Odegard: Swinging away at silliness of the sacrifice - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Odegard: Swinging away at silliness of the sacrifice

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Posted: Saturday, April 9, 2011 7:17 pm | Updated: 3:59 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Let’s begin with full disclosure: I never played high school baseball, and I haven’t coached a game in my life. If given the reins of a team for a season, I would undoubtedly make dozens of mistakes.

With that out of the way, my question: Why do high school coaches sacrifice bunt?

I don’t mean early in games, or late in games, with one out or zero outs.

Save for extreme situations — a tie game with a runner on second in the seventh inning, for instance — why do coaches use the sacrifice bunt at all?

Between aluminum bats, shaky fielding and unrefined pitching, high school baseball is an offensive game. The last thing a team should do is give away one of its 21 outs, even if it successfully moves a runner forward one base.

The majority of the coaches I talked to actually agreed.

“I don’t like giving up outs,” Hamilton coach Mike Woods said. “With aluminum bats like they are, the ground hard as a rock, it doesn’t seem to be a high-percentage play. That’s how I do it. Other teams use it more often, but (Wednesday) was the first one I’ve called all year.”

Even Skyline coach Michael Johnson, who takes pride in using “small ball” tactics to put pressure on the defense, doesn’t like the idea.

“When you can get a single — or even a double for that matter — off the skinny part of the bat, no lead is safe,” he said. “A sacrifice bunt is exactly what it says. You are sacrificing an out, and it’s wasted.”

Some still prefer the small-ball method. Former Chaparral coach Jerry Dawson was famous for using sacrifice bunts with great frequency, and others follow the blueprint.

“We definitely use it,” Highland coach Scott Cook said. “It’s definitely a part of our game. You put yourself in position to score some runs.”

While sacrifices may improve the prospects of scoring a lone run, it decreases the likelihood of the big inning.

Let’s use Basha as an example. Heading into Friday’s game against Mountain View, the Bears were a perfectly average 10-10 overall and 5-6 in power point games. Many teams in 5A Division I are better and many are worse.

On the season, Basha has scored 139 runs in 20 games, or just a hair under seven per contest. While some games go to extra innings and some are cut shorter than the standard seven innings, it’s fair to say Basha averages around one run per inning.

Think about it: An average 5A-I team scores one run per inning.

Why then, would a team trade an out to move the player up to second base, when getting the leadoff man on base already boosted the chances of a big inning? Isn’t playing for a single run setting the bar low?

“I’ve talked to a lot of coaches, and when you play seven-inning games, their goal is to try to get one run each inning,” Corona del Sol coach Dave Webb said. “They do bunt early in games, and that’s their mentality. But I would play for the big inning. If you look at games, one team will often score more runs in one inning than other team scores in the whole game.”

For Cook, it depends on the makeup of his team. If he has guys that can hit for power, he is less likely to sacrifice bunt. But if his team can’t slug, he will do what he can to manufacture runs.

“If you don’t have a guy that’s going to hit doubles, you need to do something to move those hitters along,” he said.

And that’s where we disagree. If a player is at first base with nobody out, chances are he’ll make it to second before the inning’s over, whether it’s because of the batters behind him, a wild pitch or stolen base.

Instead of giving up the out to get him to second, save it. The player could score anyway. May as well not spent an out accomplishing it.

“I don’t like to do it,” Horizon coach Eric Kibler said. “You are giving up one of your 21 outs, so it better be really productive. I’d definitely rather steal the base.

For the “small ball” enthusiasts, here’s a compromise: If bunting is a must with a man on first, try to bunt for a hit. Don’t show it early and do it at unorthodox times. The best-case scenario is that runner advances and an out isn’t used. More often than not, it will act in the same way as a traditional sacrifice, but will make it a tougher play for the defenders because of the element of surprise.

“A lot of time that ball ends up in right field and you get more than what you would have if you hit it,” Cook said. “If you lay down a good bunt, it’s a tough play to make.”

In the scheme of things, the decision of when and how often to sacrifice bunt is often insignificant. It may mean the difference of only a few runs during the season and may only affect the outcome of one game.

But when your best hitter stands helplessly in the on-deck circle when a game ends because too many outs were given away earlier, don’t blame me.

I told you not to do it.

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