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Bunting for a base hit. (Baseball).

DURING MY EARLY years in coaching, I had an outstanding player named Billy Scripture. As a two-time All American selection, he led the nation in home runs, doubles, RBI, total bases, and just everything else except stolen towels.

He was outstanding in every sense of the word, and yet he never stopped working on ways to improve himself. One day after practice, he approached me and said, "Skip, every time I come up to the plate, the third baseman backs up to the outfield grass and it's tough to hit the ball past him. How can I make him come in to normal depth?"

I told him that there were two ways to do it. "Every time you come up to the plate, you can politely ask him to move in closer. Or you can choose to drop a few bunts down the third base line. But only one of these ways will work!"

We began teaching Billy how to drag-bunt and he soon became very skilled at it. Even though he was not the fastest runner on the team, he began to get some base hits and, in the process, force the third baseman to come in to play at a normal depth. That, of course, helped Billy drive the ball into the outfield for base hits.

For a strong power hitter with a reputation for hitting balls out of the ballpark, Billy became an even more intriguing hitter. His drag-bunting also helped our entire ball club quite a bit, as other players began drag bunting occasionally in games.

Selling It to Hitters

Veteran baseball people have an attitude about bunting: They feel that only slap hitters with minimum power should ever try to drag-bunt. They laugh at the thought that a power hitter would be smart to lay down a drag-bunt now and then.

Youngsters watching major league ballgames on TV and never seeing a power hitter try to drag-bunt for a hit can't be blamed for thinking that "good hitters" are not supposed to bunt.

We believe that the power hitter can benefit just as much as the slap hitter from bunting for a hit at times, and he can benefit even more by forcing the infielders to shorten up their defensive positions and open up the hitting lane to that side of the infield.

There is also a psychological advantage in forcing a third baseman to come in a few steps against a good power hitter. (How would you like to come in on the grass with Gary Sheffield at the plate?)

The basic principles of bunting toward third base for a base hit can generally be applied to bunting toward first base or bunting firmly past the pitcher toward the second baseman.

There are some differences, mainly because of the shorter throw to first, but the principles are much the same. If you can force the infielder(s) to come in a couple of steps, it will certainly work to your advantage. Once you got him coming in, you can think of driving the ball past or over him.

Technique

The footwork used in drag-bunting is very important. It is vital for the batter delay his foot movement in starting the bunting action. The moment he starts moving out of the batting position, the infielders are going to react by charging toward the plate.

This creates a delicate moment: The bunter wants to conceal his intention, but he has to be in bunting position when the ball arrives at the plate. Ergo, you have to put in a lot of practice on the timing of the drag-bunting movements... "delay as long as possible, but not too long."

A right-hand hitter who stands a good distance away from the plate can start the bunting technique simply by taking a short step with his front (left) foot toward first base as the ball is approaching the plate. This will put his feet into a position similar to the "sprinter's stance" -- permitting a balanced and quick start as the ball is bunted.

Obviously, the right-hand hitter who sets up fairly close the plate cannot use this technique because he probably would step on the plate and be called out. If he is standing fairly close to the plate, he should start his movement by dropping his rear foot back a few inches (not back toward the catcher but back a few inches at an angle parallel with the first base foul line) to create the "sprinter's stance" position with both feet on a line toward first base.

The left-hand hitter can use one of several methods of footwork to start the bunting action:

Leave the feet in place and simply rotate the upper body toward the pitcher and bunt from a "stand-still" position. While this makes it easier to bunt the ball, it does retard the break away from the plate.

Bring the back (left) foot forward and step slightly in the direction of the second baseman as the ball approaches the plate -- getting your feet and body started even before you bunt the ball. This method requires very good timing to execute and requires a lot of practice to perfect, but it probably produces the fastest start in bunting. Once perfected, it can be very successful.

Begin with a very short jab step toward the shortstop area with the front (right) foot. This will help keep the body in toward the plate to bunt the ball and help place it where you want it to go, but it does produce a slower break away from the plate.

This method is often used by hitters who tend to start moving too early in the drag-bunting process. They literally "run away from the plate" before bunting the ball.

In all of these footwork techniques for both right-hand and left-hand hitters, the bat should be moved out in front of the body as the feet begin to move. The top hand should slide up the bat toward the trademark to secure the proper angle for the bunt, with the bat held still and loosely as the ball is contacted.

Far too many bunters "push" or "jab" the bat at the ball as they try to bunt, and this causes three problems:

The ball will likely be bunted too hard, enabling the fielder to get to it quickly.

The ball will more likely be popped up into the air.

It will be more difficult to bunt the ball in the direction where you want it to go.

Bunt only "good pitches"

A "good bunting pitch" is first of all low in the strike zone because you want to put it on the ground. Some players will be able to bunt the high pitch fairly well, but will often find it difficult to "get on top" of the high pitch to bunt it on the ground. It is very important to do that consistently in order to be a good bunter.

