Tips for better bunting
Despite all the money that’s been invested in bat technology in the last few years, and the increase in extra base hits as a result, the short game still remains an important part of fastpitch softball. Some days a pitcher just has your number. Some days the weather, the umpire’s strike zone or other factors beyond your control conspire against the long ball. Whatever the reason, when you’re playing for one run you need to be able to go to your short game.
As regular readers know I’m not a fan of the sacrifice bunt. Statistically, automatically bunting a runner from first to second with a sacrifice doesn’t do you a whole lot of good. Your chances of scoring from first with no outs are 43%; your chances of scoring from second with one out are 45%. Is it really worth giving up a precious out to gain a 2% advantage? In most cases no, in my opinion. I’d much rather see the hitter improve her skills and try bunting for a hit instead. If you can pull it off, you’ll have two runners on, no one out, and a lot of pressure on the defense to perform.
Of course, it all starts with being able to get the bunt down when you need it. With that in mind, here are a few tips.
- Bunt with the end of the bat. All too often I see bunters sticking the sweet spot out over the plate and letting the ball make contact there. On a $300 bat, about $275 of the cost is in the sweet spot. It’s designed to make the ball go farther, even with a crappy swing. So why would you want a bunt to be hit there? Use the end of the bat, one of the dead zones, to make contact and you’ll be able to leave the bunt short instead of hitting it right to a fielder. A good way to practice is to take some bright colored duct tape (or do you say duck tape) and wrap it around the end of an old bat. Then focus on taking the taped part to the ball.
- Cover half the plate to start. To help you make #1 happen, don’t stick the bat out so the whole plate is covered from the start. Instead, cover the inside half. That puts the end of the bat around the middle, making it easier to pull in a little for an inside pitch or reach out a little for an outside pitch. Keep in mind once you have the bat lined up with the ball you’re unlikely to move it, so if the sweet spot is in the middle it’ll probably stay there. Using this technique also protects your hands a little more. They’ll be in front of your body instead of exposed to the side; if your hands are going to get hit with the ball so will your body, so you’re more likely to move.
- Pivot on the heel of the front foot. If you have your feet lined up correctly to hit and then pivot on the balls of both feet, you’ll wind up “walking a tightrope.” Instead of focusing on getting the bat to the ball you’ll be focused on regaining your balance. If you pivot on the heel of your front foot and ball of your back foot you’ll have a little side-to-side separation that will give you more stability.
- Receive the ball, don’t punch it. Not sure why this happens, but for some reason many young hitters like to punch at the ball as it comes to contact. That will have the opposite effect of what you want. Instead, receive it or “catch” it with the bat. A good way to practice that is to tape an old glove to the end of a bat and actually try to catch balls that are tossed to you. (To give credit where it’s due, I learned that one from Bob Kowalke years ago.)
- Start in a normal position in the batter’s box. You’ve probably been to clinics or read books or seen video where you’re told that hitters should move to the front of the batter’s box for a bunt. If you’re doing the dreaded sacrifice bunt then sure, why not? But if you’re bunting for a hit, or as a surprise, moving to the front is a dead giveaway. You might as well call out to the other coach “We’re bunting now!” Staying in a normal position in the box helps you disguise the strategy much better. Sure, it’s a little tougher because the ball doesn’t start in fair territory. But if you’re practicing bunting regularly it shouldn’t be that big of an issue.
- Exception to #5 – bunts up the line. If your goal is to bunt up the line, especially the first base line for a right-handed hitter, try moving back in the box. It gives you a better angle, letting the ball roll from foul territory to fair, with less chance of it rolling back foul.
- Practice, practice, practice. These days, teams seem to tell their players to bunt five pitches, then work on swinging away. That’s not enough to get good at it — and good is what you need to be if circumstances dictate that a bunt is must. Put real emphasis on it. Have a bunting day, where you do nothing but bunt. If your hitters will get multiple sessions in a practice have them use one for nothing but bunts. Make a game of it too. Place a bucket in front of the plate at a location you want the hitters to bunt to and offer a prize for anyone who can get it in the bucket. Draw point values in the dirt and have hitters bunt to see who can get the most points, again for a prize. Split your team in two and have a do or die contest — get the bunt down or you’re out, with the team rewarded for their player being the last one standing. Players love competition, so if you make bunting a competition they’ll take a lot more interest in it.
Those are just a few ideas on how to improve your team’s ability to bunt. What have you done? And how important do you think the short game is today?