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anthony rizzo hittingDid you catch Anthony Rizzo’s bunt single last week?

With the prevalence of extreme shifts against him, Rizzo is routinely facing an infield alignment that has the shortstop playing to the right of second base, the second baseman play between second and first, and the third baseman playing at shortstop – and all of them are very deep. So far, it hasn’t presented Rizzo serious issues (because he’s killing it this year), but it does present us with an interesting discussion point.

With that kind of extreme defensive alignment, if Rizzo can lay down even the most pedestrian of bunts to the left side (it just has to stay away from the pitcher), it’s a hit every single time. No, it isn’t a homer, and maybe it feels cheap, but, until teams respect that possibility, they will continue to do the extreme shift, and will cut down on Rizzo’s BABIP.

You just have to put the threat out there for a while (which could, in turn, reduce the shifting, and allow for more traditional hitting opportunities). To that end, I loved seeing that bunt last week, and I hope Rizzo tries it more when he faces the shift.

Imagine if Rizzo was just 50% successful at bunting for hits when he puts the ball in play Рanyone here uninterested in a .500/.500/.500 line from Rizzo in those, typically bases empty, situations? If you think that kind of success level is unrealistic, think again.

Jeff Sullivan concluded that 38% of bunt attempts against the shift wind up in play (that’s 38% of individual bunt attempts – i.e., one pitch), and 25% of those attempts winds up with the player reaching base. In other words, when you get the ball in play on a bunt against the shift, you’re reaching base almost 66%(!) of the time. Of the 62% of attempts that fail, we’re talking about strikes and/or foul balls – not the worst outcome in the world. And it gets that defense thinking.

Incidentally, FanGraphs recently worked up a piece on Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams and this same issue (though he’s not been bunting, just going the other way a lot (which we’ve also seen with Rizzo)). The spotlight is starting to shine on ways to beat the extreme shift.

To be clear: bunting is not as easy as we probably think it should be, but, given the evolution of defensive shifts, lefties* who face extreme shifts routinely would be very well served by practicing bunting with some regularity. I know it’s not what a bopper wants to do, but if it gets you on base? If it softens the shift a little bit in future at bats? It’s worth it, right?

*(It’s quite a bit harder for righties to beat the shift with a bunt, given that the batter would have to bunt to the right side, where, if fielded, the throw is much shorter. In most shifted setups, it wouldn’t be all that hard for the first baseman to field the bunt, and toss to the pitcher covering first. The best bet for the shifted-against righty is to really focus on taking outside pitches the other way.)

Here’s hoping that we see Rizzo do this more frequently if he’s facing the dramatic shift with nobody on. We’ve already seen him shorten his swing and choke up on the bat with two strikes, so he is certainly willing and capable of giving up a little power to try and do the most important thing a batter can do: get on base. The same principle should animate his approach against extreme shifting.

 

  • waittilthisyear

    if it is something he can consistently pull off, i would have no problem with Rizzo bunting against the shift once a game

  • MightyBear

    Rizzo is also walking more this year. His OBP of 430 this year is dynamite.

    I say if he can get on base by bunting against the shift, have at it.

    • snakdad

      He walked a lot last year too. As well as hit a shitpile of doubles along with the 23 dingers. The fact he chokes up on the bat with two strikes is one of the many things I like about him. One thing I really don’t like about “modern” hitting is that most hitters don’t seem very upset by strikeouts and don’t really do a lot to make sure they make contact with two strikes.

  • johnnyp

    With such an atrocious babip last year, it’s a wonder as to why this wasn’t done earlier. Great point.

  • Funn Dave

    Very interesting article.

  • CubChymyst

    Does how often is a shift is used with men on base? Is the shift generally a bases empty situation? If so let him bunt most times against the shift until they stop shifting.

    • Darth Ivy

      Gotta at least keep guys near bags when runners on

      • CubChymyst

        Fair enough, I listen to most the games on the radio at work which makes the shifting a little harder to follow.

  • Darth Ivy

    Bunting against the shift is a great move. The shift is a new adjustment in the game. It only makes sense that there will be a counter adjustment. And that’s the bunt…..even if the score is lopsided.

