Hey, remember bunting? Sure, those silly National League pitchers still do it all the time. But if you're an aficionado of the American League, sometimes it's easy to forget about that particular weapon, so long a favorite of the game's tactical masterminds. But the bunt endures, and Baseball Info Solutions' John Dewan just revealed his choice for baseball's best bunter:
Leonys Martin was the only player to make both lists, and he was near the top of both of them. He finished third in batting average on attempted bunt hits, first in total bunt hits, tied-fourth in sacrifice bunt attempts and tied-first in sacrifice bunt success rate. Combined, Jordan and Logan Schafer can give Martin some stiff competition, but, individually, no one comes close. Leonys Martin is the winner of the Flat Bat Award for 2013.
Hey, congratulations to Leonys Martin. He led the majors with 11 bunt singles! Which is super-exciting!
Unless you remember the good old days. Twenty-four years ago, John Dewan and Don Zminda co-authored the first STATS Baseball Scoreboard book; a few years later, I joined the company and worked on a few of the Scoreboard books. In that first book, Zminda began the tradition, which Dewan continues, of naming the best bunter in the majors. There wasn't yet the FlatBat Award -- I think that might have been my idea, actually -- but we know this: Brett Butler doubled Martin's bunt hits, with 22 ... and Martin's total this year was topped by four others in 1989: Vince Coleman, Jerome Walton, Oddibe McDowell, and broadcasting enthusiast Steve Lyons.
In 1991, Butler finished with 21 bunt hits, but was aced in that category by Otis Nixon's 23.
In 1992, though? Butler jumped to 42 bunt hits; that same season, Kenny Lofton got 32 bunts down for hits. Butler led the majors again in 1993 with 26. But he wasn't the first STATS FlatBat winner. Instead, that honor went to Omar Vizquel, who laid down 13 sacrifice bunts in 15 tries and collected 19 base hits on 20 non-sacrifice bunts in play.
The next two FlatBats went to Lofton and Nixon. At which point I left the company, and history stopped.
Kidding. Somehow they carried on for a few more years without me, and the FlatBat winners over the next five years were Lofton, Vizquel, Vizquel, Vizquel, and Eric Young Sr. in 2000. That year, Martin's 11 bunt hits would have placed fifth in the majors.
Bunting is one of those things people have been saying exactly the same things about for many decades. Twenty years ago, people were saying that bunting was a lost art ... and they were almost certainly saying the same thing 100 years ago. So I'm not going to sit here and tell you that bunting is a lost art. It's not lost. It's merely diminished.
Why? That's hard to say. There probably are fewer Otis Nixon-types in the game, and there have never been many players like Brett Butler. And while this is pure speculation, I do believe that third basemen are more athletic and fearless than they've ever been, willing to set up 45 feet away from the plate. And there's probably a cultural aspect, too; bunting just seems to have gone out of style.
But again, everything's relative. Your definition of "the good old days" probably depends on when you first started scouring the newspapers or (egads) the Internet for box scores. Will bunting ever come back into style? I think there's a better chance of that than complete games coming back. But I'm not holding my breath, either.
Last season, Elvis Andrus led the American League with 16 sacrifice hits and Martin was second, with a dozen. You're probably wondering what the hell Ron Washington was doing. And yes, the Rangers nearly led the league in sacrifice hits ... with 45. The Astros finished with 46. In 1989, the White Sox led the A.L. with 89 sacrifices; 46 would have ranked 11th. There were 727 sacrifice hits in the league that year, or 52 per team. In 2013 there were 31 per team.
Bunting's not dead, or dying. It's just become more and more unpopular.