As with many things today, there is something that is happening in the world and there are two sides that are pretty extreme about the issue. That issue today is whether or not Elly De La Cruz should be asked to lay down bunts by the Cincinnati Reds. There seem to be some who are extremely for it and those who are extremely against it, and very little in between those two opinions.

Over the last two spring trainings the Reds have brought in Brett Butler to work with the team on bunting. Butler is well known to have been one of the best bunters of his era, and perhaps ever. Cincinnati already has the best bunter in the game today in center fielder TJ Friedl. In 2023 he had 17 bunt hits. Only Daulton Varsho had more than 6 – and he had 11. For those who hate doing the math, I’ll help you out – Friedl has as many bunt hits in 2023 as the guys in 2nd and 3rd place combined. He also had more bunt hits than all but six teams in baseball (and this includes the Reds).

While it’s certainly possible that Butler’s presence in spring training in 2023 helped Friedl with some things, he’s long been an outstanding bunter. I first wrote about him and his bunts back in 2018. In December of 2021 I wrote about Friedl’s prowess bunting the ball again.

In the minor leagues, Friedl bunted a lot. And he was incredibly successful at it. And that has translated to the big leagues, too. It’s a skill he had before he was drafted, and while it’s likely he’s improved since then, it’s not exactly something he learned once he started facing professional pitchers.

That brings us back to Elly De La Cruz. Like Friedl, he’s very fast. In fact, he’s faster than Friedl…. and everyone else in baseball. Unlike Friedl, De La Cruz struggles to make contact. Those two things are probably the reason that many – including the Reds – think that De La Cruz should try to bunt more. It will lead to fewer strikeouts, and his speed should help turn some of those bunts into hits.

On the flip side of that is the fact that about two guys in baseball hit the ball harder than Elly De La Cruz does. He’s not your Billy Hamilton type who struggles to hit the ball over the outfielders head. When you have a guy like De La Cruz bunt, the other team is pleased with that request. They are on the record saying as much.

A reasonable person can at least understand both sides of this, even if they prefer one over the other. But both sides of the argument I’ve laid out in the previous two paragraphs is missing one piece of information: Can Elly De La Cruz actually bunt?

The rec-league dadcoach sure seems to have this idea that bunting is easy. He seems to forget that nearly everyone throws multiple pitches today that if they were thrown in 1927 that the pitchers would be rounded up, put on trial, and burned for witchcraft. Bunting is not easy against big league pitchers. This isn’t high school.

But getting to the question as it pertains to Elly De La Cruz, we can look at his history and get a good feel for it. In the minor leagues he stepped to the plate 1150 times and he laid down three successful bunts. One of those bunts turned into a hit. It came back in 2021 when he was in Single-A with Daytona. He didn’t attempt another bunt until the next summer, when he popped up a bunt to the pitcher on June 1st of 2022.

The next time he attempted a bunt? 14 months later in the big leagues. It wasn’t a hit. He attempted another one two weeks later and picked up a single. A week later he laid down a sacrifice bunt. And he picked up another bunt hit in the second game of this season.

In total, over his 1695 career plate appearances, Elly De La Cruz has gotten a bunt in fair territory eight times. Four of them have turned into hits.

Is it fair to say that De La Cruz isn’t a good bunter? I’ll leave that up to you. It’s worth noting that the data doesn’t track if a ball was foul and was bunted at. So we are likely missing some bunt attempts that aren’t tracked because the end result wasn’t a bunted ball that was in play. But what we can say is that De La Cruz is an incredibly inexperienced bunter.

Does it make sense for the Reds to try and get him to lay down some more bunts in an effort to have fewer strikeouts? Maybe. But we also saw over the past few days where he couldn’t get a bunt down and it just led to him bunting at strikes, then striking out later in the count when he had to swing. Even good bunters are going to wind up with that result at times – bunting is indeed very difficult.

If Elly De La Cruz had history of bunting often and finding success, I would be more inclined to think that what the Reds were trying to do here makes some sense. But he simply doesn’t have that kind of history. At this point I’d rather see him try to just swing at the strikes he does get and see what happens. Your mileage may vary.

57 Responses

  1. magi210

    It depends on the circumstance, but it’s similar to the Billy Hamilton situation. If he’s able to reach on a bunt, it’s almost certainly going to be a double if there’s no one on base.