Secondly, the ball should be on the first-base side of the plate. This will allow the hitter to start leaning toward first base just before or just as the ball is bunted.

A ball on the third-base side of the plate will force the batter to stay at the plate with his body leaning away from first base until after the ball is bunted. This will obviously slow down the bunting process.

Many players like to drag-bunt on a breaking pitch or off-speed pitch, as these pitches generally make it easier to place the ball where you want it to go. However, fast balls can be bunted successfully if you will hold the bat still and loosely to deaden the bunt and get on top of the ball to make sure it goes to the ground.

Just as any batter has to be disciplined to get his pitch to swing at, the bunter has to be taught to get his pitch to bunt. He must understand that a good hitting pitch and a good bunting pitch may not be the same thing.

A left-hand hitter may jump all over a fastball that is high and outside and hit it to center field. But that same pitch would be difficult to drag-bunt because the hitter would be leaning the wrong way (away from first base) when he bunted the ball and thus get a slow break away from the plate.

Conversely, a slow curve ball that is six inches inside to a left-hand hitter would not be a good pitch to hit because the only thing the hitter could do is to pull it foul, but it could be a great pitch to drag-bunt because the hitter could "cheat" a little and get a good start in moving toward first base as (or even before) he bunted the ball!

"Aim fine"

In our opinion, this is the most important factor in successfully executing a drag-bunt! Players have to be taught and convinced that drag-bunting can be a very high percentage play. When done correctly, it should produce a base hit at least 75%-80% of the time... or be foul!

A sportswriter once wrote about a feat that the great Lou Brock accomplished one year with the Cardinals. He drag bunted for 18 hits out of 20 official at bats! This was hold-the-presses stuff!

Not to take anything away from the feat, but it should be pretty obvious that Brock did not bunt just 20 times. He probably bunted 100 times and of the 20 that stayed fair he got 18 hits. (Still a great percentage.)

When we first started to teach drag-bunting, we would tell our players to "aim fine" and "bunt the ball perfect or foul." Some of our players had some success with it, but there were just too many who came back to the dugout saying, "My fault, Coach, I just got it too far into the diamond."

It took a while to sink in, but we finally realized that our emphasis was on "perfect" rather than on "foul," so we changed our slogan to "bunt it foul or perfect." In other words, "First bunt the ball foul and then work on getting it closer to the foul line."

We used a little game in working with Billy Scripture's drag-bunting that came from one of our managers in the Red Sox system. We put a cap about half-way down the third-base line and about three feet fair, and paid Billy a quarter for any ball he bunted between the line and the cap.

If he bunted the ball beyond the cap (toward the mound) he paid us a nickel. And if he bunted it foul, it didn't count either way.

The first day, he bunted too many balls well out into foul territory and owed us about a dollar when he finished. He was fit to be tied!

The next day he said, "Let's play that game again." He sent his first bunt into the dugout. Sent his second bunt went to the on-deck circle. Sent his third bunt within five or six feet of the foul line. Then he got one that stopped about a foot in fair territory. He had earned his quarter.

For the rest of that season, plus two more years in college baseball, plus three years in a summer league, we played that game three or four times a week, and he never paid us another nickel! We still probably owe him a couple of hundred bucks on those little bunting games!

The main emphasis in this philosophy of bunting is not on getting a base hit but on not making a mistake and bunting into an out. The hitter may bunt five or six balls that are foul (and which may cost him only a strike) and then bunt a ball that stays fair by a few inches and gives him a base hit.

Some batters may want to argue that they don't want to give up five or six strikes for nothing. But it isn't for nothing because every drag-bunt attempt that goes foul will force an infielder to move in a step or two to protect against the drag-bunt, and that will open up the hitting lane in that area.

And the ball doesn't even have to be bunted in order to have an effect on the opposing team. Every time a batter starts to move his feet and body to execute a drag-bunt and then holds up because the pitch is not a "good bunting pitch," he plants a seed of doubt in the minds of the infielders (and the opposing coach or manager), and that doubt will be to the advantage of the hitter and his team.

We don't expect to see Chipper Jones, Sammy Sosa, or Barry Bonds start doing any drag bunting during the National League season, but we do believe this skill can be used with excellent results. For certain players, it should create a higher batting average, or a better on-base percentage, and have a definite positive effect on the success of the team.

A good bunter at the college, high school, or youth level of baseball, using the correct principles of drag-bunting, should be able to be successful perhaps 70-75% of the time.

But even if he is successful only 50%-60% of the time, he should raise his batting average considerably, add to his skills as a player, and add to the success of the team as well.

It is too good a percentage play not to be utilized frequently.
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Author:Stallings, Jack
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:2258
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