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Thursday, September 22, 2011
Baseball's bunting fiends

By Christina Kahrl

While doing research for today’s piece on Ron Roenicke, a few fun items came my way that weren’t Brewers- or postseason-centric. Thanks to Doug Kern and the gang at Stats & Info, I was given a leaderboard for which position players have been bunting the most, how many of them have led to base hits, and even who has the most sac bunt RBIs this season.

Keep in mind, this is sorted by bunt attempts, not successful sac bunts, so the nine guys who have attempted to bunt the most often are not always the same guys who lead the league in successful sac hits.

The other thing to remember is that the tally of plate appearances where a hitter has laid one down include bunting for base hits and bunting to advance runners, so when you see that Juan Pierre’s 16-for-32, that means he has 16 bunt singles, but doesn’t necessarily mean he was trying to bunt for a hit 32 times. And because this was fairly quick and dirty, we didn’t tease out ROE results. However gritty the info, it’s interesting for the sense it gives us of which players are dropping one down most frequently, and what this also tells us about the managers they play for.

Looking at the top nine of baseball’s bunting fiends, we lead off with the White Sox’s Pierre, just like they do. Looking at these totals, he’s clearly the class of the little man’s game when it comes to placing pitches up the lines and around the mound. It has always been a centerpiece of his game, with the attending results in base hits, runs driven in and what some refer to as productive outs.

It’s worth noting that Pierre doesn’t just lead all position players in sac bunts, but all the pitchers as well. You can take that as a reminder of one of those pesky facts that NL-brand fans don’t often care to cite -- that you’ll usually find AL managers bunting more often with the people who can actually hit for a living, and not just with pitchers because what else can you do with them? This year’s team that has gotten the most sac bunts from its hitters? Ned Yost’s Royals squad. Between his fellow former Brewer Alcides Escobar (with a remarkable 17 sacrifices in 21 attempts) and Getz, it’s enough to make you wonder if Yost misses managing in Milwaukee.

Between Pierre and Getz you’ve got a group of guys who actively attempt to bunt for base hits: The Marlins’ Emilio Bonifacio and the Angels’ infield assault duo of Eric Aybar and Peter Bourjos. You can probably also put the token Twin on the list, Alexi Casilla, in this category as well. Ron Gardenhire might not have Nick Punto, and whatever value designated bench bunter Matt Tolbert has seems to have dried up after 2009, but Gardenhire's past fascination with the bunt still found an outlet with Casilla this season.

The pair of playoff-bound bunters should get some additional attention, despite the tactic’s associations with White Sox and Royals and Twins. The Yankees’ Gardner isn’t just an OBP hero and everybody’s favorite underrated Yankee (if that isn’t automatically oxymoronic), he’s also someone equally adept at pushing bunts for base hits or to move runners up. That’s something he has in common with Rangers speedster Elvis Andrus; if you remember the impact Andrus had within last year’s ALCS on both sides of the ball, this is just one piece of his value as far as being able to push sac bunts and base hits and exploit his speed to good effect.

For the curious, the best bunting pitchers in terms of raw numbers are the Phillies’ Roy Halladay and the Nats’ Livan Hernandez. Where Doc’s really only had two years to work on his craft, he’s already come fairly far as a pitcher capable of helping his own cause, ripping his first two career extra-base hits when he isn’t laying one down. Livan owns a career .528 OPS as a hitter (probably good enough to put him in the Twins’ infield), but bunting’s just another component in his batsmanship.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.