That is the question that a lot of people were throwing around last night after Nolan Reimold hustled out a leadoff double in the top of the ninth inning. Nick Markakis came up and fouled out to the left side to begin a string of three straight weak outs while Reimold stood helplessly at second.
Should Dave Trembly have thrown convention to the wind and ordered Markakis to bunt Reimold over to third?
I'm sure the thought crossed just about everybody's mind, as it did mine. The Orioles have been pretty good at getting guys on base -- great, in fact, last night, when they had 17 baserunners -- but they have been frustratingly inept at bringing key runs home in clutch situations.
Don't talk to me about the hitting coach. If you average just under two baserunners an inning (last night), the hitting coach probably did his job. I'm sure we'd all like Terry Crowley to also be a psychiatrist or a hypnotherapist capable of installing the right mindset in pressure situations, but he's a hitting coach. He helps guys get hits and get on base by adjusting their mechanics and coaching them on their approach against individual pitchers. The ability to handle pressure and execute strategy comes from within.
Back to the situation at hand. If Markakis had bunted Reimold over, I certainly wouldn't have complained about it, but it looks like a much smarter move right now because we already know the O's came up empty in a situation where they should have gotten a key run that might have won the game.
Markakis is paid to produce runs and he is not an accomplished bunter. The notion that everyone can and should be able to bunt is nice in theory, but the fact is that players work on the stuff they are expected to do in the role they are in. That's why pitchers generally don't hit well, even though there is nothing stopping them from going out in the afternoon and taking extra hitting practice every day. They tend to concentrate on being good pitchers, just as your middle-of-the-order guys tend to concentrate on (in a perfect world) being disciplined at the plate and driving the ball.
In this case, there are two sets of probabilities to consider -- the probability of Markakis getting the bunt down successfully and the probability of the batters behind him scoring the runner from third base. Since Luke Scott has been struggling lately, I believe the Orioles had a better chance of scoring the run with Markakis trying to get a hit in that situation. It would have been nice if he had pulled the ball and created the possibility of moving the runner over that way, but you've got to give the pitcher a little credit there for preventing that.
When you talk about bunting, you also have to consider the downside. Markakis could have bunted and gotten Reimold thrown out at third. The notion that everyone should be able to get a bunt down also is great in theory, but it just isn't realistic, so you have to play the percentages. Obviously, if Cesar Izturis or Felix Pie is up and Markakis is on deck, it's a totally different equation.
There's also one other consideration. If Markakis bunts and Scott hits the sacrifice fly, does one run win the ballgame? Probably, but the Twins had the heart of their order coming up in the bottom of the ninth and the Orioles bullpen -- though effective the past week or so -- is no sure thing. If you concede me that run under those circumstances, I definitely would take it and take my chances with Jim Johnson there, but when you factor in all of the probabilities that come into play at the time you make the decision to bunt or not to bunt, I think Markakis has to swing away.
There's certainly room for debate on this, so fire away.