M's bunting their way to first place?

April, 22, 2009
4/22/09
12:42
PM ET
Near the end of a curiously long post that's about other stuff, Posnanski drops this on us:
    Well, the Seattle Mariners have NINE sacrifice bunts in 14 games -- that would put them on pace for more than 100 sacrifices this season. For the record, the Minnesota Twins led the American League last year with 52 sacrifice hits.

    The last American League team to even have more than 70 sacrifice hits in a season was the 1993 Boston Red Sox with 80. Butch Hobson managed that team ... and that was one bunting ballclub. John Valentin (16), Tony Pena (13) and Billy Hatcher (11) all were in the Top 10 in sacrifices.

    The last American League team to actually top 100 sacrifices in a season was the 1982 California Angels, managed by the bunting man himself, Gene Mauch. Tim Foli alone had 26 sacrifice hits that year, and Bob Boone added 23 more. Those Angels won 93 games and won the American League West.

    Even though I mostly despise the sacrifice bunt in the American League, and even though I tend to think that giving away that many outs will hurt the Mariners in the long run, I have to admit I like this. It's bold. One of my key beliefs in sports is that it's more important to have A PLAN than it is to have A GOOD PLAN. In other words, I think there are many different ways to win if you can get players to follow the blueprint and believe in the direction and execute at a high level. The Seattle Mariners were horrendous last year. Most people - including me - figured they would be horrendous this year. But they have gotten off to a nice start by playing insane outfield defense and getting absurd pitching from Jarrod Washburn and manufacturing runs.

    Who am I to say it can't work for the whole year?

I didn't figure the Mariners would be horrendous; I had them going 77-85, which would be real good for a club that finished 61-101 just a few months ago. The Mariners, I figured, would have to get more this season from their catchers and their first basemen and their DH's, and also from their bench. I also figured that Carlos Silva couldn't possibly be as awful as he was last year, and that Erik Bedard would probably start more than 15 games.

I didn't figure the Mariners would set some sort of modern record for sacrifice bunts. Here's the thing, though ... I might study the matter and conclude that bunting 100 times -- rather than, say, 40 times -- might cost the Mariners 20 runs over the course of the season, which is essentially two wins. Now, if I was right about the M's being a 77-win team, they've now become a 75-win team, which would still represent a big improvement over last year's disaster. And would thus seem to validate the efficacy of all that bunting.

But wait a minute. Let's run this thought experiment off the rails. What if I was wrong about the M's? What if I was three games off, and they're fundamentally an 80-win team? And what if this 80-win team catches a few breaks worth another five wins? Now they're an 85-win team, and even if you take away two for all those bunts you've still got 83 wins and you know what? In the American League West, 83 wins might be enough.

And suddenly Don Wakamatsu is a certifiable genius.

So, yeah. It can work for the whole year. Even if it doesn't, really.

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