I’m sure this will be a hotly debated topic over the next 24 hours, and of course I have something to say. Here’s the scene. The Twins have just scored 2 runs in the bottom of the 7th inning to tie the score at 3, and they have runners on 1st and 2nd with one out. Up comes Joe Mauer and his near .300 batting average. The chance to take the lead is very high… and instead Mauer bunts the ball right in front of home plate. The end result became a sacrifice bunt, and Jason Kubel, who was up next, would ground out to 1st to end the inning.
As soon as Mauer was retired at first base, there was only one thought in my mind. I think Mauer was weighing two options in his head: bunt the runners over, or risk grounding into an inning-ending double play.
Avoiding the double play has been tough for Mauer in 2010. He’s already grounded into 17 double plays this year. According to FanGraphs, about 45% of his batted balls are hit on the ground. That’s right, nearly half of his batted balls are grounders. Even with his hitting prowess, I have to think that Mauer knew that he was a prime candidate to end the inning. Therefore, he dropped down the bunt. By itself, this was probably the right move, even though we know that a grounder from Mauer is not automatically an out. Maybe that bouncer would have found a hole between the shortstop and third baseman, or maybe it would have been a 4-6-3 double play.
However, there are two interesting things to note. Unless the scoring decision changes, Mauer was not credited with a sacrifice bunt on this play, even though he moved up the runners. Apparently the official scorer felt that Mauer was attempting to bunt for a base hit. This would mean that Mauer was still trying to get a hit, but he wanted to avoid the double play, and it’s awfully tough to double up a runner on a bunt.
Unfortunately, Mauer’s bunt didn’t even make it out of the dirt circle around home plate, and it was easy for catcher Carlos Santana to throw out Mauer at first. This brought up Kubel, who has only hit .247/.336/.392 against lefthanders this year. To be honest, that batting average isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but it’s still worse than Mauer’s line against LHP this season (.266/.329/.391).
You might be thinking, Wait, what? How is Kubel’s triple slash worse than Mauer’s? Well…I assumed it would be worse, and with the exception of batting average, I was wrong. This season, Kubel’s actually been better than Mauer against lefthanded pitching. But, there’s no argument against their career numbers versus LHP.
Jason Kubel: .243/.321/.366
Joe Mauer: .305/.368/.407
Much better. Even though Kubel and Mauer have faired pretty evenly against southpaws this year, it’s no contest when you compare their career numbers. Chalk me up for being in the “Mauer’s bunt was a bad idea” boat.