Whether it was long ball or small ball, it made no difference to the Miami Marlins last season. They ranked last in the majors in home runs and — at the opposite end of the spectrum — bunt hits.
Brett Butler harbors no illusions of curing the power deficiency.
But the Marlins are counting on Butler, an exceptional bunter and base runner over his 17-year major-league career, to help get the ground game going in an attempt to cure the team’s scoring woes.
“I think it’s all about attitude,” said Butler, a 56-year-old overachiever the Marlins hired last week as third-base coach in charge of bunting, base running and outfield defense. “I think once they buy into it, it’s easier to teach.”
Butler was an on-base machine as a player from 1981 to ’97, a 5-10 pest who could bunt his way aboard and steal a bag like no one else. Butler’s 245 bunt hits are the most of any major leaguer since the record started being kept, and he also swiped 558 bases.
“He made his name in the game being a bunting, base running and outfield guy,” Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said. “His expertise is something that should be beneficial to our players.”
The Marlins approached Butler about the coaching position soon after the dust had settled on only the second 100-loss season in franchise history, receiving permission from the Arizona Diamondbacks to interview their Triple A manager. Butler received the job offer the morning after meeting in New York with Jennings, owner Jeffrey Loria, manager Mike Redmond and president of baseball operations Michael Hill.
They wanted someone to teach fundamentals and help spark a lifeless offense.
“I think a lot of it was concern about base running and teaching everybody how to bunt, especially the pitchers,” Butler said of the concerns expressed to him by team executives.
Butler provided an example of how he plans to go about his job.
“If you’ve got a starting pitcher, and he’s really focused on pitching but he’s not really concerned about his bunting, you can educate them,” Butler said. “[You tell them] that if they can be an effective bunter, that’s going to add two or three more wins to your repertoire, will give [Redmond] an opportunity to leave you in the game an extra inning because he doesn’t have to pull you.”
Noting that the Marlins led the majors last season with their 35 one-run losses, Butler said scratching out an extra run with bunting and better base running could reverse a lot of those outcomes.
The Marlins would like to see light-hitting shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria employ the bunt more often as a way to enhance his offense and utilize his speed. Hechavarria’s .267 on-base percentage was one of the lowest in the majors.
“If this kid can play shortstop the way I’m hearing he can, and he’s that good of an athlete, then it’s just a matter of how we’ll be able to teach him how to bunt,” Butler said. “A lot of them are fearful of trying something if they’re not good at it.”
Butler spoke of one player, in particular, he helped make a better bunter.
“I remember having a player that could not bunt, was a free swinger from both sides of the plate,” Butler said. “We educated him. We talked him into trying to teach him into being a quality leadoff guy, and putting the ball in play. And that player, Emilio Bonifacio, became a pretty good big-league player.”
Silverio, who has battled injuries and underwent Tommy John surgery in May, can become a minor-league free agent. But there’s a chance he’ll remain in the Marlins’ organization as he returns to health.