Baseball is a game that's constantly evolving. Offense ebbs and flows, ballparks come and go, and trends emerge and fade into nothingness. Perhaps the most notable trend going on in baseball at the moment is the rise of strikeouts in recent seasons. However, it is not the only development in the game worthy of our consideration. Another part of the game's evolution that you may or may not be aware of is the precipitous drop in bunting league wide over the last few years. In fact, 2013 saw the fewest number of sacrifice bunts in any of the last 50 seasons-not including those shortened by strikes- with only 1383 on the year.
The rise of sabermetrics has led to a much more negative take on bunting by front offices, managers and also the type of fans who read Beyond the Box Score. If you are reading this article right now, there is a fairly good chance you are more or less anti-bunt. However, this piece does not pertain to the value of the bunt, or whether "to bunt or not to bunt" is a discussion worth having. There are those who believe that the sacrifice bunt is an essential part of a manager's figurative tool belt and those who are of the opinion that a bunt is a colossal, unforgivable, and borderline immoral squandering of an out. We've been down the road to such a debate before and that way, madness lies.
Today, I bring to your attention a man who has decided to spit in the face of baseball trends. A man, who despite his youth, has decided to be a throwback player in an era that heaps scorn upon bunters everywhere. I'm speaking, of course, of Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus. Elvis Andrus has been a consistently below average offensive player in his five year career, but there has been one area where he has dominated the leaderboards: laying down the bunt. The following chart shows the top ten sacrifice bunters among position players since Andrus entered the league in 2009:
Juan Pierre is the only other player even close to Andrus here, as he stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to giving himself up. Some of Andrus's lead in this category relates to his durability, but health is a skill and staying off the DL and in the lineup every day is the only way to accumulate truly special numbers.
Although Andrus shows an aptitude when it comes to volume bunting, the question must be asked as to how efficient he is at the lost art. The following sortable chart compares him to the other big time bunters listed above when it comes to success with both the sacrifice bunt and bunt hit attempts over the same five year span:
|Player||SAC Bunts||SAC Bunt Success Rate||Bunt Hits||Bunt Hit Success Rate|
Among these bunting leaders Andrus ranks 5th in SAC bunt success rate and 4th in bunt hit success rate showing that it's volume rather than efficiency that makes him special. He clearly has some bunting chops, but it's not like he's an absolute wizard.
In a league that is veering towards a three true outcome dominated game, one man is launching a personal assault on that style of play. Elvis Andrus is a speedy, glove-first shortstop and in that sense he fits into a very common baseball archetype. Alternatively, he is laying down the sacrifice bunt at a rate that is incredibly uncommon rate in today's game. Perhaps he is compelled by a profound undying altruism that makes him feel the need to give himself up for the good of his teammates. Perhaps his motivation lies in an anarchistic desire to shake up the baseball establishment. Perhaps he's just a guy who's not much of a threat offensively with some wheels to whom bunting comes naturally. Whatever the case may be, Elvis Andrus is a pretty unique man in modern baseball, a true lone ranger.
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Nick Ashbourne is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.