Let me paint a picture for you. The Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies were tied 9-9 in extra innings on Wednesday night. To get to this point, Ian Happ hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning to tie the game at eight. This was the second game of a doubleheader, so with the Cubs down in the last inning Happ delivered in the best way possible.
Both teams scored a run in their respective halves of the eighth inning, which brings us to the ninth inning. The Rockies intentionally walked Frank Schwindel to give the Cubs runners first and second, as the lead runner was a given because of the extra-inning rule. That brought the switch-hitting Happ, who already had two hits in the game, to the plate to face left-handed pitcher Ben Bowden.
Happ squared around to bunt on the first pitch and fouled it off. He proceeded to attempt bunts on each subsequent pitch until he eventually popped a bunt to the first baseman. Happ never got the chance to swing away despite having a prime opportunity to win the game with a base hit.
Dissecting The Decision
It's no secret that Happ is a much better hitter from the left side and he has struggled in 2021, but he has been red hot as of late, hitting .365 in his last 12 games. In those 12 games, he has hit lefty exclusively and has not been starting games facing opposing southpaws. In 2021, Happ has 263 at-bats from the left side compared to only 74 as a righty. That matches his career trends with 1,065 at-bats as a lefty and 361 as a righty. It's clear the Cubs do not want him hitting right-handed if it can be avoided.
In his career as a left-handed hitter, Happ owns a slash line of .239/.344/.480 for an OPS of .824. Conversely, as a righty, he slashes .224/.303/.374 for an OPS of .677. The numbers back up the fact that Happ is a much better hitter as a lefty, but baseball is a peculiar sport and can’t always be quantified by statistics. Given Happ's recent hot stretch at the plate and the streakiness that comes along with this crazy game, it's fair to think that some of his success from the left side can translate to the right side if he's seeing the ball well.
Unfortunately, the Cubs elected to take the bat out of Happ's hands in a spot where he could have won the game. He instead popped out on a bunt, did not advance the runners, and the Cubs would go on to lose the game.
Playing Devil's Advocate
If I am going to criticize the decision to attempt to bunt, it is only fair that I look at the argument on both ends. As a right-handed hitter, Happ has grounded into more double plays (16) than he has from the left side (15). That figure comes in 704 fewer at-bats as a righty. In addition to attempting to advance runners to second and third, the Cubs may have been looking to avoid Happ grounding into a double play, giving the hitters behind him a chance to drive in the would-be game-winning run.
That is the only argument I can remotely understand that backs the decision to have Ian Happ bunt in such a high-leverage situation. In a lost season like 2021 is for the Cubs, does the possibility of Happ getting a bunt down to move the runners over outweigh the benefits of him getting a chance to win the game as a right-handed hitter? My opinion is clearly no.