Twins players criticized for complaint about bunting against ‘the shift’

The Minnesota Twins are finding themselves at the center of an ongoing debate in sports: Are baseball’s unwritten rules insanely stupid or just mildly dumb?

The brouhaha happened in Sunday’s win over the Baltimore Orioles when rookie catcher Chance Sisco bunted against the shift with his team trailing 7-0. The shift is a defensive maneuver that’s ruined the game because it results in easy outs for players who insist on trying to pull the ball.

Writing today on The Athletic, Jayson Stark analyzed that the shift has turned batters into minor league hitters; they have almost no chance of success.

Sports Info Solutions charts a metric it calls the Reached Base Rate. It’s basically On Base Percentage, except it also includes reaching via an error. And what we’ve learned from that metric is that, over the last two seasons, a left-handed hitter’s chances of reaching base on any ground ball between the first-base line and halfway to second base are under 20 percent.

That’s not his batting average. That’s not his On Base Percentage. That’s his chance of reaching base, period, even if it’s because the second baseman clanks it. Yikes!

The obvious way to beat it is to bunt toward the area of the infield that isn’t being covered. And in baseball, the point of being a batter is not to make an out.

That’s just what Chance Sisco of the Orioles did on Sunday.

“If they’re going to give it to you, take it. I don’t have a problem with it,” Twins announcer Bert Blyleven said.

But players don’t usually “take it” because to bunt violates an unwritten rule.

The move left second baseman Brian Dozier clutching the pearls he would’ve been wearing if baseball’s unwritten rules didn’t include not wearing pearls.

“Obviously, we’re not a fan of it,” Dozier said. “He’s a young kid. I could’ve said something at second base but they have tremendous veteran leadership over there.”

Presumably the veteran players would’ve taken the kid aside and reminded him that baseball’s unwritten rules requires you to roll over when your team is losing rather than try to get on base.

Bill James, the man who singlehandedly tugged baseball out of the dark ages of statistics, was unimpressed.

Josh Levin writes on Slate that the Twins are making “the dumbest ‘unwritten rules’ argument in baseball history.”

Dozier’s argument, essentially, is that the teams had come to an unspoken agreement to go through the motions, an agreement the Orioles violated with their ninth-inning bunt.

In his view, the rookie Sisco didn’t “play the game the right way” because he was still trying to win, whereas a savvy veteran like Brian Dozier respects the game by refusing to try.

If Sisco is lucky enough to have a long major-league career, perhaps he’ll one day be in a position to tell the young players around him why that makes no sense. For now, he’ll just have to take some satisfaction from the fact that he understands what too many of his peers don’t: that the game isn’t over until the last out is recorded.

Before today’s game in Pittsburgh, Dozier told the Pioneer Press that he knows he’s been hammered for his complaint, but says there are things we just don’t get.

In the top of the same inning, he argues, the Orioles didn’t hold a runner on first, and — because of baseball’s unwritten rules — the Twins didn’t take advantage of it by trying to steal.

“Everyone just thinks, ‘He’s whining because they bunted against the shift,’ ” Dozier said. “That’s how baseball is played. That’s just how the game is played. That’s just how it is.”

“We all have our opinions on the shift and whether it’s then OK to do that,” he said. “My personal opinion is I think this is a perfect scenario: They weren’t holding us on, so therefore don’t bunt. That’s where it starts. Other than that, you try to find a way to help your team win.”

The Twins were run out of the subsequent game in Pittsburgh today with a grand slam by the Pirates.

James could hardly contain himself.

Dozier had the audacity to hit a home run, drawing the Twins closer in a game in which they cut the score to 5-to-4. He also flew out to the end the game.