Bunt Defenses

Hey guys. So, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about bunt defenses and exactly what the best way to run them is.  The plays below are pretty standard all throughout baseball (although they may have a few little things changed or a different name).  I’ve included diagrams below to make them easier to understand.

Regular Bunt Defense:

Regular Bunt D

Situation: Runner on 1st, less than 2 outs.  This is your standard bunt defense.  If you don’t have another bunt defense called then your players should know that regular is always on.

Primary Defensive Objective: Get an out no matter what.  Most of the time this will be going to the first, unless it’s a hard bunt back at the pitcher or right in front of the catcher.  Your players have to know that it’s okay to get the out at second, but they need to be 100% sure about that out.

P: Middle third of the field is the pitchers responsibility, but they’ll most likely drift whichever way the ball is bunted. I’ve always believed in having the pitchers be responsible for their section of the field. Sometimes coaches would rather have their third baseman or first basemen take all the bunted balls. However, pitchers should have enough PFP (pitcher fielding practice) that they can make the play on a routine bunt pretty much every time.  If the 3rd baseman calls them off then their secondary route should be to cover 3rd in case of an overthrow (a lot of teams have the catcher interchange with the 3rd baseman because again they don’t want their pitchers handling the ball).

C: Responsible for directly in front of the plate and “directing traffic”.  This basically means that they tell the fielder where to throw the ball, since they do have the best view.  Technically the fielder should probably know, but  it’s always reassuring to have someone telling you where to go with it as an infielder or a pitcher.  Again an option to interchange is always there with the 3rd baseman if they field the ball if that’s how you want it taught.

1B: Here’s where I differ from a lot of coaches. I want my first baseman to charge ONLY if he has to because the ball is bunted hard at him.  There are a couple reasons for this.  First, if the 1st baseman is always charging that means the 2nd baseman has to cover first, which is a long run and often leads to them being late getting there. Also, if the first basemen charges all the time on balls that the pitcher could easily get, then they’ll end up calling the pitcher off. As far as I am concerned, this doesn’t make much sense because their momentum is going away from the play, while the pitchers momentum is usually going towards the play at first. The thing I really don’t understand and see all the time is the first baseman crashing in on a bunt that’s to the third baseman, when he could very easily have gotten back to the base.  Rule of Thumb: If the first baseman doesn’t have to go get the ball and he can cover 1st…then cover first.

2B: Technically in charge of covering first if the bag is vacated by the 1st baseman, usually will end up backing up the throw.

SS: Covers 2nd base in case of a bad bunt


Read Bunt Defense:

Read Bunt D

Situation: Runners on 1st and 2nd, less than two outs, most of the time it’ll be no outs (except for some special situations).  You’ll run read when you’re 90% sure the other team is bunting and it’s a close game.  This is the play that hinges all on the third baseman and his “read” of the bunted ball.  Any team that has a decent coach should be bunting it towards third base in this situation to try and vacate the 3rd baseman from his position.  Usually you’ll run the read bunt defense in early to mid innings.

Primary Defensive Goal: It would be nice to get the out at third, but getting an out somewhere is still the most important thing. Basically, you run this with the intent to create an opportunity to get an out at third base. However, we are not selling out for the force at third, nor are we going to force it…if the out at third is not there take the out at first.

P: The whole point of this play is to not have the 3rd basemen field the ball and get the force out at 3rd if possible. So, we have our pitchers go directly to the third baseline after they release the ball, even if the ball is bunted back at them (our 1st baseman should have that covered).  The thing that we’re trying to avoid is a bunt that is hard enough to draw our 3rd basemen in.  So make it simple for your pitchers and have them go directly to the third baseline.  If the offense succeeds and they get the bunt by the pitcher, then the pitcher needs to continue on to third base since the 3rd baseman is vacating that base.  Additionally, the pitchers need to make sure that they pause when they come set to give the 1st baseman time to get in far enough or let the play develop. THIS IS SOMETHING YOU NEED TO PRACTICE WITH YOUR PITCHERS OFTEN. Believe me, when it becomes game time they will want to roll through it quickly.

C: Your catcher will be directing traffic, this play more than any other, the catcher will have to really have a feel for what type of bunts give the best chance to get the out at third and which ones don’t really have a shot and need to be thrown to first.  Practice this often with live base runners for them to gain this “feel”.  Make sure they’re loud and have conviction in their decisions.