    Not saying it should be an every time he’s at the plate thing, but getting the fastest guy on the team on base can’t be a bad thing.

    • Redsfanny

      The Statcast era has brought about the wow factor of high exit velocities. To have high exit velocity you need to get the barrel out front. This makes you susceptible to anything other than a fastball leading to high strikeout rates. Most complete hitters (average and power) get the hit piece (average) first and the power later. Power comes as hitters learn WHEN to look for certain pitch and get the barrel out front. As long as Elly or anyone else is looking for exit velo expect lots of strikeouts. Not just Elly but most all of MLB right now. Who would you rather have at the plate – Elly or Steer?
      Should Elly bunt for hits? Absolutely. Should Elly try to hit some balls to the opposite gap so he doesn’t strike out so much? Absolutely!
      Strikeouts negate his speed.
      That is baseball and I don’t care what todays analytics say.

  2. Andy

    I have no issue with him bunting with bases empty and less than 2 outs. In that scenario, get him on base any way possible. With runners on base, bunting removes possibility of RBI and the runners in front of him will prevent the SB.

    • Brian

      It’s all about the situation and count. If there’s nobody on and no strikes, sure. Eventually this cat needs to learn to hit though. With all of that talent, he’s still very raw both fielding and hitting. Right now, he’s mediocre. He’s more athletic than anyone but so far he looks like one of the worst baseball players per talent.

  3. Shel Keitel

    Bunting himself onto base is a whole lot better than the Elly K La Cruz we have come to know.

    • Robin

      He has proven since June 2023 that he can’t hit major league pitching.

  4. LDS

    If he can manage it competently, then absolutely let him bunt. It could throw the opposing team off balance a bit and cut down on the SOs. Another thing that he and the team should explore possibly, is giving up switch hitting. Thus far he’s been two different players depending on which side of the plate. If nothing else, learn to bunt well from the right side.

    • Indy Red Man

      Probably too early on the switch hitting, but I was thinking the same thing. He pulls his head right-handed and misses the change ups and off speed by 2 feet?

      Bunting? Definitely! Often enough to bring in the corners and try to shoot one past them for a double or triple

    • JayTheRed

      LDS I think your correct from what I have seen of Elly. I wish he would just focus on one side of the plate.

    • Chris

      It’s often suggested that if a player seemingly struggles a bit from one side that he should give up switch hitting. I personally just disagree with that, because in most cases, said player will never hit from the one side of the plate against the same arm pitcher. Elly would almost guaranteed become a platoon player if that was done. His minor league numbers suggest that he can hit right-handed just fine. I personally think he’s struggling from both sides of the plate. It is going to be a hard decision but I think the best thing for 22 year old Elly is to let him face the consequences of failure and spend a few weeks in AAA. Giving up on switch hitting is certainly not the answer.

      • greenmtred

        We could add EDLC to the caravan including Diaz and CES headed to AAA. Elly has recently changed his approach and I imagine that it’s going to take awhile for him to get settled with it while facing MLB pitching. He’s gotten a hit in every game, I think, and has considerable value when he’s on base. It’s also true that he destroyed AAA pitching, so he’s unlikely to learn how to handle MLB pitching by going down and destroying it again. Then there’s the issue of who plays shortstop in his absence?

      • Chris

        @green, that Is pretty much why I said the Reds would have a hard decision to make. He’s going to be above average even if he stays at the rate he’s at now. I wasn’t suggesting that he go down to learn how to hit MLB pitching. He already knows how to do that. He has a confidence problem, and for guys like him, AAA can help resolve that problem. Not sure why you mentioned Diaz and CES though. They don’t have a need to go anywhere. Maybe there is another Diaz and CES that I don’t know about.

      • DW

        Agree, but not with EDLC going to AAA. Keep switch hitting and grow through the struggles. He is 22 and does make this ball club better, even though the K’s are a problem.

    • Brian Rutherford

      Agree with LDS here. If he shoes bunting is a real thing for him he may see more fastballs as they are harder to bunt. Someone commented how few AB’s he has right now and there is certainly nothing wrong with him working on a new skill set. I don’t think giving up on switch hitting is necessarily a need yet. He has shown enough power and speed that we should give hm a chance to learn

  5. earmbrister

    It’s not a black vs white thing, situational baseball comes into play. If they’re facing a pitcher who is steamrolling the Reds, a well timed bunt can shake things up and change the dynamic. As Magi mentioned, getting EDLC on base with no one in front of him often ends up with him standing on 2nd or 3rd, and I’d have to believe that it can shake a pitcher’s confidence or be a major distraction. And it’s not just that situation, but there are others, like being down to your last half of an inning, behind by more than one run, and needing to get that first baserunner on.

