At the start of every round of batting practice, hitters of all shapes and sizes and power potential are expected to drop two bunts, whether it's Billy Hamilton or Miguel Cabrera, Dee Gordon or Jose Abreu. Depending on the player, this is sometimes done haphazardly, more as a part of the warmup process -- for the batting-practice pitcher as well as the hitter -- than as actual preparation.
After that, most hitters are expected to swing as if executing a hit-and-run, slapping the ball to the opposite field as a runner, real or imagined, breaks from first base.
These are elements of play that have been mostly ignored over the past 30 years, with most teams expecting the majority of their hitters to wait patiently for strikes before looking to drive the ball. Walks and homers became the building blocks of the best offenses.
But there was a precipitous drop in offense last season, in an era when radical defensive shifts are becoming standard operating procedure, and more and more teams have had discussions this winter about what counter attack to take. Some teams have spent more time talking about bunting -- about evaluating situations in which a bunt attempt could be appropriate within current climate, while also placing a greater focus on identifying players less likely to be constricted by a shift.
This has become part of the ebb and flow in the tides of baseball offense, following the time when pitchers first started throwing overhand, then the deadball era, then the offensive explosion in the 1930s, the run-production decline of the '60s that led to the lowering of the mound, and, for about 20 years, the steroid era.
So it's startling that new commissioner Rob Manfred might embrace the idea of banning defensive shifts, if necessary.