We at BYB have a bit of a reputation for loathing the bunt. A reputation we cherish and cultivate. There are few plays more annoying than a manager calling for a bunt to move a runner over. Generally you’re trading an out for only a moderate improvement in run scoring probability. And because so few hitters are skilled in the peppery arts these days, even reasonable attempts to bunt to foil a shift, for example, are often doomed to ruin. However, one of the great contradictions is that there are few plays as fun, as deliriously joyful, as a perfect bunt laid down with skill in the right situation. Such opportunities are scarce, but John Hicks put on a master class in Wednesday’s victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
With the infield shifted to less side against the pull happy Hicks, and JaCoby Jones at third with no outs, it was the perfect scenario. Hicks recognized it and took matters into his own hands. As manager Ron Gardenhire confirmed afterwards, that was all on Hicks’ initiative. Had he popped out or otherwise failed to get the bunt down? There would still be just one out, and only a medium depth flyball required to win the game. He had the element of surprise, picked the right pitch, and knew that even if he failed, the Tigers still had opportunities to come with which to drive Jones in.
Circumstances came together perfectly in another fun walkoff victory from these Tigers. While this one wasn’t called from the bench, it was reminiscent of a play Brad Ausmus called in his first month as Tigers’ manager. Ah, the memories.
Trevor Bauer and the sticky situation
No one would argue that Indians’ starter Trevor Bauer isn’t one of the smarter pitchers in the game. At least, when he’s talking about and researching his craft. On the other hand, he often fails to think before running his mouth. So it was during his Twitter kerfuffle with the Houston Astros this week.
Bauer accused the Astros starting rotation of using pine tar on their fingers to increase their spin rates and game the system, despite the fact that players applying myriad substances to the ball is an open secret around the game. Bauer mentioned Gerrit Cole’s increased spin rate since joining the Astros, but also brought Justin Verlander and Charlie Morton into it and lost the plot in the process. Verlander, of course, has always had one of the highest spin rates in the game, and while Morton’s improvement on that front could look suspicious on it’s own, when one realizes how much velocity Morton has added in recent years, his improved spin rate is perfectly explainable without the magic of pine tar.
Eno Sarris of the Athletic did a pretty good job unpacking all of this without Bauer’s goofy and ill-informed innuendo. Cole has seen a bump in spin rate that is unusual, around 200 rpms, but as Sarris reports, this may be due to classification issues between his twoseam and fourseam fastballs in recent years. Even Statcast is far from perfect as far as discerning finer differences between pitches. It’s certainly not impossible that Cole is using a different mix to get a grip, but it’s also not the only possible explanation, as Bauer implied.
For his part, Bauer appears to have used pine tar or something else on his fingers in his start this past Monday. His first inning fastball spin rate was through the roof. Subsequent innings were back to normal. Travis Sawchik looks at the possibility—ahem, certainty—that Bauer performed a pine tar spin rate experiment in that first inning for posterity. Meanwhile Jeff Passan makes the argument that major league baseball should just make the practice legal rather than selectively enforcing the rule.
While everyone tripped over themselves this offseason to anoint the Yankees as an unstoppable juggernaut, a certain rival up in Boston had other ideas. While the Yankees are just two games back in the AL East, the Red Sox are rolling with the best record in baseball. Adding J.D. Martinez has boosted the offense, but the outrageous display of power Mookie Betts is putting on has the Sox looking like a juggernaut. Betts launched three more home runs on Wednesday, to keep pace with Mike Trout atop the major league leaderboard with 11 home runs. It was the second three dinger performance from Betts this season, and third multi-HR game. With it, Betts passed some guy named Ted Williams for the most three-HR games in Red Sox’ history. Betts is 25 years old.
In other eye-popping performance news, Mariners ace James Paxton punched out 16 hitters on Wednesday. Continuing the trend of teams squandering their aces best work—see, Verlander, Justin—the Mariners lost 3-2 to the Oakland A’s.
Most swing and misses in a game since 1999... James Paxton pic.twitter.com/h2LubAvuh3— Daren Willman (@darenw) May 3, 2018
Around the horn
Jay Jaffe takes a look at early season trends in Tommy John surgeries. Patrick Corbin and the Diamondbacks are on fire while the Dodgers are faltering. Clayton Kershaw’s days as an ace appear to be in serious jeopardy. With Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies looking every bit like superstars in the making, Mike Soroka and the Braves’ young pitchers may be closer to leading this team into October than you think.
Baseball is awesome
We here at @Cut4 do not endorse the act of bunting.— Cut4 (@Cut4) May 2, 2018
But when we do, it's when they win ballgames. https://t.co/FpjShv3Cdx pic.twitter.com/7AO6HjMKp5
Yoenis Cespedes with the most expensive double of his career. pic.twitter.com/8nDzwEnL8e— Cut4 (@Cut4) May 3, 2018