Advanced Bunting Strategy: Reading the pitcher

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This is article is about bunting strategy – recognizing a pitcher’s weakness and exploiting it for more bunt hits.

Bunting for a hit is an extremely valuable skill, and can even be the deciding factor in a close game when hits and runs are scarce.

Baseball players are creatures of habit

Most people –  and pitchers in particular – are creatures of habit.  You can use this to your advantage.

How many times have you seen a ground ball hit back to the pitcher?  He usually reacts in one of two ways:  Take his time and make a nice throw to first base for the out, or secure the ball start running over to first base and give an underhand flip.  As insignificant as this play seems it may tell us a few things about the pitcher and his mindset.  This can be extremely important if you can and are willing to bunt.

Typically pitchers work on bunt plays where the baseball is bunted right back to them or towards third base where they can pick it up and throw it to first base.  The whole thing becomes very instinctive and doesn’t require much thought or variation on the pitcher’s part.

So how can this help you out?

This can tell you if you should try to bunt against this particular pitcher.

(1) There’s a good chance you’ll be able to predict how he will handle that same scenario in the future; and
(2) You’ll have a clue as to what type of play is difficult for the pitcher (i.e. if this is a weakness for him) and then you can use this to your advantage.

Will he make a throw to first, or try to run and flip it?

Now lets go back to our pitcher and how he handles a throw to first base on a come backer.   

If the pitcher throws the ball to 1st base, it’s a clue that he may be fairly athletic and feels comfortable in throwing a ball outside of his normal pitching motion.   In this case, bunting may not be the best option.

However, if a pitcher runs it over towards first base and under hand flips it, there is probably a reason for that.  It could be that he not confident in his throwing ability. Maybe he has thrown balls passed the first baseman in the past and now this is his go to move, or perhaps throwing to bases is something he doesn’t practice and doesn’t feel comfortable with.  Either way, it can indicate a weakness you can take advantage of by bunting for a hit.

Bunting Strategy – Taking advantage of the pitcher’s weakness.

You can force the pitcher to make an athletic throw by laying a soft bunt down the first base line.

This is not a standard push bunt, you want to make sure it’s hard enough where the catcher can’t get it and the ONLY person that can make a play is the pitcher.

A pitcher who isn’t too confident in making an athletic throw will have difficulties with this play.

He has to get to the ball quickly, so his momentum not going in the direction of first base.  Then he needs to make a throw to the first baseman without hitting the runner or throwing it into right field.

Since this isn’t a play that is practiced often, and it is a very difficult play, you will quickly tell how athletic the opposing pitcher is and if bunting may be a way for your team to scratch across a few runs.

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The reason I picked this type of bunt strategy is because a bunt down the third base line is a play that happens so fast for the pitcher that he doesn’t have time to think about it.  This tends to be an easier throw for him to make.  Also, pitcher’s practice fielding this bunt often.

Of course, just because a pitcher runs and under hand flips a ball to first base on a come backer doesn’t guarantee that he is uncomfortable making an athletic throw.  But paying attention and seeing this as a potential way to attack the pitcher may help you get to a pitcher that is tough to score runs against.

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About Author

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 13 years. Most recently, Doug signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2013, where he logged time at every infield position except 1st base in 33 Major League games. Currently Doug is with the Twins' AAA team in Rochester, NY

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