last season. Jarrod Dyson can homer now, because everyone can homer now, and a consequence of that is that no individual home run can ever seem so surprising. A bases-loaded bunt is surprising. That’s kind of the entire idea.
It’s not that uncommon to see a bunt with a runner on third. That’s called the squeeze play, and there’s also the safety-squeeze variety. Odds are, the squeeze play is underused. But in Dyson’s case, we’re not looking at ordinary squeeze-play circumstances. You don’t see many squeezes with the bases loaded because, when the bases are loaded, there’s a force at every base. Take away the force, and the catcher would have to both receive the ball and apply a tag. When the tag isn’t required, it’s tougher for such a bunt to succeed.
In order to examine the recent history of these plays, I made use of the Baseball Reference Play Index. I searched for bases-loaded bunts in the regular season in the 30-team era, and, since 1998, I found a total of 114 results. This is the year-to-year breakdown:
But then, a lot of those bunts were put down by pitchers. I’m less interested in those plays, because pitchers, as hitters, are basically helpless. Bunting isn’t such a foreign idea to them, because almost all of them are terrible. Taking pitchers out of the sample, I’m left with 62 bunts. Again, the year-to-year breakdown:
There hasn’t exactly been an obvious peak, but recently this play has almost disappeared. We’ve got one such bases-loaded bunt in 2018. There was one in 2017, in 2016, and in 2015. We might not see it again this season. There’s a variety of reasons for this, but it’s notable whenever you get to see perhaps the only one of something. And I should note that the 2017 bunt was put down by Chris Owings. That makes two for the Diamondbacks, and none for everyone else, since the beginning of last baseball season.
This wasn’t Jarrod Dyson’s first career attempt. He attempted another bases-loaded bunt against the Twins back in 2013. There’s been only a small handful of players with multiple attempts, but Adam Everett is the sole leader among position players, with three (since 1998). All three of Everett’s bunts scored a run. Now, Jarrod Dyson, Adam Everett — these aren’t great hitters. As a general rule, great hitters don’t try this. The average season wRC+ of the bases-loaded-bunt attempters is 72, and the best would be 2008 Jayson Werth, who finished at 125. These are mostly hitters who were already in line to have some trouble. Yet, collectively, all these bunts have generated a positive WPA. The 62 bunts put down by non-pitchers scored a combined 45 runs. I don’t know what the expectation would be if the batters had all swung away, but 45 seems like a good enough number. Overall, it seems like this play has worked fine.
On Wednesday, it didn’t work for Dyson. Dyson is one of the best bunters in the game today. But then, according to Defensive Runs Saved, Jake Arrieta is one of the best defensive pitchers in the game today. Before Dyson came up in the fourth inning, with nobody out, Arrieta had just walked in a run. Dyson swung through Arrieta’s first pitch. Then came the gamble:
That’s A.J. Pollock who was forced out. Pretty good runner. For a couple different perspectives, here’s a line from the Diamondbacks broadcast:
Dyson gets down a beauty!
And here’s a line from the Phillies broadcast:
Thank you, Mr. Dyson, appreciate it.
The latter seemed to suggest Dyson had given the Phillies a gift. The former seemed to suggest Dyson had a great idea that he executed. As is almost always the case, the truth is in the middle. Pollock was clearly out, and no replay was needed. Dyson didn’t get precisely his desired bounce and direction. But, look at the play that Arrieta had to make:
Arrieta had to shovel the ball while mid-air, and while the toss wasn’t far, I’ll point to the mid-air thing again. Here’s an overhead view:
And here’s the moment the ball arrived in the catcher’s glove, creating the out:
Pollock is in the right-handed batter’s box, almost to the plate. Given just another split second, that would’ve been a run, with the bases still loaded. Arrieta played his position perfectly, and everything went as it was supposed to on the Phillies’ side, but considering how close the play still was, Dyson and Pollock gave the defense almost zero margin of error. Pollock maybe could’ve started running an instant sooner. Arrieta maybe could’ve stumbled, or made a wild toss. The Diamondbacks didn’t score, and, in fact, on the very next pitch, Jeff Mathis bounced into an inning-ending double play. That’s how it wound up. I just wouldn’t think that Jarrod Dyson has now sworn off the bases-loaded bunt forever, because it nearly panned out.
When Dyson bunted in 2013, he singled and drove in a run. Here’s an overhead view of that success:
The runner had to deke around Ryan Doumit. What’s different about this bunt is that the catcher had to make the play, instead of the pitcher. Maybe that’s what Dyson was trying to do on Wednesday. In any case, he gets credit for an almost. And there’s no talking about bases-loaded bunts without talking about Ramon Hernandez.
The bases-loaded bunt is rare, but not dead. Not even in this homer-happy era, not even among non-pitchers. And the bases-loaded bunt has its moments. It didn’t have that much of a moment on Wednesday evening, but that isn’t the last we’re going to see of it. It’s always going to loom there as a source of instant stress.
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.