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.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on May 14, 2009, in Coaching, Hitting. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I agree teams bunt way to much in softball. I think the coach can’t be blamed then. What happened to hitting? Late in the game bunting is good though, but early in the game I prefer the hit and run, with the proper count of course.I would ask you, why would you be bunting the tying run over as the visitor? Shouldn’t the visiting team be playing for the lead and the home team for the tie? This is baseball 101, but doesn’t it apply to softball as well?

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  2. That’s very true about playing for the lead when you are the visitors. It applies just as much to softball. It could be the coaches are looking to avoid blame. Or it could be that they are risk-averse. They know they can get the bunt down (theoretically) so they’re doing “something.” It’s just that the something isn’t the right thing. I’d forgotten this stat: your chances of scoring with a runner on second and one out are 45%. Your chances of scoring with a runner on third and two outs are 32%. It makes even less sense in that context.

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  3. Good stats! I agree that I can almost understand the bunt to second, especially if you have a great pitcher that you are confident can shut down the lineup, you have your weak batters up (was not the case here), or the other team is at the bottom of their line up so you play for the next inning.But even then, I doubt I do it. I want both runs unless we have little chance of that happening because their pitcher is that dominant.Happened to us tonight in the top of the 9th! Had a runner on first, got a bunt down and she beat it out. Big inning brewing! We ended up blowing it open, but we were already tied, not down one.There is a parent on my team that only talks about how we should play for 1 run every inning. In a game that looks like there are only going to be a couple, of course, but otherwise, play the game aggressively is my humble opinion.

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  4. I’m with you. There’s a time to play for one run. But you’re better off most of the time playing for the big inning. In most games, the winning team scores more runs in one inning than the losers do all game.

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