Small ball is not a term used to describe the actual size of the baseball. Rather, it does describe the distance that a ball typically travels by a team that utilizes a small ball game plan.
Some teams rely on the long ball, or the home run, to manufacture runs. They have heavy hitters that are putting balls in the gap for doubles and driving in run after run after run. Small ball is just the opposite; it emphasizes singles, base-to-base running, and scoring runs in small amounts.
What kinds of tactics compose the idea of small ball? The first strategy that comes to mind is bunting. Whether it is a drag bunt to get a runner on base, a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner, or a squeeze bunt to score a run, bunting is a key component of small ball.
Small ball and bunting
Drag bunts are a unique type of base hit, in that while many professional players are known for their size and power, a handful are still known for their speed and bat handling skills. A prototype leadoff man is a high on-base percentage hitter who is fast on the bases. Opposing teams know who the speedy runners are, and they defend accordingly to prevent a drag bunt when necessary. Hitters must pick and choose their best situations for bunting to reach base.
Sacrifice bunts are 100% a component of small ball. The idea of sacrificing outs for bases and runs is key. By giving up an out to advance a runner, a team theoretically increases its odds to score. However, following up a sacrifice bunt with further execution is the only way that small ball works. Merely sacrifice bunting all game long does not score runs – the hits that follow are just as important.
One of the variations on a sacrifice bunt is the squeeze play. There are two types of squeeze plays: the safety squeeze and the suicide squeeze. A safety squeeze is supposed to be safer (SAFETY!) because the runner reads the ball on the ground before taking off. It is critical that a hitter place the ball down either line away from the pitcher to allow the runner more time to score. A suicide squeeze is one of the more heart pounding plays, as the runner breaks for home as the ball is being pitched. The hitter must put the ball in play, or at the least foul it off, or else the runner will be running right into a tag at home plate. Either way, the purpose of the squeeze is to score a run without the defense being able to get the out at home plate.
Stealing and moving runners
A team playing small ball is also a team that will attempt to steal more times than not, advancing runners any way possible. This could be done with a straight steal. The less common delayed steal is where a runner gets an extended secondary lead and then takes off once the ball crosses the plate. A team could do a fake bunt steal, although professional teams do not utilize it much.
There is a play that can be highly effective but it is not seen often at the professional level: the slash. This is where a batter squares to bunt and then pulls the bat back as the ball is released to take a full swing. The goal is to draw the defense in for a bunt, then hit the ball through a hole that opens up.
As long as a team has relatively quick runners and good bat handling, small ball is a potential game plan. David Ortiz is not a player you would expect to be a part of small ball. Even teams that do try to bunt and steal more often have their power hitters that can put the ball over the fence. However, it is not an expected part of the plan the manager is utilizing to win the game.
One other component of small ball that needs to be taken into consideration is defense and pitching. Small ball is used to score a minimal amount of runs. There are few big innings and double-digit run totals scored. This means that a team must also greatly limit the amount of runs it gives up. Small ball is not effective being down by five or eight runs.
Do you like using small ball? Is it a game plan you would use if you were a coach? Let us know in the comments below!