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Baseball 101: Your Questions

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St Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Baseball 101 is an ongoing series from The Good Phight’s Allie Foster that breaks down some of the multifaceted aspects of baseball for those fans who might not be as familiar with the ins and outs of the game. In this eleventh edition, she answers some of your questions. You can read other entries here.

Why aren’t more hitters doing what Matt Carpenter did and bunting?

This is a great question. I’ve been saying for a very long time that players need to start taking advantage of the crazy shifts they get like that. Either learn to smack the ball the other way or lay down a bunt.

But the truth of the matter is, bunting is super hard. It’s especially hard when you’re trying to place the ball in a specific direction or put it a certain distance away from the plate.

With a normal sacrifice bunt, the hitter squares their body to the plate well before the pitch comes, setting themselves up in a good position to place the ball where they want it. Hitters can change the angle of the bat to determine which direction they want the ball to go. (Though the bat should always be angled down so the ball goes directly to the ground, right Max Scherzer?) Once the bat is in the right spot, all they have to do is let the pitch hit it. The runner trying to advance will expect the ball to be in play and will be running on contact, so whoever fields it, be it the pitcher, catcher, or one of the corner infielders, will theoretically only have one play to make and will go for the easy out at first. Getting yourself out at first base is still a success for a sacrifice bunt, as long as your teammate reached their next base safely.

When bunting for a hit, though, that strategy changes. The hitter isn’t trying to advance another runner, they’re trying to catch the defense off guard and steal a hit that the other team isn’t expecting. Because a normal bunt is an easy out, bunting for a hit needs to be sneaky. That means no squaring up to the pitch early and no pre-setting the bat in the perfect position. There’s a brief window of time, fractions of a second, where the hitter needs to turn their body, set their bat, hope the pitch is hittable in the first place, and make the right contact in order to succeed. With so many moving parts, it’s an incredibly difficult task to accomplish.

Can you please explain the rationale of having a pitcher hitting 8th and a position player hitting 9th?

I want to preface this answer by saying that I hate when teams do this and I disagree with the thought behind it. HOWEVER, there is some strategy behind it that makes a little bit of sense.

Typically the pitcher bats ninth because they’re the weakest hitter in the lineup. With nine players in the lineup, the spot that’s going to see the least amount of plate appearances is going to be the last one. Logistically, it makes sense to put the weakest hitter in the spot where they’re going to see the least amount of plate appearances.

But the problem with baseball is that the batting order isn’t a linear thing, it’s circular. After the ninth spot bats, the top of the order comes back around. Players at the top of the lineup are usually the best at getting on base, which gives the hitters behind them the opportunity to hit them in. That relies on a multitude of things to go right, though. The top of the line up has to get on base and the middle of the lineup has to knock them in, all with less than three outs if the pitcher assumedly has already been unsuccessful in their plate appearance in the inning. So the question becomes how the manager can strategically plan the bottom of the order to maximize the lineup and potentially add depth and create more scoring chances for the team.

Following the logic that the ninth spot sees the least amount of plate appearances, the eighth spot sees the second-least amount of plate appearances. By moving the pitcher up one, the manager can increase the likelihood that their best hitters- those at the top of the order- will come up to the plate with someone on base ahead of them. That increases the team’s potential to score runs.

The potential reward is small, but then again so is the risk.

What happened to small ball?

It’s funny you ask this question. We’ve all heard the theory that Major League baseballs are juiced, leading to more home runs than ever before. The MLB record is 6,105 home runs hit in a single year, set in 2017. Meanwhile there have already been 3,003 home runs hit this year and the season isn’t even halfway over yet. Those numbers seem to support the theory that the balls are somehow different this year, though there hasn’t been much scientific investigation into the accusation.

Perhaps the baseballs have been manufactured differently, which is why more home runs are being hit than ever before. It could certainly be a factor.

But the disappearance of the small ball game could also be because of the way teams are approaching the offensive side of the game. Power hitters are really good at what they do, even without “juiced” balls, and Major League Baseball seems to have an abundance of them. General managers are taking advantage of that and stocking their rosters with multiple guys who can launch the ball really far very often. Managers are taking advantage of the new structure of their rosters and strategically ordering their lineup to maximize those players’ skills.

I don’t understand why so many people find bat flipping offensive.

Me neither, man.

Baseball has a lot of “unwritten rules.” Some make sense, like not stealing a base when your team is up by a ridiculous amount of runs late in the game. Others are straight up stupid, like not bunting to break up a no-hitter.

Most of the rules revolve around having respect for the game and your opponents. According to SOME (old, cranky and no-fun) fans, bat flips cross the line into being disrespectful towards the opposition.

My opinion? Bat flips are heckin’ fun, just like home run celebrations. People don’t want to tune into the game and watch their favorite player look bored as he rounds the bases. They want to tune in to see his personality and emotion. They want excitement and entertainment and nothing is more entertaining than a good bat flip. For a sport that often receives flak from non-fans for being “boring” one of the best things it can do is celebrate when exciting things do happen.

And as Rhys Hoskins said: If you don’t want the opposition to celebrate, don’t give up the homer.