Bunting yourself out of an inning
Heard about this particular incident in a recent high school game, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen or heard something like this. First let me set the stage, then I’ll comment.
Top of the sixth inning. Visiting team is down by one run. Leadoff hitter for the inning gets to first base on a hit. Next better up (who is the team’s home run leader) bunts her to second. Hitter after that bunts her to third. You now have a runner on third and two outs. Fourth batter of the inning flies out to CF. Inning over, no runs scored. Coach is mad at the girl who hit the ball to center field for not getting a safe hit. Visiting team goes on to lose by — you guessed it — one run.
Strategically, bunting twice to put the runner on third makes little sense. First of all, you have nobody out and a long ball hitter at the plate. I don’t know her recent history so maybe she’s been struggling, but still: why give her up (along with an out)? Let her swing the bat and maybe something good will happen. Maybe try a hit and run, or even a fake bunt/slap. Whatever.
Where it really falls down, though, is giving up that second out to move the runner to third. Now you’re asking for a lot from that last hitter. If you still had an out to play with you’d have more options. That long fly ball to center with one out might score the runner from second (it’s a big field). If the previous hitter got a hit and advanced the runner to third, the run would definitely score and you’re on your way to a big inning.
Now let’s look at the percentages. According to Cindy Bristow’s book on strategy, your chance of scoring a runner from first with no one out is 43%. Your chance of scoring a runner from third with two out is 32%. So what did you gain by bunting her over there? Nothing, except the comfort of seeing a runner at third. In actual fact, you decreased your chance of scoring by 11%. Who would voluntarily do that?
When it comes to decisions like that, you really need to take emotion or comfort out of it. Even if your team can’t hit water if they fall out of a boat, you need to give them their best chance to score. Taking the bats out of their hands and simultaneously decreasing your odds of scoring isn’t the way to go. Know the situation, and act accordingly.