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The unwritten rules of bunting against a pitcher who is hurt and not good at fielding bunts

CC Sabathia is upset at the Red Sox because they bunted against him. Wait, what?

New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers - Game 3 Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Every year, man. Every year I’m blown away by a new unwritten rule, something I had never considered before. This really is a beautiful sport. A beautiful, dumb sport.

In this episode of the unwritten rules, we have CC Sabathia being mad at the Red Sox and Eduardo Nuñez.

This is not the first time this has happened with Sabathia and the Red Sox.

The issue is that Sabathia is fresh off the DL from a knee injury, and he can’t field his position that well. He thinks it’s “weak” that the Red Sox would take advantage of that.

It just gets you fired up, I mean ... it makes you want to beat them. Obviously I want to win every time I go out there, but even more so.


Swing the bat.

He’s of the opinion that this is an unwritten rule, and I am very much into this question: Is it poor form to bunt against a pitcher who can’t field his position well?

This gets a little complicated when you realize the Yankees had a similar situation in the 2004 ALCS. This is what Google autocompletes for me, even when I search in an incognito window:

It’s been a burning question long enough to jimmy with the search algorithm. The Yankees could have dropped a bunch of bunts down the line, which would have forced Curt Schilling off the mound, which would have put him in danger of slipping on a puddle of ketchup like a clumsy French waiter. This was supposed to be sportsmanship. After the game, when asked about the decision not to bunt, Torre said:

“We don’t play the game that way.”

The Yankees lost the game. They lost the series. They lost the ability to forever troll the Red Sox and their fans about championships. They lost so, so much.

But they did it the right way.

So if we’re going to answer the question, if we’re going to ask ourselves if it’s okay to bunt when a pitcher is physically limited and having a tough time fielding those bunts, I’m going to need your help. I need you to listen to my instructions and follow them exactly.

I’m going to need you to get all the way the hell out of here. Like, seriously, get all of the way out of here. Take this dumb question and bury it under 17 feet of concrete. Get it all of the absolute hell out of here.

I’m so mad at this question.

Consider Jon Lester, who famously didn’t like making pickoff throws to first base. Still doesn’t. If a runner gets a lead that’s too frisky, he’ll step off, but he’ll almost never throw it. I want to stop short of comparing his mental block to an actual, physical injury, but it’s still a limitation that his peers don’t have to deal with. It’s still something beyond his control, something he’d prefer not to deal with if he could fix it.

Hank Conger had a famous case of the catcher-yips in 2015, and opponents were 42 out of 43 against him in stolen bases. The only reason teams weren’t 144 for 145 is because he wasn’t a starter. He’s in Triple-A this year, and opponents are 39 for 45. As long as he’s catching, teams will keep stealing against him.

What about Randal Grichuk, the Center Fielder Who Couldn’t Throw?

The Cardinals were trying ... look, I don’t know what they were trying. But they figured as long as they had the sweet swing of Randal A. Grichuk in the lineup, they could deal with whatever problems his injured arm would cause. It was a calculated risk. The Cubs took advantage. This happened for an entire season with the Astros when Jeff Bagwell was hurt. He couldn’t throw because of a shoulder injury, and runners were hyper-aggressive whenever he fielded the ball.

Absolutely no one took offense to the Cubs taking the extra base against Grichuk. If the Cardinals decided to play me in the outfield, there wouldn’t be an unwritten rule about the other team trying to score on my noodle arm after I’ve fallen down three times. The solution is not to play me because I’m terrible at baseball.

Sabathia is most certainly not terrible at baseball. But he’s terrible at fielding bunts right now, which is definitely a strategy that some hitters will exploit. And they should continue exploiting it.

BATTER: Hey, so, I’ve got this oblique thing, right? Ugh, the worst. So it makes it really, really hard to protect the outside of the plate. It’d really be a favor to me if you could just keep things on the inner half, okay?


BATTER: Thanks, buddy.

RANDY JOHNSON: [throws baseball at batter’s head, forcing him to dive out of the way]

BATTER: ow my oblique

It’s absurd. Sabathia’s main beef almost certainly has to do with the relative unmanliness of the bunt. It’s one thing to take advantage of a player’s injury when you’re running on his arm or feeding him high fastballs, but it’s another thing to mess him up with bunts, which are the province of sprightly ballplayers that nobody likes.

Again, I’m going to need you to get all the way the hell out of here. And when you get there, get the hell out of there, just to make sure. If you can’t do a baseball thing, your team should calculate if it’s an acceptable consequence of you baseballing in the first place.

That’s exactly right. I understand why Sabathia is upset. The bunt makes him think about his knee being bad. His knee being bad makes him think about the twilight of his career. The twilight of his career makes him think about the aging process. The aging process makes him think about how everything he has ever seen, everyone he has ever known, will crumble into dust and get swallowed up by the universe. It’s heavy stuff!

But, really, field your position or don’t. It’s not that difficult of a concept, and it sure as heck isn’t an unwritten rule.