By John Perrotto
It has been hard to criticize the job Clint Hurdle has done in his first 35 games as Pirates’ manager as they are off to a surprising 18-17 start. However, one aspect of Hurdle’s managerial style that has struck a nerve with the media and fans is his proclivity for the sacrifice hit.
Well, everyone had better get used to Hurdle bunting. He believes in the power of the sacrifice more than any other manager in the major leagues.
“I’m not going to go by ‘the book’ and sacrifice every time there is a sacrifice situation,” Hurdle said. “However, when it makes sense to bunt, when the factors indicate it’s your best offensive strategy at the moment then we’ll bunt.”
During Hurdle’s six full seasons as the Colorado Rockies’ manager from 2003-08, his team led the National League in sacrifice hits three times and was third in two other seasons.
In 2003, the Rockies had just 55 sacrifices and finished 14th in the 16-team NL. However, they were third in that category the next two seasons, laying down 97 in 2004 and 86 in 2005. The Rockies then led the league each year from 2006-08 with 119, 83 and 90, bunting their way to the franchise’s lone NL pennant in 2007.
The Pirates are sixth in the league in sacrifices so far this season with 17. Their personnel and batting order construction could preclude them from bunting as much as Hurdle’s Rockies.
Five different players had double-digit season in sacrifices under Hurdle in Colorado with Cory Sullivan doing it twice. However, each of the five was either a relatively light-hitting middle infielder (Royce Clayton, Aaron Miles and Clint Barmes) or a slap-hitting outfielder (Sullivan and Willy Taveras).
It’s doubtful that second baseman Neil Walker will be asked to bunt much since he is the Pirates’ cleanup hitter and shortstop Ronny Cedeno won’t be called on for many sacs as he bats in the No. 8 spot in the order, directly ahead of the pitcher. None of the three starting outfielders–left fielder Jose Tabata, center fielder Andrew McCutchen and right fielder Garrett Jones–can be labeled as slap hitters.
Eleven of the Pirates’ 17 sacrifices this season have been by pitchers. The other six have been spread among six position players: Cedeno, catcher Ryan Doumit, McCutchen, first baseman Lyle Overbay, catcher Chris Snyder and Tabata.
Thus, it looks as though no one will be Hurdle’s designated bunter like Clayton was in 2004 when he had 24 sacrifices. Still, third base coach Nick Leyva will be flashing the bunt sign every so often.
“It all depends on the situation,” Hurdle said. “The sacrifice bunt can be a very effective weapon when used properly.”