What happened to all the Twins' bunt hits?

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Last year the Twins tied the all-time MLB record
for bunt hits in a season with 68, while no other team managed even 40.
Carlos Gomez led baseball with 30, which would have ranked sixth among teams,
and Alexi Casilla was second in the AL with 16 despite playing only 98
games. Along with Gomez and Casilla combining for 46 bunt hits, Nick
Punto chipped in seven, Joe Mauer, Denard Span, and Matt Tolbert had
four apiece, and nearly five percent of the Twins’ total hits came via
bunt.

This season has been a much different story,
as the Twins rank just sixth in bunt hits and are on pace to finish
with fewer than half as many as they had last year. Much of the
decrease in bunt hits comes from Gomez being relegated to the bench for
32 of 77 games after starting 143 times last season and Casilla playing
his way back to Triple-A, because they obviously can’t rack up bunt
hits from the dugout or Rochester. With that said, bunting less often
even when they’re in the lineup has also been a factor.

Gomez laid down a bunt in 11 percent of his plate appearances last
year, reaching safely 45.5 percent of the time to become just the fifth
player since 1959 to bunt for at least 30 hits in a season. This year
Gomez has bunted in just six percent of his plate appearances while
reaching safely 27.3 percent of the time. In other words, he’s bunted
about half as often and done so about half as successfully. Much has
been made of Gomez’s decline at the plate, but bunting accounts for
nearly the entire change.

Gomez is hitting just .225 with a .358 slugging percentage on
non-bunts this year, which while terrible is no worse than last season
when he hit .233 with a .348 slugging percentage on non-bunts. In terms
of actual hitting
he hasn’t changed at all, but the difference is that bunts accounted
for over 20 percent of his hits last year and Gomez batted .455 when he
laid one down. This year bunts have accounted for just eight percent of
Gomez’s hits and he’s batted just .273 when he lays one down.

Twins fans have heard all about Gomez’s supposed potential
offensively since the team acquired him as the centerpiece of last
offseason’s Johan Santana trade, but through over 900 plate appearances
in the majors he’s hit .227 with a .337 slugging percentage when not
bunting. Those are putrid numbers and cast serious doubt on Gomez’s
ability to develop into an impact hitter, but the good news is that he
remains one of the game’s fastest players and is a career .433 hitter
when dropping a bunt down.

Because of his great glove in center field Gomez will always have value
regardless of how poorly he’s doing at the plate, but given his success
bunting and how horrible he’s been when swinging away it makes no sense
for him to be laying one down half as often this year. Hitting coach
Joe Vavra surely has him focusing on putting together better at-bats
and taking the ball the other way, which have the potential to make him
a competent hitter, but in the meantime his only real weapon has gone
missing.

Casilla bunted almost as often as Gomez last year, laying one down
in nine percent of his trips to the plate, and was nearly as successful
by reaching safely on 43 percent of his attempts. In addition to the
bunting Casilla was also more successful than Gomez on non-bunts,
hitting .265 with a .368 slugging percentage. Those non-bunt numbers
still weren’t good, but they’re positively Mauer-esque compared to
Casilla hitting .162 with a .210 slugging percentage on non-bunts this
season.

As a team the Twins have gone from bunting once every 36 plate
appearances and reaching safely 40 percent of the time in 2008 to
bunting once every 51 plate appearances and reaching safely 28 percent
of the time this year. That might not seem like a huge difference and
certainly the lineup’s dramatically increased power is a much more
important change overall, but when it comes to the light-hitting speed
guys like Gomez, Casilla, Tolbert, and Punto all struggling the lack of
bunts is definitely curious.

Video: Albert Almora, Jr. saved by the ivy

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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The ALCS had a weird play in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but Game 4 of the NLCS did as well. This one involved Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr. and his attempt to spark a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning against Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling.

After Alex Avila singled, Almora ripped a double to left field, past a diving Enrique Hernandez. The ball rolled to the ivy in front of the wall. Most outfielders there would’ve put their hands up, which would have alerted the umpires to call an immediate ground-rule double. Hernandez didn’t, instead fishing the ball out and firing it back into the infield. Avila had stopped at third base, but Almora kept running. Much to his surprise, he pulled up into third base to see his teammate standing there, resigned to his fate as a dead duck. Third baseman Justin Turner applied the tag on Almora for what he thought was the first out of the inning.

Almora, however, was then sent back to second base after the umpires correctly called a ground-rule double.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lucky break didn’t help as closer Kenley Jansen came in and took care of business, retiring all three batters he faced without letting an inherited runner score. The Dodgers won 6-1 and now lead the NLCS three games to none. They’ll try to punch their ticket to the World Series on Wednesday.