In some circles of the internet, Norris Hopper is a legend. He played for parts of three seasons in the big leagues and all three came with the Cincinnati Reds. From 2006-2008 he racked up 440 plate appearances with the Reds and hit .316/.367/.371. He had absolutely no power – hitting just one home run in his big league career. But what he could do was make plenty of contact and he could place a bunt wherever he wanted to. He had 22 hits on 42 bunt attempts in his career. He laid down a lot of bunts and he was incredibly successful with it. The bunt is often the target of the sabermetrics crowd, and for good reason: It’s usually bad strategy. But that’s mostly when it’s a sacrifice bunt rather than a true bunt attempt.

It’s been over a decade since the Reds have had a player who could actually bunt well. Drew Stubbs and later Billy Hamilton were well known for their plus-plus speed, but neither guy was able to find much success with the bunt. Cincinnati, though, could have another bunt king on their hands in 2022. Reds #14 prospect TJ Friedl has been incredibly successful in the minor leagues when it comes to turning bunts into hits. Several years ago I wrote about it here at Redleg Nation, but it felt like a good time to update the information.

Friedl, who got a late season call up with Cincinnati when their outfield was decimated by injuries down the stretch, didn’t attempt a bunt in the big leagues in his 36 plate appearances. But in the minor leagues during the 2021 season he attempted 26 of them. 14 of them went for hits. That’s a .538 average on bunts (before we account for any that were labeled as sacrifice bunts). Those 14 hits in 26 attempts puts Friedl at 62 for 112 in his minor league career (452 games). That’s a .554 average on bunt attempts for those keeping track at home.

Bunting is out of favor across Major League Baseball. If I gave you 100 guesses as to who had the most bunt hits in the 2021 season you almost assuredly would not pick the correct player unless you previously looked up the data. Joey Gallo and Garrett Hampsen led baseball with seven bunt hits. Only nine other players even had five bunt hits during the 2021 season. Tyler Naquin led the Reds with four (on six attempts).

The minors are not the majors. Defenders may not be as good. Fields may not be as good. Strategies may be a bit different. But Friedl spent the entire year in Triple-A and he has as many hits on bunts as the two leaders in Major League Baseball had combined. Not only has Friedl picked up a bunch of hits on the bunt, his ratio of success has also been incredibly high.

Cincinnati’s outfield situation is very much up in the air when looking at 2022. Jesse Winker, Tyler Naquin, Nick Senzel, Shogo Akiyama, Aristides Aquino, Max Schrock, TJ Friedl, and perhaps Jose Barrero are in the mix for playing time. Winker’s going to get his, though if the designated hitter comes to the National League that could open up some time in the field for others at times. Friedl could be the best defender of that group in center, but even if that’s the case he may not get as much time given some of the other potential options there.

But if there’s enough playing time given to TJ Friedl in 2022, expect to see him bunt. And expect to see him find plenty of success while doing so.

16 Responses

  1. CFD3000

    I doubt this skill affects Friedl’s slot on the depth chart, but it’s easy to envision in-game scenarios where it would be valuable coming off the bench. I’d actually like to see some increase in frequency of bunting for a base hit – against the shift. I know bunting can be hard, but when a base runner is critical and the shift leaves half the infield wide open, what an effective option even a mediocre bunt can be. And if it eventually has the effect of fewer shifts, or fewer severe shifts so much the better. Bring on a little more bunting TJ. And teach your teammates too!

    Also, Norris Hopper was a legend!

  2. enfueago

    The lack of players trying to bunt for a hit is so frustrating and I am glad to see Friedl bring some of that. I fully understand the sabermetric argument but, like the stolen base, I don’t believe the numbers used capture the intangibles that effect the numbers the rest of the time. If a guy is a threat to bunt he will hit for a higher average when he doesn’t bunt because of where they have to play him. A base stealer has a positive impact in stressing the defense even when he doesn’t run.

    • Amarillo

      The biggest issue is the theory of bunting goes out the door when you are trying to bunt against a Pitcher who throws 100 with a foot of break. If a player like Friedl is good at it, awesome. That’s a really useful skill to have.

  3. DataDumpster

    That’s quite an accomplishment for Friedl and hopefully this skill will be welcomed and used by David Bell. Sabermetrics is necessarily looking backwards and cannot measure intangibles as the other post noted. In the past, defenses expected a bunt thereby decreasing the success. Now, they don’t and usually can’t adjust anyway with the extreme shifting going on. I would rather have Friedl up there with a runner on third to safety squeeze than one of our .210 hitters with a 5% chance of a dinger.

