Spring training is full go at this point. The Cincinnati Reds have played four games, and they’ve won three of them. With that, there are always stories coming out of Goodyear and Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer had one this morning about “the resurgence of the bunt in the Reds organization”. That came after a video was circulating the day before of Brett Butler working with Elly De La Cruz on a practice field, trying to improve his bunting technique.

The video seemed to get many people riled up. And you can understand that a little bit – De La Cruz can hit the baseball to the moon and almost no one in the game hits the ball harder than he does. Asking him to try and not do that doesn’t make a bunch of sense on the surface. The flip side of that is that he’s also one of if not the fastest players in the game. With that comes the likelihood of even a so-so bunt leading to a single. Your mileage may vary on the “should Elly De La Cruz bunt more” debate.

But let’s get into some things about the Reds and bunting more. Last spring they also brought in Brett Butler to work with the team on bunting. It was a story then, too, for a short period of time. And then the season started and only four players on the club had bunt hits when the year came to an end. Three of those players only had one bunt hit each. The fourth player? That was TJ Friedl and he had 17 bunt hits. That was easily the tops in the league. In fact, only three teams other than the Reds had more bunt hits than that. Friedl was the Babe Ruth of bunt hits (Ruth famously outhomered teams in the early goings of his home run outburst).

More than four years ago I wrote about the bunting prowess of TJ Friedl while he was still in the minor leagues and racking up bunt hits left and right. I wrote about it again two winters ago. Between the two articles I referred to him as The Bunt King and The Best Bunter in Baseball.

Teams around baseball simply don’t bunt anymore. There are a lot of reasons for it. Some of it is related to pitchers no longer hitting, which eliminates plenty of bunt attempts. But even the position guys aren’t bunting anymore. Pitching is better than ever and that alone makes bunting more difficult. Teams have also figured out that bunting actually hurts your chances of scoring more runs in most scenarios and have cut back on attempting them.

When you have a player like TJ Friedl, who has been and can be very successful with the bunt, you’re likely to allow him to bunt a lot. It’s a weapon for a very select few players in baseball. For Friedl it’s been a weapon so far advances compared to anyone else in the game it’s not funny.

The article closes out with this quote from manager David Bell: “Speed. Running the bases. A lot of different things. Bunting can be a big part of that. It fits our personnel now … It’s a part of what we see as a way for us to win games now. So yeah, we do prioritize it.”

But do the Reds really prioritize it now? By and large, this is going to be the same team on offense that they had for much of last year. They added Jeimer Candelario and he’s not a guy they’re going to be asking to bunt. Other than him, it’s basically the same offense. Bell got 17 bunt hits from Friedl. Then he got one each from Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, and Nick Senzel. The latter three combined to attempt six bunts all season long.

Tyler Callihan’s hot start

It’s only been a few games, but Reds prospect Tyler Callihan is out to a torrid start. The 2019 3rd round pick is 3-5 with a walk, double, home run, three runs scored, four runs batted in, and he hasn’t struck out. That’s good for a .600 batting average, a .667 on-base percentage, and a 1.400 slugging percentage.

Callihan was eligible for the Rule 5 draft his past offseason and went unselected. No longer rated among the clubs top 25 prospects, he’s struggled to hit a bit during his minor league career. He’s also battled with injuries during that time. Last season he spent most of the season in High-A Dayton where he hit .236/.312/.373 in 109 games. The Reds promoted him up to Double-A Chattanooga for the final month and he hit well there, posting a .310 average along with 11 extra-base hits (10 doubles, one homer) in 22 games. He’ll turn 24 in late June, but he also played second and third base, so the organization can be willing to give him the development time he may need as there’s not an immediate need to push him to get him to the big leagues.

Ashcraft and Lodolo set to debut

In case you missed it during the broadcast of yesterday’s game against Seattle, Graham Ashcraft and Nick Lodolo told Jim Day that they were close to making their spring training debut.

Ashcraft, who had his season end with a toe injury that required offseason surgery and the insertion of a plate, said he’s expected to pitch this Thursday. Lodolo, who suffered a stress fracture/reaction in his leg in April and then had a setback when trying to return late in the season and was shut down while in Triple-A on rehab, noted that he was feeling good and would pitch next week and that he felt he would be ready for the regular season on time.

Pokey Reese and Dmitri Young are coming to Cincinnati

39 Responses

  1. Pete

    Seems to me that Blake Dunn can also bunt. Like Friedl he has way above average speed. I really hate he is injured right now. In my mind injuries are the one thing that could short short circuit a promising career for the young man. Fingers crossed.

