Bunting isn't exactly a lost art in baseball, but (to borrow a phrase from NBA draft analysts), it isn't exactly the sexiest part of the game.
Yes, bunts are boring. Fans don't go crazy for them; announcers don't scream for them. On the scale of most exciting baseball plays, bunts barely even register.
Yet, they are an important part of the game.
Bunts are important because "small ball" techniques will always, no matter the era, be an important part of a successful team's game plans. The ability to efficiently get fast, base-stealing runners on base at the beginnings of innings can drastically improve a team's chances of success. And bunting can be an efficient way to do this.
So here are the five best bunters in Major League Baseball today. They may not be the most glamorous players in the game, but they have a knack for helping their teams in ways that don't always show up in the box score.
Brett Gardner could be described as having surprising speed.
Maybe it's because he doesn't have the typical slender build of a fast, top-of-the-order hitter. Maybe it's because he is surrounded by power hitters in the Yankees lineup. Maybe it's just because he's white. For whatever reason, Gardner's speed-based game often catches opponents off guard, which helps to make him an effective bunter.
Currently, Gardner is tied for eighth in the AL in bunts in play (BIP), tied for third in steals of third base and is second in stolen bases attempted. Gardner is willing to bunt, willing to steal and he is very good at both.
I had to include Tony Gwynn, Jr. on this list because—let's be honest—speed and hustle (and possibly pedigree) are pretty much the only reasons that he is employed by a major league team. In this way, he is the poster boy for under-talented speedsters like Emmanuel Burriss, Ian Desmond and Corey Patterson, all of whom arguably could've made this list but didn't.
Gwynn is tied for 10th in the NL in BIP, which doesn't seem too impressive until you consider his .637 OPS (which is really, really not impressive), and you realize that his speed and efficient baserunning are the only things keeping him in the majors.
Tony Gwynn, Jr. may not go down in the history books as the best bunter in baseball history. But it's basically all he's got, and it's keeping him employed, so more power to him. In fact, more power to all of those with above-average speed and well-below-average bats who manage to eek out a dream life on a pro baseball team despite a dearth of actual skills.
There are seemingly few things that Elvis Andrus can't do on a baseball field.
Despite the ability to hit for both power (well, kind of) and average, Andrus is also one of baseball's best bunters. He has 26 BIP this year, which is even more impressive when you consider that the only AL players ahead of him (Alexi Casilla, Juan Pierre and Erick Aybar) are far more one-dimensional and nowhere near as offensively potent as Andrus.
Andrus makes this list because he is able to use bunting as an effective, efficient way to make his team better. He knows that pitchers will be looking for more power out of him than most middle infielders, and he uses this information to create bunting opportunities for himself, which in turn helps make the Rangers one of baseball's most dangerous offensive teams.
Like I said, bunting isn't the "sexiest" aspect of baseball. But like the rest of his game, watching Ichiro bunt is truly poetry in motion.
Even when he doesn't bunt, any Ichiro at-bat is a beautiful balance of moving parts, momentum and precision. When he does bunt, he seems to defy the Earth's natural laws by making contact with a pitch even though he is (seemingly) already halfway down the first baseline, on his way to another easy single.
Speed has always been part of Ichiro's game, and therefore bunting is a natural advantage for him. He is so precise and exact with the bat that he is able to get his body moving at exactly the right time, yet still drop a bunt with perfect placement down the line. It is a beautiful encapsulation of the perfection that is (or has been) his game.
In terms of actual baseball history, Juan Pierre is an afterthought. In terms of bunters, he is an all-time legend.
Although his production has fluctuated wildly throughout the years, one thing has remained constant: Juan Pierre is a damn good bunter. More than that he is an unapologetic bunter. He will bunt in day games and night games. In the rain and in the shine. Against lefties or righties, side-armers, relievers, specialists, it doesn't matter—Pierre is bunting.
I'd bring up more BIP stats, but there's really no point. Pierre leads the AL. He leads the majors. He does this every year. Other speedy leadoff men like Emelio Bonafacio and Michael Bourn will come and go. Pierre's been doing this since 2001.
Juan Pierre is the Sultan of Slap, the Baron of Bunt. As far as baseball's least exciting play goes, he is the game's gold standard.