    • LDS

      Exactly, I couldn’t agree more. Having just finished “Understanding Sabermetics” by 3 college math professors, they make clear that Sabermetrics, i.e., analytics, are descriptive statistics not inferential statistics. So if you want to compare Gehrig and Votto’s careers, Sabermetrics gives you a tool. If your goal is to determine whether Suarez should swing for the fences, properly applied, Sabermetrics doesn’t answer that question. Somewhere along the way, baseball types decided that they could be used to decide strategy, etc. Consequently, it has been a net negative to the game.

  4. MK

    Unless there are some roster changes between now and then with the loss of either Moose, Suarez or Akiyama. I just do not see a roster spot available on the 26 for TJ. With 13 position player available (2 catchers), (6 infielders); it leaves only 5 outfield spots. and Doug has a pretty orderly list of outfield prospects and he is listed 7th on it.

    • greenmtred

      Winker, Naquin and Senzel would seem to be clearly ahead of Friedl. Schrock might be properly viewed as a utility man, and Barrero might be playing shortstop or might be not hitting well enough to be a starter. Aquino and Akiyama seem unlikely to hit well enough. Given that Friedl is, as I understand it, a true centerfielder, I’d think he might have a shot at the 26 man roster.

      • Doc

        I’ll believe Senzel is a CF when I actually see it happen. The boy who cried wolf didn’t get as many chances. I hope he reaches the potential for which he was drafted but every year that goes by without it happening makes it less likely.

    • BK

      Good point MK. He’s behind Winker, Naquin, and Senzel–as of today they are the front runners to start across the outfield. Akiyama and Aquino don’t have options and may have an inside track for back up spots as of today. I wouldn’t be surprised if both are competing for a roster spot in Spring Training. The Reds may add an outfielder before the season, too. There are still good candidates on the market. I’m hoping the Reds have enough depth to keep Friedl as depth at AAA.

  5. Rednat

    the chances of naquin, senzel, and or winker making it through the whole season are slim to none. I Think we are going to see a lot of Friedl next year and i am excited about it.

  6. TR

    Whether bunting or not, get on base TJ and you’ll be a popular player. Homerun or nothing does not offensively get it done.

  7. Douglas

    Just don’t put him in to blunt when a pitcher throws over 100 mph train him to become a good hitter.

    • greenmtred

      I’m asking this because I don’t know, but is it harder to bunt effectively against high velocity than it is against good control and good breaking pitches?

  8. Dave

    Bunts are also disfavored because they’re settling for singles. That said, hitting .500 is also an OBP and slugging of .500, for an OPS of 1.000. That works! Good bunting can turn a light hitter into an MVP, at least on the bunts. It’s not worth quite as much, in terms of advancing players already on base, but it’s an overlooked skill, for sure. Even Mickey Mantle (who had about as much raw power as anyone has ever had) used to bunt to break a slump. I hope Friedl lives up to his minor league numbers, cuz he looks like a really solid, well-rounded player that can start or be a 4th guy on a great club. The Reds need as many of those as they can get, and if he’s smart enough to utilize bunting for an advantage, all the better!

  9. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Does anyone have any actual stats to state that “sacrifice bunting” is a bad thing? I mean, I could understand if the numbers state it. But, honestly, I don’t ever remember seeing any numbers for it.

    You have to consider the number of outs, also, the situation. Then, you also have to consider “what if the man is on first-trying to get him to second” vs “the man is on second-trying to get him to third”.

    As well as, you have to consider things like do you have anyone who can teach bunting?

    Just who is at bat? I mean, I don’t bunt with Votto at bat. But, I would consider it with a poor-hitting pinch hitter at bat. With the former, that may be the exact time one may consider bunting – the other team wouldn’t expect it, playing back, thus giving Votto plenty of time to get to first. Not to say I would do it with Votto; I wouldn’t. But, one thing with strategy is “you try to keep the other team off balance”.

    I mean, if you just consider numbers, on the surface, it would be more likely to get a man in from 2nd than 1st. BUT, given the numbers, neither would still be likely to happen, when one considers how many baserunners there actually are compared to how many baserunners actually score.

    • Doug Gray

      On average a runner on 1st base with no outs results in 0.86 runs scoring per inning. A runner on second base with 1 out results in 0.66 runs scoring per inning. A runner on 2nd base with no outs results in 1.1 runs scoring per inning. A runner on 3rd base with 1 out results in 0.95 runs scoring per inning. Giving up that out on purpose to move a runner up a base, on average, leads to less runs. The numbers have changed a little bit in different eras, but it’s always the same thing – you score fewer runs by giving up the out to gain a base – it’s just been a matter of how much you are giving up for the move.