    Of course, you don’t want him bunting where him swinging away could prove more decisive.

    4-8 is a very small sample size, so it would be good to get some more “data”. Also, hat is Freidl’s success rate? Right now Elly is striking out about 50% of the time, so a .500 average on bunts is not a bad thing. I do like the idea of giving the opposing team just one more thing to worry about – another arrow in his quiver.

    In any case, I love watching him run the bases.

    • earmbrister

      *what is Freidl’s success rate?

      • capnhook33

        Last year Friedl was 17/24 bunting with 8 sacrifices, or a 70% success rate. He is truly 1 of 1 right now in the game when it comes to bunting. This is a pretty big part of why I think he’s best as the #2 hitter when he returns (the other being the fact that leadoff is by far his worst spot in the batting order for his career and it’s easily India’s best).

        For his career Friedl is 22/35 in bunting in the major leagues. His batting average on bunts is basically the same as line drives (which are always a players highest batting average contact type).

        For Elly, he is technically 2/3 with a sacrifice bunting in his career (less than 500 PA). So while a small sample size, he again is as successful with bunting in play as he is hitting line drives. The different between him and Friedl is that in general if Elly puts the ball in play he’s fairly successful. He hits .250 on grounders, .350 on fly balls (this number is incredible and way beyond most major leaguers), and .660 on line drives. Friedl only hits .170 on fly balls for his career, so for him the bunt is almost a necessary weapon.

        All this is to say I think situationally it makes sense for him to have that option. It’s a great slump buster and with his base stealing prowess would absolutely put pressure on the defense. He probably won’t be bunting in 35-40 plate appearances, but if he did it 20, I wouldn’t be shocked.

      • LarkinPhillips

        CAPNHook, I have been clamoring for a while for Friedl to hit 2 hole not leadoff. I could care less who is in front of him, but his skill set is made for the 2 hole.

        *of note: current lineup I do like India in lead off and Benson in 2 hole.

    • Stock

      last year Friedl was 17 for 32 bunting
      Career he is 22 for 43.

      both north of .500

    • DaveCT

      The game within the game within the game. Shaking up confidence as well as concentration. Elly on first gets the entire defense twitching. This is a good thing. And part of the havoc this is a major part of the design of this Reds club.

  6. Luke J

    Do you have any information that the Reds are calling his bunts? Sure, bringing in someone to help teach him to bunt is one thing. But I haven’t seen where those bunt attempts this season were due to the coach putting on the bunt signal. I have assumed that is a decision that Elly has made in the moment, just like Friedl says he does. And in that case, I have no problem with Elly making that call.

  7. BK

    I agree with Luke and Earmbrister. I wonder if Bubba Thompson was able to get some tips from Brett Butler. Missing from this article is that our in-game announcers have mentioned that EDLC took very well to bunting and that Butler encourage multiple attempts each week based on how well EDLC adapted.

  8. JayTheRed

    Just want to say I am ok with Elly bunting every once in a while, because of his speed and ability to get on base. I know his power potential is huge, but really all I care about is him getting on base may it be hit or walk or bunt. The power will be there when he needs it. Really hope he starts being more patient at the plate though. His swing and misses are pretty bad to watch.

  9. RedsGettingBetter

    I can say EDLC should try to bunt in a low rate maybe a 1/10 at bats and just shows the bat to pretend bunting (not exactly bunting) more frequently so he could take advantage of moving the defenders to create gaps on the infield and the pitchers may change the form they are working on him…

  10. Jim Walker

    I am squarely in the middle here 😉

    As opposed to bunting, I’d rather see EDLC flash a shortened swing from time to time to poke the ball through the opposite side. As Doug said, this is MLB where nothing comes easy; but, I think the shorted swing would likely come more naturally to EDLC than learning to bunt. He would not have to change his normal stance as the pitcher delivered. At some point early in a pitch’s flight if he thought it looked like it was working middle out, he’d decide to ride it in the opposite direction.

    Think Votto fouling off pitch after pitch away from him until he got a pitch to hit or drew a walk. What I just described above was essentially his technique honed with his special hand/ eye skills to slow and direct the bat at the very last instant.

