By: Todd Guilliams
Originally Published in: High-Scoring Baseball
Provided by: Human Kinetics
The bunting game should be the foundation of your offensive arsenal. Augie Garrido, legendary head coach of the University of Texas Longhorns, in a 2002 article in Collegiate Baseball stated the value of a solid bunting game:
As far as total offense goes, the bunting game does play a role in that. There are three phases to offense. You must get on base. You must advance runners into scoring position. And then you must score runners. The bunting game allows a batter to do all three. You can bunt for a base hit to get on base. You can bunt to advance runners, obviously. You can squeeze bunt or safety squeeze to score runners. (Lou Pavovich, Jr, "Small ball: A Secret Weapon," p.6, 2002)
A high-powered offense has a reputation for being able to execute the bunting game at any time and at any spot in the batting order. This ability gives the offense an advantage because the defense must be on its toes on every pitch. "Bunting is one of the first lessons our new players learn," said George Horton, former head coach at Cal State Fullerton ("Small ball," 2002).
Defensive miscues are often a result of three things in terms of reacting to the short game: good placement, deception (the hitter's ability to disguise the fact that he is bunting), and the bunter's ability to get down the line quickly. The correct execution of the bunting game creates confusion on the part of the defense because they do not know when or where the offense might use all their various bunting weapons. The proper mentality for the bunting game is that there is no such thing as a sacrifice bunt. The high-scoring offense has a mentality that they are not giving up an out but are simply moving a runner up 90 feet (27.4 m). The best thing that could happen is for the defense to hurry and create a two-base error.
Well-placed bunts create pressure by making the defense hurry their throws and forcing the corner infielders to shallow up to counter the threat of the bunt. The bunt game dictates defensive positioning, which gives the hitter a better chance of getting a base hit. The infielder has decreased his normal range by coming in toward the hitter. For every step that a defender takes in toward the hitter, he loses two steps, one to his left and one to his right. So the threat of the bunt helps the hitter in multiple ways. If a hitter can get the third baseman, for example, to move in three steps, the fielder is losing nine steps in his range and ability to defend the hitter. The batter's goal is not just to advance the runner or get a base hit but to place the bunt in a "kill zone," forcing the defender to pick up the ball under duress and possibly throw the ball away, resulting in multiple runners gaining 180 feet (54.9 m), not just 90 feet (27.4 m).
The bunting game also affects where the defense has to play. For example, when an offensive player is known as both a good drag bunter and a good push bunter, both corner infielders must come in to defend against these bunts. As a result, both lose lateral range, which increases the chance of driving the ball past them. The best thing about creating pressure with the bunting game is that everyone in the lineup can contribute to the offense. "Bunting is a way of giving an offensive player an easier way to contribute to the offensive rally," said Garrido. "That's my first concern - finding ways to help the player be successful. Bunting is a heck of a lot easier than hitting" ("Small ball," 2002).
Without the threat of the short game, the pitcher can lock into cruise control • and focus simply on trying to retire the batter. He doesn't have to worry about defending his position. The offense wants the pitcher to feel uncomfortable and to be distracted and nervous about fielding his position. High-powered offenses have offensive spontaneity. In other words, they have the ability to take advantage of what the defense gives them, but just as important they have the skill set to make it happen. For example, if the corner infielders are playing back, the offense can exploit that positioning by using the bunt. The opposite is also true: If the defense is playing the corners in to take away the bunt, the hitter has gained an advantage because the corner infielders have lost lateral range. Hitters should always look for opportunities to drag or push bunt, but only when the defense is out of position.
Another important plus for the bunting game is that it forces the defense to communicate. Failure to communicate or miscommunication can lead to errors. Well-placed bunts create pressure because they force the defense to execute in a timely manner, require the defenders to communicate, and test their ability to focus.
THE MORE IMPORTANT THE GAME, THE MORE IMPORTANT THE BUNT
Bunting in big games is paramount because defenses have trouble executing under pressure when something of magnitude is on the line. Before the game starts, the team that is proficient at the short game has an advantage over the team that is not. Advancing runners, scoring runners, and even getting on base by the bunt are valuable tools when facing the good pitching possessed by most tournament teams that are in a position to win a championship. Many playoff games have been won by players bunting into a tense infield defense.
Two fundamental skills at which offenses need to be proficient in championship games are executing bunts and hitting the curveball. From the first practice of the year, work on the bunting game and hitting the curveball because late in the season, when the game is on the line, batters will have to get a bunt down or hit the breaking ball to win the game. Productive offensive teams are proficient at executing the bunt and are able to hit the breaking ball with men in scoring position. All the training that a team does in terms of the short game is to prepare them to win in the postseason. To win in the BBCOR era, you must be proficient at small ball.