Put the shift on against Nicky Delmonico and he’s going to drop down a bunt to beat you.
The White Sox rookie has tried his solution for shift-happy defenses already three times this season and it’s worked in each instance.
And while its undoubtedly the long ball -- he’s hit five home runs -- that has caught everyone’s attention during the White Sox rookie’s unbelievable start, don’t overlook the little things, especially Delmonico’s ability to bunt for a hit and the impact it’s had on opposing defenses.
Whenever opponents try to employ a shift, and they’ve done it more often this season, Delmonico has shown no fear in trying to beat them with a bunt down the third-base line.
He bunted for a single in Sunday’s win when he reached base three times to bring his on-base percentage to .451 through 71 plate appearances. There’s no question that forcing defenses to play him straight up is partly responsible for Delmonico reaching base safely in 15 of 17 games to start his major league career.
“It opens up a hole,” Delmonico said. “There’s been a lot of times in Charlotte where you hit a hard ground ball through the four hole and think it’s a hit, but then there’s a guy deep in right field. You want those (to be hits). Any time you can take advantage of bunting and show you can bunt they’ll move out of the shift.”
Take a look at Delmonico’s spray chart and it’ll tell you he’s pull-happy. He’s pulled 47.9 percent of all balls put in play since reaching the majors, according to Fangraphs.com. Were he to be qualified for a batting title, Delmonico would currently be 15th in pull percentage in baseball, easily within range of leader Salvador Perez’s 54.6 percent.
Either way, Delmonico’s spray chart is the type that often leads defenses to load up three gloves on the right side of the infield no matter the count (teams tend to shift to a hitter’s pull side most often with two strikes).
But Delmonico has made them think twice --- at least early in the count.
“Any time I see them all over that’s when it’s the best time to lay one down,” Delmonico said. “You’ve just got to get it past the pitcher and fair.”
You also have to catch the attention of advance scouts. Based on the way he’s been defended so far, hitting coach Todd Steverson thinks opponents have taken notice of Delmonico’s skills.
“It’s got to be in their notes,” Steverson said. “It’s got to be in their data: “This guy will bunt.” Even just the words “he will bunt” keeps somebody close for a minute before they move to another spot. If you have none, then they don’t have to do nothing.
“They want to play him in the full shift. That’s what they did to him from the get-go. He dropped two bunts down on them and said ‘Ok.’ ”
Delmonico said he’s seen an increased number of shifts since reached Triple-A two years ago.
“But it was all different kinds of shifts,” Delmonico said. “Very rarely I would see them all over until two strikes.”
Delmonico works on bunting the same as anyone else. There’s the round he takes each day at the start of batting practice each day. And every few weeks or so, Charlotte brought out the pitching machine.
But what may make him standout are his confidence and conviction. While Delmonico realizes he may be taking the potential for extra bases out of his hands for one at-bat, he’s knows he’s still giving himself a chance to jumpstart a rally and he’s creating a world of opportunities for the rest of his trips to the plate.
“I feel like they’re pretty good,” Delmonico said. “I’ve worked a lot on it the last two years because I know eventually they will shift and to get that hole open you’ve got to prove to them that you will bunt.
“Overall it helps you out and two, it gives you a chance to get on base and get going. That’s the biggest thing for me.”