A sacrifice bunt is something most players do not like having to do. Looking down to get a sign from the third base coach and seeing the signal to lay a bunt can be frustrating; it takes the bat out of the hitter’s hands and almost guarantees that he won’t reach base. The sacrifice bunt is a strategy for the good of the team, though, and one that players can use to help win a game.
There is a reason that baseball is the ultimate team game. It doesn’t punish a player for being unselfish by advancing a runner with a bunt. A hitter’s batting average does not go down for making an out when it is in the interest of the team at mind.
Sacrifice bunts can be used at anytime in the game. Some coaches opt to utilize it early in a game, in the first inning even, to get on the board quickly. If a lead-off hitter reaches base consistently, a good bunter can be placed in the two-hole to move him over on almost every occasion. This was my role during my sophomore year of high school, as I racked up double-digit sacrifice bunts. It was a little deflating as a 16-year-old, but it teaches teamwork by giving up oneself for the greater good of the team.
The key to a good sacrifice bunt comes not from simply putting the bat on the ball, but placing the bunt in a spot where the defenders cannot throw out the lead runner once they field it. This changes based on which fielders are charging and where they are positioned before the pitch.
The basic rule of thumb is that you bunt the ball to the first base side with a runner on first base. Bunt the ball to the third base side with a runner on second base.
With a runner on first base, the third baseman has no responsibility to cover his base. The first baseman is holding the runner, so he is furthest from the hitter. This means that the bunt needs to be down the first base side. It gives the runner the most time to advance to second base.
The bunted ball also needs to be far enough away from the catcher, but not bunted so hard that the first baseman does not have to charge. The ball needs to be placed between the first baseman, the pitcher, and the catcher. Any ball bunted towards the third base side will allow the third baseman to field it and possibly have a chance to throw to second base. So bunt towards first base at all costs.
With a runner on second base, the objective is to bunt the ball to the third base side. The third baseman cannot charge freely because he has to cover his base. The hitter needs to place the ball far enough down the line so that the pitcher cannot field it and make a quick throw to third base. Also, a ball bunted to the first base side will not work since the first baseman is charging and can also make a throw to third.
A hitter may need to account for the athletic ability of the pitcher as well. He may need to bunt the ball harder to get it past a pitcher who comes off the mound aggressively. Alternatively, he may need to bunt the ball softer if a pitcher stays closer to the mound. This means knowing your opposition and their strengths and weaknesses. Lefties also come off the mound differently than righties and have an easier time making a throw to third base.
Bunting for a hit takes speed, quickness, and good hands. It is meant to catch the other team off guard. The other team typically knows a sacrifice bunt is coming. Some coaches will even tell the hitter out loud to bunt if it is that critical in the game and there is trouble communicating signs.
As opposed to drag bunting or bunting for a hit, a hitter can square around early in the box. This ensures the proper bat position and time to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. A hitter needs to be attempting to bunt a strike. Just because the coach calls a bunt does not mean the hitter has to attempt at every pitch thrown. A walk is still possible, after all, if the pitcher cannot find the strike zone.
Sacrifice bunt: see the ball, bunt the ball
A hitter needs to remember to stay in the box and see the bunt down. The idea is to give yourself up, so there is no need to be running out of the box to try to beat the throw. Once the ball comes off of the bat, then the hitter can run to first base, but the first thing to do is get the bunt down in fair territory. A foul ball does no good.
Techniques to properly executing a sacrifice bunt change from coach to coach, but the main focus is to keep the bat head up and “catch” the baseball. This softens the contact and keeps the ball from going too far down the line. It makes the fielders come to the ball rather than hitting the ball to the fielders. Batting practice usually includes a pitch or two for bunting, so be sure to use those pitches effectively since you never know when a sacrifice bunt will be needed.
National League pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, and Stephen Strasburg are most likely to sacrifice bunt with a runner on base. Pitchers are pitchers for a reason; their job is to pitch. Elvis Andrus is one of the better position players at laying down a sacrifice bunt because of his ability to bunt for a base hit as well. Bunting is something that everyone can do.
Many coaches have a theory that every hitter should be able to bunt. While most of those coaches are reluctant to have their better hitters lay down a bunt late in a game to advance a runner, it can happen. No matter where a hitter is in the lineup, sacrifice bunting is something that should be in every player’s arsenal. Baseball is a team game after all.