On Buster And Bunting

September 2nd

                      Surprise!  Buster’s here!

                      The Giants said all summer they wouldn’t bring Buster Posey up to the majors this season, but as John Lennon so aptly wrote in “Beautiful Boy,” “Life’s what happens to you, while you’re busy making other plans.” 

                      Buster Posey and John Lennon in the same blog.  Now I’ve jumped the shark.

                     Posey’s arrival was prompted by the lingering injury to Bengie Molina.  Some in the Giants organization might want to use the world “malingering” instead of “lingering.”  There are rumblings that the Giants aren’t too pleased with the speed of Bengie’s recovery from a quad injury during a pennant race

                     The Giants should know Bengie doesn’t do anything with speed.  He has missed seven straight games, and the Giants had to make a move.  Maybe it worked.  Molina expects to return Thursday.

                    Molina must be aware of the rumblings, because when asked about Posey’s arrival before tonight’s game in Philadelphia, he indicated it might mean he isn’t returning next season. 

                    It’s amazing how a guy can go from the penthouse to the outhouse in one week.  Does anyone remember Molina’s season-saving three-run homer last week against the Diamondbacks, and his Kirk Gibson-like trot around the basepaths?  Now he’s supposedly jaking it.

                    It’s a fine line athletes walk.  When they’re hurt, they want to come back, but they don’t want to come back and hurt the team if they’re not 100 percent.  Molina also has a lot of personal pride in his performance, and he’s been one of the most productive catchers in baseball the last few years.

                    There’s something else at play, too.  It’s a rule I use in covering sports, the same rule Woodward and Bernstein used in uncovering Watergate:  follow the money.  Molina is in a contract year, and he might feel that if he comes back too soon it would hurt his production, and his ability to get the desired two-year deal.

                    The damage might be done as far as the Giants are concerned, however.  Molina might not be able to get a two-year deal from the Giants unless it’s real cheap.  The Giants will want to hedge their bets because Molina is 35 and might not be able to handle a heavy workload anymore.

                   I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to have a veteran, capable catcher with some power on your roster.  Molina has been one of the best free-agent signings of the Sabean era.  He seems to be committed to winning, although like a lot of players he’s more interested in winning when he’s in the lineup.

                   The Giants should still probably try to re-sign Molina, because Buster Posey isn’t ready to be an everyday big league catcher.  Plus, if Molina is rested and has a strong September, he can wash away the sour taste of the last week.  Give him a reduced workload, with Eli Whiteside and/or Posey as a backup, until Posey is ready to take over full-time in 2011.

                      ***

                    And now, some final musings on the bunting debate which raged during GaryRadnich’s show today.  “Bunting, your thoughts,” is usually not a Top Ten topic in the Sportstalk handbook, but the phone lines were full with bunt-ophiles today.  The debate then spilled over among some Facebook friends this afternoon.  Knock me over with a feather.

                    My conclusion is that this debate will never be resolved. 

                    Giants fans think the team should bunt more to create runs because the offense is so inept.  That’s not an unreasonable premise, except the Giants struggle driving in runners in scoring position.  If an offense is bad to begin with, why relinquish outs?

                    I’m not completely anti-bunt.  There’s a time and a place.  If a guy can handle the bat and is speedy, a la the 1989 Brett Butler, and the infield is back, go ahead and bunt for a hit.  If the pitcher is up with runners on, go ahead and sacrifice bunt.   If it’s the bottom of the 9th and the home team has the winning run at first, it might work if the batter is skilled at bunting.  Otherwise, it’s a losing propostion.

                    That’s borne out by research.  In a 15-year study of box scores from Retrosheet, John Thorn and Peter Palmer established a kind of actuarial table that confirms what common sense should tell any baseball fan — the likelihood of scoring a run is far higher with no outs than with one out, is far higher with one out than with two outs.  There are variations on these averages, of course, primarily if the pitcher is coming up to bat.

                    I understand the desperation of Giants fans to get something going, so on the surface, bunting a runner to second might seem to be a way to “manufacture” a run, but the numbers simply don’t support that, especially with a poor hitting team.  If there is a runner on second, aiming for a hit on the right side is a safer bet because the batter has a much better chance of getting on base while also advancing the runner.

                     In fact, bunting makes little sense whether you have a weak offense, or you’re the Philadelphia Phillies.  If you’re the Phillies you have strong hitters up and down the lineup and could score two or three runs with one swing.  If you’re the Giants you can’t afford to give away precious outs. 

                     Oh, by the way, the Giants are ninth in the majors in bunt attempts, and how’s that working out for them?

                     Don’t count on renewing the bunting debate Thursday.  Gary might kill me, then himself, if that happens.  It was good for a day, now on to more important matters, like Jay-Z’s new Blueprint CD.

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