Red Sox pregame notes: Bunting back in vogue?; Koji Uehara’s struggles; no rotation shuffling
|05.06.14 at 7:51 pm ET|
News flash: The Red Sox have laid down just two sacrifice bunts this year, second-fewest in the majors. They are on pace to lay down 10 sacrifice bunts, their fewest ever.
But that’s not by design.
The Red Sox have been unsuccessful in some sacrifice bunt attempts — most notably on Sunday, when Jackie Bradley Jr. couldn’t advance a runner on two occasions in which he was called upon to do so by bunt — but they plan to keep trying. Their offensive outlook has altered from what it was a decade ago.
It was not so long ago that the Red Sox viewed the idea of a sacrifice bunt with disdain. Terry Francona spoke often of his reluctance to give away outs, and he managed with similar resolve, as the 2004 Red Sox dropped just 12 successful sacrifice bunts (the third fewest of any team in a full season since 2000) and the 2005 team used the strategy on just 13 occasions (tied for fourth fewest).
But times have changed.
The team — which laid down 24 successful sacrifice bunts last year — will employ the situation more than it did a decade ago, for an obvious reason. In 2014, teams entered Tuesday averaging 4.22 runs and 0.9 home runs per game. In 2004, teams averaged 4.81 runs and 1.12 homers per game.
So, homers are down roughly 20 percent from a decade ago while runs are down about 12 percent. With fewer runs being scored, and a lower percentage coming by way of the home run, some teams are more open to the idea of moving a runner into scoring position as an offensive strategy than they might have been a decade ago. Managers will no longer live and die waiting for a longball.
Don’t expect the 2014 Red Sox to go the way of their 1917 predecessors, who dropped 317 sacrifices. But the Sox believe that the value of a bunt to move up runners by 90 feet may have more value than it did even in the recent past.
“If you look at runs scored overall, they’re down across the board. Manufactured runs, the way the game is intended to be played, probably comes back into vogue and is needed a little bit more. Does that give you reason to manufacture runs? In my mind, yes, it does,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “It doesn’t discard or eliminate the value of an out. That’s to be clear. But as the game has come back to its, the way, the one-dimensional offensive guy is not so much in the game anymore, there are situations where you’ve got to manufacture a little bit more.”
The decision to have Bradley bunt came as something of a surprise given that Bradley had been among the most successful Red Sox hitter with runners in scoring position prior to Sunday. Yet Farrell said that his decision was more complex than a look at a single situational statistical line for one of his players.
“You always walk through the same thought process of the matchup being one, is there any personal history in a matchup, the matchup being the first and foremost thing, where are we in a game, what’s the score in a given spot and then, ultimately, do you factor in continuing to build confidence of a young player? In a matter of 12 seconds, you determine whether you’re going to bunt or not,” said Farrell in explaining why he had Bradley bunt. “There’s about four things that you consider and you trust the information that you have at hand and continue on. I think the biggest thing would be, if you’re all over the map, changing just because of the direction the wind is blowing, then players aren’t going to follow the thought or anticipate what might be coming up.
“[With the decision to have Bradley bunt] it’s also looking at the matchup of [A’s reliever Francisco Abad] on the mound at a given time, a left-handed reliever, and the way we had seen, particularly in Game 1, how he had attacked some of our left-handers, the way Jackie has handled some left-handers as well. Those are all part of what goes through your mind leading up to that. Even before Jackie got on deck, it was, ‘Hey, this is a head’s up that this may be coming here.’ Part of what a player has done [with runners in scoring position], yeah, there’s a quick reference to that, but it’s more of a mental note rather than looking at a hard number.”
OTHER RED SOX NOTES
— With Monday having marked the first of three off-days for the Red Sox in an eight-day span, the team toyed with the idea of changing their rotation order this week. But with the team slated to play on 22 of 23 days coming out of next weekend’s series against the Rangers, the Sox decided to keep everyone on turn, even if it meant that some of their starters would be pitching with six full days of rest between starts.
“Pitching on the seventh day can sometimes be an effect, but given what we’ve got coming up after these off-days, the run we’ll go on with fewer available days to us we thought it was best to keep guys on turn, give them rest and with the number of innings our starters have already thrown, this comes at a good time,” Farrell said of the off days.
— Koji Uehara has been uncharacteristically human of late, allowing two runs on six hits (two homers) and two walks in his last 4 2/3 innings. But Farrell said there was no cause for alarm, no physical ailment (including the shoulder tenderness that had him briefly shut down in mid-April) that had caused his struggle.
“Maybe a little bit uncharacteristic of the overall efficiency. He threw some quality pitches that might’ve been on the edge, but I think we’re also seeing a guy that’s come to the point that the physical ailment he’s dealt with, he has come through fine physically and I think he’s just looking to get back to the consistency that he’s shown for so long,” said Farrell. “We’re also comparing it to a guy that’s all worldly in his performance. And confident he’ll get back to a level similar to that.”