  2. Rednat

    i would like to see more bunting. they are usually pretty exciting plays and close calls at first. But like Doug said, the pitching is just so dominant it is hard to lay one down.

    We have discussed pitching a lot here this year so far and it got me thinking, Is Pitching too dominant right now? is it ruining the game when we are seeing less contact, lower batting averages, more strike outs. It seems runs were up last year but was that because there were more walks?

    i don’t know, i certainly would like to see more contact in mlb. the game can be quite boring when the ball is always in the catchers mitt. Just curious what other people think?

    • Doug Gray

      There are some very smart people who are definitely on the “pitching is too good” side of the ledger and want to find a way to knock it backwards a little bit (some ideas are to limit pitcher roster spots so teams can’t just have everyone “full go, every pitch” all year long, some want to see the mound pushed back a foot or two).

    • greenmtred

      I’ve heard that teams don’t emphasize bunting much at all in player development, possibly because it’s no secret that the sac bunt is usually counter-productive. So maybe it’s harder to lay a bunt down now because the players are scarcely taught how and don’t practice it much. I have also heard that there is an emphasis on power in place of batting average, so perhaps that has something to do with the perception that pitchers are superior now. Many of them have ERA’s that would would have gotten them sent to AAA 30 years ago.

    • SultanofSwaff

      For me, the entertainment value of the game went up a million percent with the pitch clock, so for now I’m quite content. In my dream world more extra base hits would be exciting for the casual fans. To achieve that goal I’d simply bring in all OF fences a touch and raise the walls considerably to induce more doubles and triples.

      • 2020ball

        Have you considered the cost of doing this?

      • 2020ball

        You mentioned dream world, i missed that

    • Chad A Donnell

      Agreed. Analytics are great for teams like the Yankees and Dodgers. Lower payroll teams have to create runs and win a lot of one run games. The 1990 Reds were the all-time greatest small ball team I have seen. They have a banner to prove it. This team seems to have the potential to beat you in a wide variety of ways. I see a lot of similarities.

  3. MBS

    If Elly has a knack for bunting, he should 100% do it. When that man is on base good things happen.

    • VaRedsFan

      I’m all for it….but only when nobody is on base.
      His bunts can turn into doubles and triples.

    • BK

      I agree. With his EV potential, who wants to charge towards home in anticipation of one of his bunts? There’s an adage in all sports: take what the defense gives you. If an infield plays him deep, he should bunt. When teams play in, swing away.

  4. Klugo

    Antone pitched this week. That’s a story worth keeping an eye on.

  5. Luke J

    As Friedl proved last year, even the threat of the bunt can have a positive impact on your hitting. It moves the defense around and opens up holes. If Elly can add an occasional bunt for a hit to his arsenal, it will keep the defense honest and open up a lot for the rest of his offense as well. I’m all for it.

    • Reaganspad

      And in a no hitter like we saw versus Luis yesterday, it can change everything. Pitcher goes thru 3 or 4 hit less innings, why not drop one down

  6. VaRedsFan

    Bunting for hits …YES!
    Sacrifice bunts …almost never, with the exception being when you are tied in the 8th or 9th inning and need 1 run. Also part of the exception is that the guy doing the sacrificing, is good at it.
    If no outs and a man on 1st in a tie game, I’d much rather him try to steal 2nd, than bunt him over.
    If no outs and a man on 2nd in a tie game, I’m OK with bunting him over to 3rd.

    • old-school

      or ground ball prone poor hitting slow catcher hitting. Tucker Barnhart at the plate used to drive me crazy hitting the 4-6-3 with 1 on and nobody out

    • 2020ball

      Still dont like the sac bunt in that situation, unless the personnel strictly dictate it. Would rather go for the win than have a weak bunter trying to move a guy over for a mere tie game.

  7. Mark Moore

    I’m intrigued. I get the pitching in today’s game has changed, but I think that can be overcome with some coaching (like what is happening with Butler) and the speed of guys like EDLC. It expands his game IMO.

    We shall see what plays out.

  8. LDS

    I don’t think neutering the pitcher is the answer. It’s the hitters learning to respond differently. Part of that could be bunting. Part of that could be less swinging for the fences, e.g., more Arraez like, less Olsen. Changing the rules isn’t the answer. Doing what the other teams aren’t doing is the answer. Hint, analytics will not solve the problem. Adaptation will.

    • greenmtred

      With one small exception (analytics, being information, wouldn’t preclude adaptation), +1000000.