    • Rick

      I’m in agreement with your points & Doug’s point about this level of bb nothing comes easy. To become accomplished at it you have to be able to bunt in offspeed and movement pitches. I’d prefer him swinging for the alleys. Also, if the Manger relays that from the dugout to frequently that could damage his confidence.
      Situationaly at times, yes. Failed bunt attempts would put a high K rate player in a deeper strike disadvantage. Cut that swing down formost.

  11. Optimist

    Not this season. Work on it this winter, do it all next spring, see if it works next season.

  12. Stock

    Several things to consider on bunting most if not all mentioned above.

    1. Bunting from someone with EDLC’s speed means the infield plays in and his ground balls have a even better chance of going for hits. This will increase his BA.
    2. Bunting for EDLC means a double. Plus, when he is on the bases things happen and he usually scores if no one is in front of him.
    3. EDLC hit .190 vs. LHP last year. Maybe this will change things.
    4. Bunting early in the count will lead to more K’s if unsuccessful. However, this could be negated by successful bunts.

    If he can get 40% of his bunt attempts in play and he can hit .500 on these in play balls with the downside of striking out 50% of the time when he fails to get it in play he has a .306 batting average (assuming he matches his BABIP of .355 vs. LHP last year). His BA also moves up on AB where he doesn’t attempt to bunt because the infield has to respect this ability. A batting average of .306 is much better than last years .190 BA vs. LHP. I say this is a no brainer. Bunt away.

    Is 40% too high? At 20% we are still talking a BA of .242.

    • David

      Yeah, what HE said. (Stock) 😉

      But I think that bunting is a skill that EDLC should practice and cultivate. Later in his career, Johnny Bench would bunt occasionally, to get on, as the Third baseman was usually playing WAY back.
      It’s situational, but Elly is, by most accounts, a pretty smart young guy. Bunting when right-handed (against a left-hand pitcher, obviously) is actually a pretty good play for someone as fast as EDLC. A left handed pitcher usually falls off to the Third base side of the mound in his follow through, so if you bunt it toward 1st base and the mound, really tough to right himself and field it. I think I recall Norris Hopper had that down to a fine art.
      Cry Havoc! and let loose the feet of EDLC!

  13. ClevelandRedsFan

    To Doug’s point above, there isn’t a lot of data about his bunting prowess. Ultimately, this is a data question. The Reds need to think about it at the at bat level and not bunt in play level.

    For example, I’d look at the following:
    At bat data when bunt attempted vs not attempted.

    If the numbers all come back negative when EDLC attempts a bunt in an at bat, then stop bunting or vice versa. If they’re mixed, it’s situational.

    For example, if K% is lower when a bunt is attempted in an at bat, and OPS is lower, then only bunt in rare scenarios. For example, runner on second base and no outs in a tie game. In that scenario, avoiding the strikeout is key. An in play bunt can serve as a sacrifice.
    But, if it’s a tie game in the bottom of the ninth and two outs with the bases empty, don’t bunt.

  14. Jayce

    According to game log, De La Cruz lead off the 5th inning on Saturday with a bases empty bunt single. Continuing with one of these per four games over a whole season would break records.

  15. DaveCT

    By all reports, Elly is a very high aptitude player. So I tend to think he can walk and chew gum at the same time, ie work on his hitting as well as on dropping bunts to get on base as beneficial situations presents themselves. Elly on first wreaks havoc on the souls of opposing pitchers and infielders. It is said some are never the same. This havoc leads to opportunities for hitters behind him. If we willing to let Elly play himself off of shortstop, why not let Elly bunt himself in or out of that option as well?

  16. MBS

    The majority of folks were very happy to see Votto draw walks when he could have been more aggressive at the plate. If OBP is king for a slower JV, then it should be even more so for the fastest man in the sport.

    EDLC doesn’t have to lead the team in bunts, but there are times in a game where a bunted base HIT is exactly what the team needs. We already know that once he’s on base, he can be a nightmare for the other team.

  17. Tampa Red

    It seems that your contention is that the Reds are asking him to bunt more. Is there any evidence that is the case? I saw in interview with him while they were still in Arizona. He talked about bunting and how he wanted to add that skill to his arsenal, not that he was being asked by the Reds to do it. At least, that’s how I took it.

  18. Max

    Reds should demand Elly bunt until he learns to recognize pitches.

