Ray McIntire - Univ. of San Diego
It is first and third, one out in the bottom of the eighth inning. Your team is down one and anyone but your "dude" is at the dish. We have all been there. Do you roll the dice and have your player try to drive one to the outfield for a double or a sac fly? You are risking a double play at that point if he doesn't get under it, or a non-execution flyout if it is not deep enough. Do you go hit and run to stay out of the double play possibility? If there is no bat on ball it becomes a 1st and 3rd steal and you are hoping the other team can't play fast catch.
Personally, I am opting for a safety squeeze a majority of the time.
Let's think about the percentages here. If my best hitter is hitting .400 and flies out deep enough to score the run another 20% of the time, we are looking at that run from third scoring 60% of the time (excluding walks and hit by pitch). If your team is going to win at a high clip, that run needs to score 70% of the time or more. I believe, with the proper focus on technique and discipline, we can execute a safety squeeze at the very least 70% of the time. Worst-case scenario, if the bunt gets down, we are looking at a run plus a runner at second base with two outs. Then you can roll the dice and try to get that single to drive in the second run. At that point you are playing on house money! Best-case scenario, the first baseman or pitcher fields the ball, launches it into right field, and we are looking at the same situation (first and third, one out, tie ball game).
The best teams in the country don't get there simply because they hit their way to the World Series. Sure, that helps. More than that, though, they are able to execute and put pressure on the defense! Failing to execute in run-scoring situations is the downfall of offenses. Strike while the iron is hot! The hard work is done getting the baserunners there! The numbers don't lie - it is easier to bunt than to get a hit. Not only that, but we are putting the ball in (theoretically) the worst fielder's hands in the infield.
As it is with everything else, if you want to be successful at it, you must practice it. I won't get into too much of the mechanics of the bunt as most people reading this have a solid understanding of the technique. Instead, below are a list of our top 5 absolutes for our safety squeeze technique:
Over the last two years, I have found that if the players are able to do these five things, they will get the job done most of the time with practice. We go through a full progression throughout the fall to shake things up for our guys. While nothing substitutes bunting a live arm in a game situation, I have found a lot of growth in guys working off a machine shooting a solid, firm, fastball from full distance. I like to put flat targets on the ground for the players to bunt the ball off of for at LEAST the first month or so. The targets are set about two feet in front of the left-handed hitters batter's box to bunt the balls up the right side. This takes the player's focus and shifts it from "put the ball on the field over there", to "put the ball on the ground here and it will get there".
Once the players have the basic technique down, we will progress to our drill segment where we constantly shake things up. The three drills we use the most are below:
At the end of the day, I firmly believe that bunting is a mindset. If they have the right mentality, the technique can be learned, practiced, and repeated by nearly every player on every team. So, I will ask you again: the situation is first and third, one out in the eighth, what are you going to do?