I don't get too exercised about many of the things players say, but this comment by Alex Rodriguez from last night's postgame session goes to the heart of the micromanaging mania that grips the Yankees every postseason. It springs from the same font of anxiety that turns Joe Girardi into a bad imitation of John McGraw 1910 every fall:
"The brand of baseball we're going to have to play in October is one that has to do with a lot of small ball," Alex Rodriguez said. "You can talk all you want about home runs and strikeouts and all that kind of stuff. What's going to take us to the next level is what we did tonight: Execute the little things. I think that should be the theme for the rest of the year."
Just as you're supposed to dance with the one that brung yuh, a team has to play to its strengths. The Yankees are first in the American League in home runs and (appropriately) second-to-last in bunts. They are also precisely average in strikeout rate, a nice trick for a slugging team. They are a slow, patient (fourth in walk percentage), power-hitting team, and they cannot and should not turn into the 1985 Cardinals just because the calendar turns to October.
There are moments when an extra base on a bunt can be a game-changing moment, but they are few and far between. Most of the time, you're just giving up one of your 27 outs and hurrying the game on to its end. In game terms, it's like volunteering to throw away a year of your life. Consider: a team with runners on first and second and no outs can expect to score 1.5 runs. If the bunt somehow doesn't work-say the batter pops it up-your expected runs with runners on first and second and one out drops to 0.9. If it does work and you have runners on second and third and one out, you can expect to score 1.3 runs. Your expectations have gone down.
Now, as Casey Stengel said, people alter percentages. If you have a double-play machine like Derek Jeter at the plate (20 GDPs in 81 chances) and it's a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, maybe you go for the bunt, but then in that situation you only need one run in any case. The rest of the time, you're pushing yourself further away from scoring. It's just the illusion of doing something when you're not hitting. That undoubtedly feels better to players and managers alike, but it's a placebo. Bombs away, guys. There is no such thing as small ball, only small thinkers. The Yankees are a slow, power-hitting team, and they'll live or die by the home run.