  19. Mark A Verticchio

    I don’t know about all this but, why is Steer batting 7th?

  20. Tim

    There is absolutely no better way to improve your ball tracking skills than practicing and implementing bunting. It will help his overall issue with swing and miss and watch his confidence jump with with some success.

  21. LarkinPhillips

    I’m not a weather man, but looking at the radar, it looks like we may actually get this game in before rain moves in. Very surprising to me.

  22. citizen54

    If he had 8 bunts in play and 4 of them were hits then his BABIP would be .500. SSS caveat aside, everyone in the MLB would salivate at the thought of having a BABIP that high. Might not be a bad idea to get him to bunt a little more.

  23. Old-school

    I would keep things simple for Elly

    Learn plate discipline in the 7/8 hole and play SS every day and get better there.

    Rinse and repeat

    I dont care about him bunting. A ground ball in the hole or high chopper creates the same speed opportunity for an infield single without adding a new skill set. Having played with a guy who bunted a ball up into his mouth and lost teeth… its not worth it. Friedl is a different story. Hes 99% in bunting skill . Elly is below avg

    Allocate your development resources to SS defense and plate discipline and shortening his swing

  24. Matt McWax

    I would not have him bunt much until he is finding his way at the plate. It adds more to the mental demands and I think getting him swinging at strikes and taking balls is first priority. I do like keeping him playing everyday. He can generate a lot of value very quickly and just needs to keep getting experience against the league.

  25. Melvin

    I have no problem with him bunting. So far this year I’ve only seen him do it from the right side. The more he does it the better he’ll be at it and will only help his overall game. He has to be a threat at all times. If he only does it with no outs and nobody on the defense will be waiting every time.

  26. Beaufort Red

    EDLC is becoming a worrisome situation. Strikes out 50% of the time and below average defensively. What to do?

    • Melvin

      Nothing this year. He pretty much has to play SS.

  27. doofus

    They should ask him to learn how to play SS.

  28. Patrick

    Well like others have said he took well to bunting. With his pitch recognition issues watching pitches to bunt them should help him. Because you do not not have to worry about the timing of hitting it is more like catching a ball.

  29. Dave

    The Short Stop experiment should be over and he should be learning to play Right Field. His size, slow first step, blazing full speed, arm strength and decision making all suggest he could be an all star out fielder. Yes, he should learn to bunt and hit the opposite way. He should only hit left handed as well.

  30. Oldtimer

    I remember Vada Pinson bunting for base hits back in the day. I don’t know how many or what his success rate was but he bunted for singles.

  31. IndyDoug

    After last night’s disaster on defense, perhaps a better question is “should the Reds be asking Elly to grab some pine?”

  32. Mike W

    I’ve seen every EDLC AB he has had. Frankly, I think it’s time t give up trying to be a switch hitter and work on improving hitting from 1 side against all pitchers. There is only so much time to practice and dividing it in half (from the L side and R sides) is not working. Spend it all on one side — like 90% of hitters do! I also think his third strike is often by a lot. After 2 strikes, do as Votto did and choke up a bit and increases odds of making contact. If he makes contact with his power and speed I like his odds of getting on base! As for bunting. Keep working on that. In his few # of times of putting the ball in play, he’s hitting .500. If the other team is playing back or shifted over, try to lay one down. If he gets two strikes, choke up. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing and expect different results. He’s only 22 and I think can be a great player. (Not to pile on, but he’s committing an error every other game so far. No more needless glove flips and hurried throws plz). And then there’s our RP’s whose ERA must be approaching 7?! Let’s win today, take 2 of 3 again, and move the Machine on to the next city! Go Reds!

  33. Pablo

    Elly needs a day off, starting this afternoon.

  34. Mike W

    Here’s a thought: when Lodolo and Williamson return, why don’t we try out one starter for 5 innings and another for 4 innings?
    With 7 starters we could do that twice every 5 days. Next time up rotate who started with who followed. This would use all 7 of our hopefully capable starters, and reduce Bell’s inclination to over use our (mediocrely talented) bullpen — which Bell seems to do year after year. Our SPs seem better than our RPs right now.
    So let’s use the hand we’ve been dealt. Just don’t do the same old same old and expect different results. By doing so (and batting Benson 2nd instead of 8th) maybe this will be the first time in his entire career that Bell is even in the Manager of the Year discussion!