Batters miss out by dismissing the bunt

INSIDE PITCH

July 31, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

When Jamie Moyer got dinked for two runs in the first inning of the Orioles' 4-3 loss to Toronto on Friday night, the most artistic hit came off a bat that wasn't even swung.

It was a bunt single by an unexpected source, Paul Molitor, that drove in the first run of the game and set up the second. Coming from one of the game's top hitters, in an unlikely situation (runners on first and third with nobody out), it was yet another demonstration of Molitor's do-it-all offensive ability.

The perfectly placed roller along the third base line was an indication of how effective a drag bunt can be. It was also a reminder that the art is lost on all but a few skilled players.

As opposed to the sacrifice, which often is little more than a questionable piece of strategy, bunting for a hit can be effective even when it doesn't work as perfectly as it did for Molitor. With runners on base, the worst-case scenario usually results in them advancing one station closer to home.

And there are residual effects. A batter who has the ability to bunt for a hit forces infielders to play closer, thereby increasing the chances of a batted ball finding an open area.

It is probably not accidental that Brady Anderson's resurgence at the plate for the Orioles coincided with his re-introduction of the bunt to his offensive arsenal. And although you might not suspect it, Cal Ripken is one of the Orioles' most adept bunters. He used that ability often during his career year in 1991, but because of his stature in the lineup it is a tool he uses only sparingly.

With hitters like Ripken, who doesn't have good speed, and Molitor, who does, the bunt is a weapon to be used sparingly. But there are many others who can enhance their careers by bunting -- and some who can make a living at it.

The best in the business right now is probably Cleveland center fielder, and leadoff hitter, Kenny Lofton. In his first two years with the Indians, Lofton had 50 bunt singles -- which accounted for more than 14 percent of his total hits (349) during that period.

Without even considering the effect that production has on the defense, those numbers can drastically inflate a batting average. The Orioles were reasonably successful keeping Lofton off base during the four-game series with the Indians, possibly because he didn't bunt often enough.

Going into this weekend, Lofton had put the ball in play on a bunt 25 times this year. Two resulted in sacrifices. Of the other 23 attempts, Lofton had an astounding 14 hits -- which translates to a .609 average.

Such numbers might prompt the question of why Lofton doesn't bunt more often, but it's difficult to argue with an overall average in excess of .350. A more pertinent question might be: Why don't more players develop and use a technique that can be so effective?

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