Thursday, April 25, 2024
52.0°F

THE CHEAP SEATS WITH STEVE CAMERON: No bunts, that’s just plain silly

| August 3, 2020 1:12 AM

Can’t anybody bunt?

Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I think the trend of swinging out of your shoes every time up — while ignoring many of baseball’s more technical skills — is just plain stupid.

It isn’t simply that I’m bored with watching every hitter take aim at the fences like they’re playing slow-pitch softball.

It’s more than that.

Sometimes this all-or-nothing approach is just not the way to win.

That’s why I mentioned bunting.

Players these days aren’t just deciding not to bunt, either for base hits or to advance runners.

Managers aren’t simply going for big innings every time they let some average hitter swing away with a runner on second and no outs.

Nah, the thing is…

Bunting is not an option, because almost no one can do it.

It’s costing teams in the win-loss column, no question.

Then there’s the fact that some less-than-superstar players wind up out of the game because they can’t hit 40 home runs — and they’ve got little else to offer.

THE DAYS of artists like Rod Carew getting 20 or 30 bunt hits a year are over.

Fair enough.

But even if players in the bash-it era aren’t going to drop picture-perfect bunts whenever it suits them, it’s silly to ignore a weapon that can change games — or maybe save your career.

Consider…

The Mariners have a rookie first baseman/outfielder named Jose Marmolejos.

Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto acquired Marmolejos from Washington during the 2019 season.

Jerry perhaps was slightly intrigued by Jose’s ability to play several positions, along with a career .288 batting average at various minor league destinations — including .315 last year.

Marmolejos stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 240 pounds, but he hasn’t been a big power guy in the minors, managing just 72 home runs in well over a thousand at-bats since 2011.

As it happens, though, the Mariners can use someone to put the ball in play right now — with most of the club’s future outfielders still a year or two away, and DH Daniel Vogelbach now completely unable to hit a baseball.

The mammoth Vogelbach made the American League All-Star team a year ago as your prototype basher.

Just after the Midsummer Classic, he went deep twice on July 24 against Texas, homers No. 24 and 25.

After that, however, either the 260-pound Vogelbach changed his diet (or pitchers found his weak spots), and he managed just five home runs and 15 RBIs the rest of the way — almost half a season of wasted at-bats.

Vogie shows no signs of a resurgence this year, either, so Marmolegos has been given an audition.

At 27 years old, Jose really isn’t the Mariners’ future, but he can prove himself to the point where there’s a nice living ahead.

AS OF Saturday night, Marmolejos was hitting .120 (3-for-25), with one glorious highlight — a three-run, first-inning homer off the Angels’ Dylan Bundy that opened the door to an 8-5 victory.

Jose hasn’t contributed much else, however — and worryingly, he takes a vicious left-handed swing that makes him vulnerable to all sorts of good pitches.

So now we find Marmolejos, a man fighting to stay in the major leagues, leading off an inning late in a tied game against Oakland.

The A’s scouting report on Marmolejos must suggest that, despite not much career power, he’s a dead pull hitter.

So, the Oakland infield shifted against him, with three infielders on the right side of second base and third baseman Matt Chapman almost close enough to second that he could drop his cap on the bag.

In other words, the entire left side of the diamond was vacant.

It looked like the size of a football field.

You wouldn’t exactly need Ichiro’s skill level to shove a bunt anywhere on that massive acreage of grass.

If Marmolejos had done it, he’d have had a desperately needed hit, and Seattle could have tossed on a pinch-runner (like Mallex Smith).

What turned into a 3-2 loss might have been reversed.

Except…

Mamolejos did not bunt for an easy single, but instead swung violently to no good effect, and was retired for the critical first out.

YOU HAVE to wonder…

Why don’t these guys ever bunt against the shift?

Four or five straight base hits might change the defense, and make several fielders move enough that they’re playing you almost straight up.

The shift originally came into baseball to combat Ted Williams, who ignored it entirely and simply smashed the ball through and over the shift.

But guys like Jose Marmolejos (and Daniel Vogelbach, who ignores that same space where no defenders are playing) aren’t quite in the Ted Williams class.

So why not learn to push the ball to the left side when your team needs a baserunner?

Make yourself valuable.

It’s not a terribly difficult skill to learn, not THAT kind of bunt — and it just might keep you on a big-league payroll somewhere down the road.

I don’t get it.

Is it ego?

Stubbornness?

Whatever, it’s costing teams games — and driving some marginal players out of the major leagues.

Silly.

Just plain silly.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com

Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball, once per month during the off season.