Ron Washington defending bunting is one of the surest signs of spring. It's becoming a bit of an annual tradition, really, and when one writer in the Rangers' press corps asked what the deal was with all of the bunting in the team's early drills, Washington delivered with a goldmine of colorful quotes.
Writers questioning Washington's decision-making is nothing new. Washington defending his decision-making with a few FCC-finable phrases is also nothing new. But it's early in spring training, there isn't a lot to talk about yet, so when Washington goes on one of his pro-bunting crusades, our ears are going to perk up.
Washington's response to the question, courtesy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
"I think if they try to do that, they’re going to be telling me how to [bleep] manage … That’s the way I answer that [bleep] question. They can take the analytics on that and shove it up their [bleep][bleep]."
Mike Scioscia dropped 56 sacrifice bunts on his club, the most in the league, and he’s a genius … But Ron Washington dropped 53 and he’s bunting too much? You can take that analytics and shove it.
I do it when I feel it’s necessary, not when the analytics feel it’s necessary, not when you guys feel it’s necessary, and not when somebody else feels it’s necessary. It’s when Ron Washington feels it’s necessary. Bottom line."
Washington is a little off in his numbers — Texas actually had more sac bunts last season than the Angels, 45 to 37 according to Baseball Reference — but the point he was trying to make was "Everyone thinks Scioscia's a genius, why doesn't anyone grill him for his bunts?" To which the best response is probably "Everyone's been saying Scioscia bunts too much for 10 years," but whatever.
It's always a little problematic to just look at the grand total of bunts, since there are times when it's a beneficial move, despite all of the binary "BUNTING IS EVIL" rhetoric. The issue is when Washington is calling for these bunts and who he's using to do it. A quick Google search brings up articles and blog posts on Washington's bunt tendencies in 2012, including one where Elvis Andrus seemed to be confused by it after laying down three bunts in one game:
"That was a lot, a lot, a lot of bunting … I kind of wonder if that was a record for sacrifices."
Andrus has been Washington's favorite bunting toy. For two years running, Andrus has led all of baseball in sacrifice bunts. In 2013, the Rangers actually had TWO players in the top six for sac bunts, with Andrus bunting 16 times and Leonys Martin putting down 12. Three of the other four were pitchers. The only other non-pitcher, Zack Cozart, was managed by Dusty Baker.
Since debuting in 2009, Andrus has racked up 78 sacrifice bunts, leading the AL three times. Baseball Reference has him at 7th among active bunting leaders. The average service time of those ahead of him on the list is over 15 years. Andrus has played five. And three of the players ahead of him on the list — Roy Oswalt, Jerry Hairston and Ryan Dempster — recently retired and haven't been removed from the active leaders lists yet. The Rangers are paying Andrus $6.475 million this year. His 8-year, $118 million extension kicks in next season. And the Rangers are using him to bunt more often than most National League pitchers.
Washington says he's leaning on the bunting because the Rangers have issues getting runners home, especially when they have runners in scoring position with less than two outs. Of Andrus' 16 bunts last season, 10 came when a runner was already in scoring position. Of the Rangers' 45 bunts as a team, 29 came with runners in scoring position.
Logic would say if you're having trouble scoring before making three outs in an inning, perhaps you should avoid intentionally giving up one of those outs when a runner is already in scoring position. That's not analytics. That's common sense.