    • 2020ball

      Who the hell was talking about analytics?

      • greenmtred

        LDS. My comment was in reaction to his.

    • Chad A Donnell

      Bingo. Small market teams have to be creative out of necessity.

  9. JB WV

    Dmitri Young could hit. Pokey Reese could field. Dmitri came over in the Trevor Hoffman trade. Hoffman’s in the HOF. Dmitri is a parade Marshall.

    • Tom Diesman

      Dmitri Young could hit, but he came to the Reds from the Cardinals:

      November 10, 1997: Traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Cincinnati Reds for Jeff Brantley.

      Trevor Hoffman left the Reds via the expansion draft 5 years before Young was acquired:

      November 17, 1992: Drafted by the Florida Marlins from the Cincinnati Reds as the 8th pick in the 1992 expansion draft.

      • JB WV

        This is what happens when you age. Thanks for correcting me, Tom.

      • greenmtred

        It is, but it’s not all that happens when you age.

  10. Krozley

    Hurtubise was one I saw working on bunting during batting practice when I was there last week. That certainly makes sense for a player like that with good speed and very little power.

  11. The Duke

    If it’s late in the game with the Reds are down multiple runs and they are giving EDLC a single with infielders deep, then him knowing how to do it at least passably well is a good skill to have. Might only be 5 extra hits a season, but 5 times when you need baserunners more than a potential solo HR.

    • Reaganspad

      And Elly on base occupies the pitchers focus, or next thing you know, he is on third

  12. Chris Mo

    The goal is to not make outs. Get on base successfully. Speed puts pressure on the pitcher and the defense. The quality of the third baseman also plays a role. Does the max effort pitcher fall off the right or left side of the mound. Fielder placement with the new shifting rules matters. Good situational bunting, being smart, and fast, makes me a huge fan of TJ. TJ can drag one, push one, pull one past the pitcher. EDLC, if he can have that same kind of success at the right times, he can have the same or bigger impact. 17 additional bunt hits over a season can inflate the batting average, turning a .275 hitter into a .300 hitter. Go Reds!

  13. 2020ball

    In general im not a fan of bunting, though i think bunting for a hit has its time and place. This is very dependent on whether the player has the ability to execute. Sac bunts are gross, not a fan of giving away easy outs.

  14. Melvin

    I’m not a fan of bunting too much but there are still circumstances that warrant it even sac bunting. For example late in a one run game when the leadoff hitter reaches first. At the very least it eliminates the double play and gives two batters the chance to drive in that run. All depends on the players and circumstances. A weak hitter or one that’s prone to hit into double plays it could especially be helpful to. Win Win Win. That’s the objective. Not playing the game one particular way or another. WIN.

  15. DataDumpster

    I don’t know much about all of this “pitching is too good” to bunt nowadays. Thirty years ago, you had just 2 or 3 pitchers on a given night to make an attempt. Now, 5 or more is the norm. ERAs were much better 30 years ago and teams were content to try to squeeze out one run instead of “saving it up” for the big bomb that is about 10 or 15% likely.
    Now, with this team, if the skills are there, they have at least 3 guys who have a good chance of getting a base hit in addition to advancing the runner. I like a strategy of keeping the opponent’s defense off guard with a well placed situational bunt, these kinds of plays are not forgotten and force a defensive shift. I hope David Bell follows through with his statement but for someone who always replies “yes” or gives a positive slant on everything without any real strategic explanation or insight makes me skeptical.
    Got fast runners, will do doesn’t cut it.

  16. Westfester

    Bunting has its place in the game, especially with young athletic teams. It can disrupt a pitcher if he’s in a groove in a tight game. A suicide squeeze is a PERFECT call if EDLC is sitting on third and we’re up/down 1.

    Happy to see Di-Meat Hook get recognition from the organization. He was one of my favorite players on the 99 team.

  17. SR

    This current team has 5 or 6 guys that are well above average speed and many also bat left handed. With shifts, even decent bunts to the third base side would be hits more often than outs. A stolen base later and you have a “double”. Teams would have to adapt to aggressive bunting and cheat the third baseman and shortstop back toward their stereotypical positions opening up the middle more. Do analytics have a way of quantifying impact of defensive positioning on batted balls? Bunts could improve success on batted balls if teams can’t move defenders into batted ball tendency areas due to giving away infield singles to speedy runners.
    I also think it is a lot easier to”place” a bat in front of a pitched ball then swing and hit it, especially if you know what you are doing.