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javier baez featureIn the sixth inning of yesterday’s game, Javier Baez bunted after a Chris Coghlan leadoff double. Obviously that’s not something you expect to see from one of the most prodigious power bats in the game (already).

The Cubs were up one at the time, and I can certainly see what Baez was thinking: the defense on the left side was playing way back, and if Baez gets the ball down, it’s an easy hit. Worst case scenario, he likely thought, Baez is thrown out, but Coghlan moves up to third with one out and Anthony Rizzo coming up. Setting aside whether you agree or disagree with the decision, you can understand the thought process, and call it reasonable.

As it played out, Baez popped the bunt up to the pitcher, which was among the actual worst case scenarios. Coghlan wasn’t caught napping, or it could have been an even further worst case.

I didn’t hate the decision to try and bunt for a hit, but, in that situation (and most situations involving Baez), you’d rather see him swing away. All of that is pretty much what the Cubs’ coaching staff communicated after the game (Cubs.com). I suspect most of you feel the same way, too. You understand why he tried it, see the theoretical merit in trying it, but would have preferred he loaded up and gave it a traditional at bat.

All that said: Baez has good speed, and, if defenses are going to play him super deep like that at short and third, I wouldn’t mind if he occasionally burned them with a bunt (mostly with the bases empty). The potential upside there is two-fold: (1) getting on base is always good, and (2) getting in the defense’s head a little bit is always good, too.

As we’ve seen with extreme shifts, when a lefty slugger drops a bunt a few times toward third base, the defense is forced to adjust, even if only slightly. That opens up more lanes, and can lead to long-term benefits for the hitter. Similarly, with Baez, you can imagine a scenario where, were he to successfully bunt a few times, maybe the third baseman has to creep in a little. He does that, and maybe some of Baez’s hard grounders to the left find holes a little more easily. As a general principle, this is part of the reason having a little speed to pair with huge power can be a difficult combo for defenses to play against. (At his best, Junior Lake is the epitome of this skill segment.)

I’m not sure I’ve even convinced myself here, but it’s an interesting discussion.

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