The art of the bunt, from unlikely artists

Todd Helton — Three career sacrifice bunts.

Brad Hawpe — Two.

Garrett Atkins — Zero.

Seth Smith — Eight in the Minors.

Yet at the end of Saturday’s rather lengthy workout (I didn’t time it, but it seemed long), all of the Rockies were taking turns bunting. And manager Clint Hurdle watched everyone intently. Multiple coaches offered tips to players.

The emphasis would seem odd. The Rockies play at Coors Field, where giving up outs seems a worse idea than other places because the park gives up so many runs. The Rockies have tried that strategy, with mixed results. They had 97 sac bunts in 2004 and 88 in 2005, yet won 73 and 67 games. They had 88 in their World Series year of 2007. The difference was in ’04 and ’05, the club had multiple position players with more bunts than any pitcher. In ’07, pitchers Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis were the far-and-away leaders.

So does this mean they’re headed back to the era of the Blake Street Bunters?

Not necessarily.

That’s not to say some folks who haven’t squared much will be doing so. After all, some of the ideas Hurdle has kicked around for a lineup involve Smith or Helton batting second in the order. That spot can come up at times the team is playing for one run. Also, last season the Rockies had such difficulty with runners in scoring position and in situations when they could have used a productive out that maybe the sac bunt could be a positive.

But the larger issue here is someone, or a few someones, must be able to execute the play. Therefore, it must be important to everyone, so all must work on it.

Before Spring Training, Atkins mentioned that the difference between an execution-oriented Minor League camp and most Major League camps, which often emphasize individualized work, is there are more skills that an entire team practices at once. This was one of those times for the Rockies, who did little tasks so well in ’07 and were awful at them in ’08.

Smith, for instance, looked out of place early in the drill but finished up with much cleaner fundamentals. Hurdle called him the “comeback bunter of the day” and lauded him for being mad enough at himself to immediately seek improvement.

Essentially, the philosophy is every weakness is important enough to improve. If a player sees his teammate addressing a shortcoming, how can he not address his own?

“I’m finding out who’s in a good place already and who can we isolate, that we’ve got some catch-up work to do with,” Hurdle said. “It’s something we’ve talked about. All of them need to be able to do it. Now, whether they’ll be asked or how many times, i don’t know that. But the focus is going to be on it.

“With that group setting, it’s helped us maintain. Everybody’s watching everybody else. I had a couple of guys help me out, saying, ‘Hey, so-and-so needs some work,’ because they’re working with them throughout the day.”

Helton dropped attempted more sac bunts during one turn in the batter’s box Saturday than he’s dropped in the Majors and Minors combined (seven), and he took more than one turn. Helton didn’t find it a waste of time at all.

“Every team bunts in Spring Training and goes over every fundamental — you never know when you’re going to be called to do it,” said Helton, who added that executing the bunt is a prerequisite for anyone who picks up a bat and calls himself a professional.

– Luis A. Gonzalez, a one-time starting second baseman who is returning to the Rockies as a non-roster player, has not arrived from Venezuela. Hurdle said he is taking cae of a family matter that arose, and the club is allowing him the time he needs.

5 Comments

I think it’s great Hurdle is really focusing on the fundamentals and team leaders like Helton are showing how it’s done even if it may be the last thing he has to do in the regular season. The Rockies last season did leave so many runners on it was seeminlgy contagious with no sure cure. If they can get back to the ’07 mentality of by any means to get those stranded runs there could be a large outcome in the number of games won and lost.
Tom
http://rockymountainway.mlblogs.com

I remember reading that Hurdle was going to instill fundamentals back into the team… probably an article that you wrote. What I liked hearing from you is that it sounds like Hurdle is pushing the players for team stats and not individual ones. So often, players often play for themselves, to push their own stats, and it’s great to see a change coming from my favorite team.
Emily
http://deconstructingthoughts.mlblogs.com/

It seems players are taking to this emphasis. It helps that the majority of the players came through the Minor Legaue system and did similar work before arriving in the bigs. It lessens the chance of players saying, “We didn’t stay out on the field this long bunting when I played for …” As long as this continues through the season, albeit in a less physically taxing way, and players hold one another accountable, it could result in wins.

I have a few thoughts on the bunting. First of all its a basic fundamental and obviously you want your team to all be able to but if the situation called for it. Also as a manager you want to know the abilities of all your players to execute those bunts. Another reason for the bunting is that it is a great way to get use to seeing the ball to the bat again. It forces players to pick up the release point, rotation, and watch the ball all the way to the bat while not having to work on the mechanics of hitting. Finally there is the fact that every spring that he has been in charge Hurdle takes one “small ball” aspect of the game and forces every player to focus on it. Last year was base running which was very good last year, one of the only bright spots for the team last year. If a few more well executed buts can give us one extra run, lets just say every week, which is not out of the realm of possibility that will mean roughly 28 more runs which could win at least a few more games. It doesn’t hurt to work on the little things to improve your team.

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