The bunt can be a great weapon. But how do you know when to bunt the baseball? As coaches and players we have to look at it as a strategic decision of give and take, and risk vs. reward.
I’ve witnessed teams at the youth levels, all the way up to the collegiate levels over-utilize the bunt. When doing so, they are effectively taking the bat out of their hitters’ hands, and taking away the possibility of a big hit at times when it is not necessary.
On the other hand, I’ve also seen teams that hardly ever use the bunt. A team without the bunt in their offensive arsenal is limited in the number of ways that they can create, move and score baserunners. They get into the late innings in a close ballgame and have to rely solely on big hits to score the tying or winning runs.
If we’re going to talk about when to bunt, then we must first understand the different types of bunts and what we are trying to accomplish with each of them.
- Sacrifice bunt
- Bunt for a hit/Drag bunt
- Squeeze bunt
What is it?
The sacrifice is just what the name implies; the hitter is sacrificing themselves, or giving up the out, to move the baserunner to the next base. A sacrifice bunt can be used to move a single baserunner from first base to second base or second base to third base or moving two runners up from first and second to second and third base.
Sacrifices are usually only called for with nobody out and a runner on first, a runner on second, or runners on first and second.
On rare occasions, you’ll see a sacrifice bunt with 1 out, to move the runner from first to second. This usually only happens in Major League Baseball in a National League game, when a pitcher is batting who is a very bad hitter.
Most often, sacrifices will be called late in the game, when there is a close score or tie score. The baserunner or runners being bunted over are usually the tying and/or winning run for the team that is bunting.
Sacrifice bunting early in the game….why?
I’ve always heard and subscribed to the mantra that you play for big innings early in the game, and play small ball in the later innings. This is because of that idea of give and take. When you call for a sacrifice bunt, you’re trading in your chances for a big multi-run inning, and playing for one or two runs. Why give up your chances of putting up a big inning early in the game?
Bunt for a Hit/Drag Bunt
What is it?
The bunt for a hit is a surprise play by the offense. When we do it, we are trying to catch the defense off guard or out of position.
As opposed to the sacrifice bunt where the hitter is giving himself up, the hitter who bunts for a hit or drag bunts is trying to use the bunt as a way to reach base.
It is also a great way for a hitter who is struggling at the plate to contribute. If a player is in a hitting slump, a base hit bunt may be just what the doctor ordered.
A bunt for a hit may happen at any time throughout the game. Primarily it will occur with 0 or 1 out. This is because if the hitter reaches first with 0 or 1 out, there are still multiple opportunities to move him into scoring position and knock him in. If he reaches first base with 2 outs, then it will either take an extra base hit or multiple hits to score him.
You can also call for a bunt for a hit in typical sacrifice bunt situations. A common strategy in sacrifice situations is to call for a bunt for a hit first, and if the hitter takes a strike or bunts it foul, you would then switch the call to a sacrifice bunt.
Here are a few great opportunities to reach on a bunt for a hit:
- If the third baseman is playing back deep, is not great fielder, or is slow. The batter should try to place the bunt right down the 3rd base line. He wants to put the ball so close to the line that it will either be a hit or a foul ball.
- If the third baseman is playing unusually far off of the 3rd base line. Again the idea here is to get it down the third base line where the play will either result in a base hit or foul ball. Recently Major League players have been using it in this fashion, as a way to beat the defensive shifts that teams are imposing against certain hitters.
- If the pitcher routinely falls off of the mound toward 3rd base after a pitch (usually a left-handed pitcher). The batter will be trying to place the ball just past the first base side of the pitcher’s mound. This will place the ball in a spot that is almost equidistant between the second baseman, first baseman and pitcher. If placed correctly, it will be an extremely difficult play for the defense to get an out.
Following the Unwritten Rules
You may or may not be a subscriber to baseball’s unwritten rules, but there are a couple those unwritten rules that pertain to bunting for a hit. One of those rules is that if a pitcher has a no hitter or perfect game running into the last couple innings, you should not attempt to break it up with a bunt for a hit. Another unwritten rule is that if your team is leading by a significant amount late in the game, you should not attempt to bunt for a hit.
What is it?
A squeeze bunt is when a hitter is trying to drive a runner in from 3rd base with a bunt. There are two types of squeeze bunts:
- Suicide Squeeze – Runner on 3rd base breaks for home as the pitcher delivers the pitch.
- Safety Squeeze – Runner at 3rd base waits for the ball to be bunted before breaking for home.
Squeezes will happen most frequently with 1 out. With 0 outs and a runner at 3rd base, a team has plenty of opportunity left to drive the run in without taking the risk of a squeeze. With 2 outs, the hitter would need to reach first base safely in order for the run to score. So the hitter would have to treat the squeeze as a bunt for a hit.
Squeezes can happen at any time throughout the game, but they are most commonly called late in the game during close ballgames. A coach may use the squeeze to drive the tying or winning run in, or to add an insurance run (extra run while already leading) heading into the final innings.
Is it worth the risk?
The squeeze bunt, especially the suicide squeeze, is a very risky play. A lot has to go right for the play to work for the offense. The hitter must make contact with the pitch and bunt the ball on the ground. If he misses the pitch or pops it up, your runner on 3rd base will be caught in no man’s land halfway to home plate.
To determine if the risk is worth taking, you must consider a few things:
- How good is the hitter at bunting? Hopefully if you plan on calling a squeeze play in a game you are working on it in practice. Pay attention and learn your team. Who can you rely on to get the job done in a high pressure situation like a squeeze play?
- Has the hitter been hitting the ball well lately? If the hitter at the plate has been tearing the cover off the ball, it may not be worth the risk to run a squeeze. Let him swing away and drive the run in with his bat. On the other hand, if a hitter has been struggling badly at the plate, the squeeze can be a great way to make a big contribution to the team and get an RBI in the process.
- Has the pitcher had good control or been wild? If a pitcher is wild, it’s best to not run a squeeze play. He may throw a pitch out of the strike zone that is difficult for the hitter to make contact with and bunt on the ground. A wild pitcher also has a much greater chance of throwing a wild pitch, which would allow your runner at 3rd base to score without taking the risk on a squeeze.
- Are we likely to score the runner from 3rd without the squeeze play? If your chances are high to score the baserunner at 3rd base any other way than the squeeze, it’s best not to risk running him into an out on a busted squeeze play. If you have 0 outs, or have hot hitters coming up in your lineup, it may be the smart play to leave that runner at 3rd base and let your bats drive him in.
Have questions about specific situations and using the bunt? Want to know if your team is utilizing the bunt properly? Drop a comment below and we’d be happy to help!