Small Ball Fights Back

The sabermetric revolution in baseball has heaped a lot of scorn on "small ball," the subtle, often elegant facets of the game that emphasize speed, defense and bat control. Bunting, stealing, hitting-and-running, good defense over offense, moving runners over with "productive outs": all these skills are small-ball skills. The opposite of small ball is home runs, extra-base hits, and lots of people on base when those home runs sail out of the park.

Sabermetricians have come up with a host of stats that show why walking, slugging and not hitting into double plays are better than stealing, bunting and Neifi Perez. And much of it makes a lot of sense.

But I've often wondered where the small-ball stat-heads were. Surely small-ballers are sabermetrically inclined. Surely small-ball devotees can twist statistics and invent new formulas to fit their world view. I guess I could try, but...um...I have to wash my hair. And clean my toenails. Mop the kitchen, probably. In fact, I think I'd rather explore a light socket with a paper clip than spend sleepless nights coming up with new baseball stats. I just like reading and writing about them. Well, some of them.

But here's one I like, because it 1) gets at the heart of what kind of baseball you like to watch and play; and 2) it makes a strong case that post-season strategy should be different than regular-season strategy.

Buster Olney's ESPN column today strikes back for the small ballers. He discusses the importance of productive outs -- sacrifice bunting, moving runners over with grounders and fly balls, etc -- especially in the post-season. It's excellent fodder to rethink the conventional wisdom that walks and three-run homers are The Way.


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