  • MatthewP

    Until it happened finally, I was wondering why Rizzo (or any other player) wouldn’t just drop a bunt down in the cavernous hold the defense leaves on the diamond due to the shift. Just always seemed like an obvious answer to it.

    I mean…there is a reason why the fielders have played in the same general spots that they do for more than a century…

  • Dustin S

    It’s an interesting adjustment with the bunt. Vogelbach did a nice job of adjusting last year to the shift against him, not with bunting but at least going the other way more.

  • Coop

    I like it. The more times you are on base, the better your odds of scoring. Even with the RISP issues…

    • willis

      Just need the DH over here and have Wood hit behind Rizzo and all his bunting/walking. Problem solved.

  • http://www.w2wn.net Cerambam

    Rizzo strikes me as the type of player that would be more than happy to lay down a bunt against a shift because he realizes the value of the move and understands that his desire to be a slugger isn’t as important as getting on base and helping his team win to the best of his ability.

    Also, Carlos Pena dropped a lot of bunts against that shift, didn’t he?

    • waittilthisyear

      he certainly tried to. i remember a TON of them rolling foul. does not take away from your point at all though

  • MoneyBoy

    An interesting point… in the very next AB in the same game the shortstop was playing far more toward 3rd base than he had been the previous AB – when the bunt happened.

    Another positive outcome… forcing the defense to adjust… again. BTW, the shortstop moved back to the extreme shift with two strikes.

  • The Nefi Perez Plan

    Used to see Ken Griffey Jr slap bunting doubles down the third base line against the shift. The idea isn’t new just under utilized.

  • Medicos

    BRETT: Super analysis of the Cubs 2014 season prior to the series with the Reds on CN2 Sports. Since Theo’s Grandpa Phil and Phil’s twin brother Uncle Julius wrote the classic film “Casablanca” sometime within the next 5-years, Theo will be able to “write” the screenplay for the story that culminates with a World Series flag flying at corner of Clark&Addison.

    • Karl Groucho

      Cubsablanca

      • Karl Groucho

        “Here’s looking at you, kids” could well be the motto for The Plan.

        • Medicos

          Groucho: Great response to the Casablanca screenplay comment.

          How about: “of all the beer joints in all the towns in all the world series, we finally won one”

          Groucho Marx’s classic “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member” probably explains why some MLB players haven’t signed with the Cubs in past few years.

  • ame1908

    I would like to see an analysis on when it is most beneficial to do this in a given inning. So, for example, if Rizzo leads off the 5th inning, should he drop down the bunt there and just try to get on base? If there is two outs an no one on, should he just load-up and try to hit a HR or is a successful bunt still optimal?

    I would imagine that this is probably being looked at by teams already.

  • joejoe238

    If anyone is interested in going to tonight’s game, I am selling my tickets for $10. I have two season tickets with a press box view. I posted about it on the message board if you want to check it out.

    • johnnyp

      A fair point, which adds to the argument of whether or not lineup protection exists.

  • Pingback: Around the League: Tigers Shortstop, Pitcher Elbows, a Little Fun, and More | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary()

  • cubmig

    Question: Won’t, or can, the pitcher adjust his pitches to thwart Rizzo’s bunts to the 3rd base side? Bunting with that kind of shift on Rizzo seems a no brainer. I say do it. Put the next best hitter behind Rizzo to up the threat of moving a risp over.

  • 5412

    Hi,

    He should bunt every time he leads off the inning.

    Regards,
    5412

  • cubmig

    It may not have been Rizzo fault on the race to first……but he is the one that looked bad. Indecision.

  • cubmig

    A bolt by Olt beats the speedy Campana……..a beautiful grab, recovery and throw by Olt.

  • ClevelandCubsFan

    Wondering if a guy like Rizzo shows bunt or tries a bunt on a first pitch fastball, just send the message that look if you throw me a fastball, I’m dribbling it down the 3rd base line he’s also going to start to see a lot more breaking pitches, which might get hung, which might land on Wrigley…

    • ClevelandCubsFan

      er Waveland

  • Pingback: Anthony Rizzo Does and Says Amazing Things About Bunts | Bleacher Nation | Unofficial Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary()

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