In this age of launch angle and exit velocity and swing path, the reigning National League home run kings have come out…not swinging.
The first hit for the San Francisco Giants in 2022 was a third inning bunt by Brandon Belt. I was floored, absolutely knocked out of my boots, when Belt squared around on that pitch. No doubt Miami was too—it led to an errant throw and allowed Joey Bart to score from first.
Bunt leads to error leads to run—and just like that the Giants were on the board in 2022.
Belt’s bunt, so far, has been prophecy.
San Francisco leads all of Major League Baseball with 7 total bunt hits over 15 games to start the 2022 season. Mike Yastrzemski has laid down two. Along with Belt, Luis Gonzalez, Maurico Dubón, Thairo Estrada, and Joc Pederson all have one.
As a team, their success rate sits at 87.5% If they keep this up, when the regular season runs its course, the Giants will bag roughly 70 bunt hits.
That will most definitely not happen but the fact remains that the bunt has been a bit of a surprising offensive tool put into the practice by the boys from the Bay.
It’s pretty telling when asked what stood out to him after the Giants 5-2 win over the Nationals on Saturday, the first thing Gabe Kapler thought of was how the bunts were “excellent.”
Gabe Kapler evaluated the Giants' all-around team win over the Nationals pic.twitter.com/vzLJDX8hG4— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) April 23, 2022
Yes, no argument, Mike Yastrzemski’s and Luis Gonzalez’s bunt singles in the first and the sixth were excellent—but it’s a little odd to discover those brief offensive moments (that led to a total of 0 runs) were at the forefront of our manager’s brain post game.
To be clear, I’m not upset about it. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the typical OPS this and OPS that dominating conversations these days. So boring.
In a way, the bunts haven’t just been excellent, they’ve been bad-ass.
Belt’s Opening Day bunt after his thumb fracture last September was the very definition of reckless or ill-advised. Mauricio Dubón’s bunt with a 9-run lead against San Diego was the equivalent of doing doughnuts in a Walmart parking lot.
But it’s not all just middle-finger-to-the-world with these Gigantes—there’s a method to this bunting madness.
Let’s look at Mike Yastrzemski’s bunt single that Saturday. The Nationals defense (as most defenses do) were shifted to protect against Yaz’s power to the right side of the diamond, leaving the left side completely open. In the first inning with no outs and no scoring opportunities available to him at the time (other than the home run), Yaz took what was offered to him.
With Brandon Belt directly following him in the order, it’s never a terrible idea to get on base any way you can. With one swing of the Captain’s bat, the Giants could be up 2-nil. The odds of that happening are much higher than both Yaz and Belt going deep back-to-back.
Rule of thumb: It is always better to have base runners in baseball than to not have base runners. The 2022 Giants are hitting .197 when the bases are empty with 10 runs scored. With runners on, they’re batting .280 with 57 runs scored. A bunt against a shifted defense is a pretty good way to get on base. The Giants have been great at executing in those situations. If the bunt hit becomes less and less of a guarantee, hitters are going to use it less and less—which is ultimately the end-goal for Kapler.
Kap doesn’t really want Belt or Pederson or Yastrzemski to bunt. The look for your pitch in your zone and drive the ball is still the underlying offensive strategy of most teams in baseball. But this early days bunt-bonanza could pay dividends if it leads to more honest and more exploitable defensive arrangements for those hitters to bat against later in the season.
The bunt sets the table in the present—putting runners on base; as well as for the future—changing the defense for coming at-bats.
It is a very specific tool for a very specific situation. Giants hitters have yet to bunt with two outs. They haven’t bunted with a runner in scoring position. These are opportunities to do damage with a bat—one does not cut down a tree with a spokeshave.
Additionally, with the bat out of the pitcher’s hand, the bunt is no longer used in a sacrifice. An out for a base is not a favorable trade (unless maybe with the “Manfred runner” nonsense in extra innings).
Repeat the mantra: The bunt is a tool. The bunt is a tool and its usage is directly correlated to opponents’ defensive arrangements.
If a team gives a hitter the line, look for them to lay that barrel over the plate. Any opportunity that makes the pitcher more stressed, or gives the next hitter a better opportunity to hit the ball hard, the Giants are going to jump on it. That’s been their M.O. this season and its not making them many friends around the league. The bunt has been a big part of that these first couple weeks of 2022.