Orlando Arcia Bunted for a Double

During their Friday night game in Milwaukee, the Pirates wouldn’t have expected Orlando Arcia to be such a nuisance. Out of every batter this season with at least 250 plate appearances, Arcia ranks third from the bottom in wRC+. Taking a deeper look at expected wOBA, based on Statcast-tracked batted balls, Arcia ranks dead last. Furthermore, and more importantly, Arcia wasn’t even in the starting lineup. The Brewers had Jonathan Schoop at shortstop. Arcia only entered during a top-of-the-fifth double-switch.

But by the time the evening was over, Arcia had finished 3-for-3 at the plate. The first time he came up, facing Chris Archer, he tried his damnedest to injure Archer and knock him out of the game.

And then, the second time he came up, facing Steven Brault, he drove in a couple of runners. It’s not uncommon for two runs to score on a double. It is uncommon for said double to come on a bunt.

I’ve written about bunt doubles a few times here before. I like them because they’re weird, but then, baseball hadn’t given me a chance to return to the subject in a while. Prior to Arcia, there hadn’t been a bunt double in the major leagues since July 2015. And even that one wasn’t a true bunt double. At least, it wasn’t a clean bunt double. Behold Alcides Escobar reaching second base against the Rays:

It counts, of course — Escobar bunted, and he got to second, and there wasn’t an error on the play because the defensive attempt required something beyond an ordinary effort. I’ll also point out that, if not for some quick thinking, Escobar might’ve wound up with a bunt *triple.* You can see him briefly consider the next open base. Escobar only bunted for a double because his terrible bunt glanced off the pitcher’s glove and deflected into foul territory. But you can’t afford to be picky with these things. A bunt double is a bunt double.

In order to research bunt doubles, you need batted-ball trajectories. Baseball Reference has such information beginning in 1988. Since then, according to their logs, there have been 23 bunt doubles in the bigs. There have been no bunt triples, and there have been no bunt homers. There have been no bunts for extra-base hits in the playoffs. Picture what a “regular” bunt double might look like. If you’re like me, you’re imagining a lefty at the plate facing an infield shift. Indeed, those have happened, where lefties have bunted the ball into the vacated territory. Of the 23 bunt doubles on record, 17 have been hit by lefties. That means just six have been hit by righties. Before Arcia, Escobar was the last. Before Escobar, no righty had bunted for a double since Mike Lansing in 1997.

A total of 23 bunt doubles. A total of six bunt doubles by righties. And a total of one bunt double with multiple baserunners. Baseball people like to express about certain events that they’ve never actually seen it before. Often, it’s just a case of faulty memories. Not here. At least as far as the recent record is concerned, Orlando Arcia blazed a trail.

Again, this outcome is extremely unusual. And whenever you’re talking about plays with extremely unusual outcomes, you’re inclined to imagine freak occurrences. Misplays, perhaps — I once saw Nate McLouth bunt for a double into the shift (don’t ask). Failing that, you’re looking for a left-handed bunt against the over-shift. What’s so striking about the Arcia double is just how normal it looks. I mean, it’s obviously anything but normal, given that it all began with a bunt, but no one did anything wrong. There was no exaggerated over-shift. This might as well have been a grounder off the end of the bat. Such grounders are rare, so Josh Bell wasn’t covering the line. Arcia saw an opportunity.

It’s hard to know *exactly* what Arcia was thinking. No one goes up there thinking bunt double — almost no one ever gets a bunt double. Perhaps he was thinking bunt single, and that’s Clint Hurdle’s theory. But Arcia himself suggests he just wanted to score that insurance runner from third:

“I just knew that run was important,” Arcia said. “I knew we had to find a way to get that run in. I just tried to put it on the ground that way, I wasn’t really trying to get it over the bag. But I’m glad it did. It worked out pretty well.”

Pretty much your basic safety squeeze. But the play’s potential grew when Brault missed with location. The intent was for the pitch to end up inside, such that Arcia wouldn’t be able to direct the ball to the opposite field. Brault missed up and away, and, well, according to Hurdle, the Pirates have lots of video of Arcia executing push bunts. That’s a weirdly specific video roll, but Brault ultimately made Arcia’s job easier. Here are Arcia’s career major-league bunts, via Baseball Savant. Find the one that stands out.

MILWAUKEE — In his 44 seasons in professional baseball, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle knows exactly how many two-run bunt doubles he has seen.

“That would be the first one,” Hurdle said of Orlando Arcia’s sixth-inning bunt up the first-base line that helped the Brewers to a 7-4 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday night at Miller Park.

That is, as far as I can tell, the baseball glancing off the top of the first-base bag. It’s impossible to overstate just how perfectly everything went, from start to finish. Arcia just wanted to bunt the ball in play. He wound up getting a very buntable pitch. The first baseman was playing in and off the line, and Arcia directed the ball to the first baseman’s left, well out of reach. The bunt stayed fair by the smallest possible margin, and while it hit the base, it didn’t deflect toward any Pirates defenders; rather, the ball just skipped on by, winding up in no-man’s land between first and right field. Three Pirates defenders first broke for the ball. It was recovered by right fielder Jordan Luplow. Arcia pushed a bunt, and it wound up in the glove of someone who had been standing 275 feet away from home plate.

We should talk briefly about the runner on second. Arcia bunted with runners on second and third. His main focus was on plating the latter. I doubt he even considered the former. I mean, be realistic. The former was Domingo Santana, who had just entered and knocked a pinch-hit double. Santana then turned himself into a runner, but, as a runner, he wasn’t exactly responsive:

The ball, in that screenshot, is already by the first baseman. The runner on third has started his sprint. Santana has barely moved a muscle, looking more or less just like he did when the pitch was delivered. In his partial defense, this wasn’t a specific play call — Arcia bunted on his own. And maybe Santana wanted to make sure he wouldn’t be potentially thrown out at third base. But this just further drives home how impressive and perfect a bunt it was. The bunt scored a runner all the way from second, and the runner didn’t break on contact. He waited first for the play to develop.

The Brewers’ dugout erupted as the ball skipped down the line. Craig Counsell grinned a grin so wide, so strained and grotesque, that it exceeded the limits of acceptability. It’s a grin you grin with intent to discourage people from saying you don’t smile enough.

The Pirates’ dugout, meanwhile, hardly budged. While they’d never before witnessed a two-run bunt double, they’d collectively borne regular witness to aggravating bullshit.

A bunt double doesn’t happen because you want a bunt double. A bunt double happens because you want to bunt, and then for one reason or another, there’s no one around. Orlando Arcia didn’t plan to bunt for two bases. But then, the Eugene Emeralds didn’t plan to win the Northwest League championship on a walk-off balk. While there’s plenty more to baseball than just showing up, you never know when you might make history, simply by going about your regular business.

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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5 years ago
Seaweed Bluetree
5 years ago
Reply to  yuniform

I was going to ask for the mclouth video. Thanks!