Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bunting Josh Willingham

Bunting drills are a staple of the early days of spring training.
One of the fixtures of Twins spring training in recent years has been Rod Carew teaching bunting. There may be no man alive better qualified for the task.

The sight of slow-footed slugger Josh Willingham working his way into the bunting instructionals Monday morning set off a minor Twitter flurry from a couple of the beat writers.

This appeared to be completely Willingham's idea. Manager Ron Gardenhire, asked about Willingham bunting later, said he'll have Willingham bunt when he's trying to get fired, and as far as having him sacrifice, that's the mindset I'd want the manager to have.
The most recent of
Josh Willingham's
two career sac bunts
came in 2008, when
he played for the

So why was Willingham volunteering for bunting drills? One possibility that entered my noggin is that he has the notion of coaching (even if only on the youth level) after his playing days end, and that he recognizes that the bunt is an art he's not very familiar with — and why not learn something of it from a master?

A more immediate purpose might be the wish to make infielders play him honestly — or at least pay a price for taking exaggerated defensive positions.

The reports Monday said Willingham didn't look particularly good in his bunt attempts, but that, as Carew told him, "They're going to give it to you."

There are situations in which I wouldn't object to Willingham bunting for a hit. Down three runs late, a righty on the hill, and Willingham's leading off with left-handed sluggers like Justin Morneau, Ryan Doumit and Chris Parmelee behind him, why not? As long as Willingham's confident that he can get the bunt down and past the pitcher, it can get him on base to start the inning — and that, in turn, will force the infielders to play the following hitters more conventionally and open things up for them.

There's a big qualifier to that idea — that he has to be confident that he can execute the plan. It's not going to help if he fouls the bunt off or pops it up.

It's not unheard for a slow right-handed bopper like Willingham to have the bunt base hit in his arsenal. Steve Garvey, the first baseman of a legendary Dodger infield a generation ago, was no faster than Willingham, but he had a goal of getting a bunt hit each month. It was part of his formula for 200 hits a season, something he accomplished with regularity.

But I'll guarantee that Garvey worked at the bunt more than one brief session in the first week of spring training. If Willingham's serious about this, he'll need to work at it.

1 comment:

  1. It also helps with seeing the ball early in the season and keeping the hand-eye coordination in check. Learning to catch the ball with the bat is always a task that can help the batter with his eyes.