That is the question. The answer? Depends on how fast you are. In today’s GameDay column, I note that the Red Sox are bunting again because they’re actually a fast team for the first time in living memory. (I mean middle-aged living memory, not ridiculously old living memory, when you probably can’t remember much anyways.) With Coco Crisp, Julio Lugo, and now Jacoby Ellsbury, these Red Sox like to run. A quick look at some of their speediness statistics this year (I combined Ellsbury’s minor league stats with his 17 games in the majors; to see them separated out, click here):
Coco Crisp: 24 steals, 83% success rate. 25 doubles, 7 triples.
Julio Lugo: 28 steals, 82% success rate. 34 doubles, 2 triples.
Jacoby Ellsbury: 37 steals, 86% success rate. 18 doubles, 5 triples.
Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t surprise us to see the Red Sox bunting since the rosters expanded. Heck, with the extreme shift David Ortiz often faces, even he’s been known to drop a bunt down the third baseline and chug to the first base bag before the opposing team understands what’s going on.
For those of you who don’t know Ellsbury yet, just you wait. His first game in the bigs, he hit an infield roller over to the right field side. It looked like an easy out. In fact, the Sox announcers did one of these: “Aaand it’s a slow, bouncing grounder, aaaand the throw to first will be—NOT IN TIME! ELLSBURY BEATS IT! BOY CAN HE RUN!” Even the cameraman was caught off guard, because all us fans saw of that play was the last of Ellsbury’s foot vanishing from our screens. Later, in a moment that’s already entered into Fenway Lore, Ellsbury scored from second on a wild pitch:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/-8fSP2ajDnI" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Bunting, however, also presents a potential moral conundrum in baseball. Recently, playing the Orioles, there was a slight scuffle between the O’s and the BoSox after Crisp bunted for a base hit against rookie Oriole pitcher Daniel Cabrera. Cabrera gave him a long look as if to say, “You think you can bunt against me, punk?” (Later in the inning, Coco would be awarded the plate after psyching Cabrera into a balk by skipping down the third baseline–a frustrated Cabrera childishly threw the next pitch over Dustin Pedroia’s head, incited a brawl, and was then ejected from the game.) That was an interesting response, considering that it was the Orioles who tried to bunt against Sox rookie Clay Buchholz the previous week—a move often considered gauche in the midst of a no-hitter. (My thoughts on that gem here.)
Whether you think bunting is fair or not, and whether you think a patient, potent team like the Red Sox should be doing it, when you’ve got Crisp, Lugo, and Ellsbury on your roster, it has to be part of your arsenal.
Maybe you can steal first after all.