1B: The first baseman’s responsibility in this play is much different from the regular bunt defense.  The first baseman is crashing no matter what and they have 2/3rds of the field (1st base third and middle third).  Since the pitcher is going directly towards the 3rd baseline, they need to cover the pitchers position as well as their own.  This is why we have them run a “banana” route as seen above.  Remember when I said that most teams will be trying to bunt this ball to third base?  This is why it’s okay to run this banana route.  So there is a hole in this defense and that’s if the batter is smart enough to bunt it down the first base line.  This doesn’t happen often and usually the first baseman can adjust and still get the out at first base, but by bunting it down the the hitters job is accomplished and sometimes will even get a base hit out of it. Therefore, make sure your first baseman knows if he has to go to his left at all, he should forgo the play at third base and get the out at first base.

2B: The second baseman has to cover 1st base no matter what.  Hopefully, the defense will be able to get the out at third, but if not he needs to be at first to cover.  In read and wheel (see below), we’re at least 90% sure that the offense is bunting.  So, it’s okay for the 2nd baseman to cheat over towards first (respecting the push bunt still) to make sure they can get there in plenty of time.

3B: The 3rd baseman is the whole key to this play.  He has to be keenly aware as to what bunt he needs to come get and what bunt he can let the pitchers or 1st baseman get and be able to get back to the bag. An easy way to read this is if the bunt is hard at them and the pitcher can’t get it then they absolutely have to go get it and make the play at first (remember if the 3rd baseman comes to get the ball there will be no play at third – I’ve seen some crazy things where the 3rd baseman comes to get the ball on read and he tries to throw it 3rd and no one is there). So just make sure he’s aware of that. Another thing that you need to make sure that the 3rd baseman is aware of is that it’s a force play and if he doesn’t have to come get the ball then he should be taking the throw like a 1st baseman with a stretch and no tag is necessary. I know this seems obvious, but remember it’s always better to go over every little detail, because kids get stresses out in these types of situations and will do things that just don’t seem to make sense. So as a coach never take for granted that your players just know what’s going on.

SS: Covers 2nd base, in case of a back pick

Wheel Bunt Defense:

Wheel Bunt D

Situation: Late innings, no outs, runners on first and second.  The tying or winning run is on base and the defense absolutely knows the other team is bunting.

Defensive Objective: This is a do or die play. The defense needs the out at 3rd base and is vacating the middle of the field in order to get as many guys to cover the bunt as possible.  The key to this play is timing and practice.  This play can go wrong in so many ways and needs to be set up correctly to work.  When ran correctly it can be a huge momentum shift for the defense.

P: The pitcher ABSOLUTELY needs to be patient when running this play.  A lot of the time when teams run this play it’s ruined because the pitcher does not let the play “develop” or stay set long enough for his infielders to get in the right position. So it has to be practiced often to make sure there’s no question of when the pitcher should deliver the ball to the plate.  A lot of the time we put on a fake wheel pick play to second  before the wheel to make sure the runner at second doesn’t get a huge jump.  It’s not so much to try to actually pick the runner off as it is to make sure the batting team is in fact bunting, as well as, keep the runner from getting too big of a lead or secondary.  I’ll describe pick plays in a later article.

C: In charge of the ball directly in front of him and directing traffic, although it’s pretty easy since the defense absolutely needs the out at 3rd, so the call will be to go to 3rd pretty much all of the time.

1B: In charge of his third of the field.  The first baseman can really cheat up far here because he doesn’t need to hold the trail runner.  Again, the pitcher needs to give the corner guys time to get right on top of the batter

2B: Second baseman needs to cover first in case of a bobble etc.  He can cheat over towards first just like in the read play.  He doesn’t go until the SS give the “cue”.

3B: Same as the first baseman, but they aren’t able to cheat as soon as the first baseman to make sure that the runner at second doesn’t just steal the base and the hitter pulls back the bunt.  He also needs to wait for the shortstops cue.

SS: Everything hinges off of the shortstop in this play.  Once the pitcher comes set the SS can give the base runner a couple of taps or back calls and he then needs to sprint directly towards 3B BEFORE the ball is delivered.  The pitchers eyes should be directly on the SS.  Once the SS is in his sprint towards third base and knows he can beat the runner to 3B no matter what, he gives what is known as a cue.  The cue is simply slapping his throwing hand to his glove hand loudly. As the SS is into his sprint the corner guys should be creeping in quite a bit and when the cue is given they should be in an all out sprint to the plate.  If the corner guys crash too late or the pitcher delivers the ball before the cue, then the whole play is ruined and the out at third will be very tough to get.  This play takes a lot of practice and feel, but is absolutely necessary to have in any teams arsenal.

So there you have it.  These plays are universally done and have been for years.  The key is to practice them over and over to make sure that you have them down right, because they can definitely be the difference between a win or a loss. All of these plays can be run with some alternative picks and most of them can be beat with a well placed bunt, but that’s the beauty of baseball and the chess game that goes on between teams when it comes to strategy.  Be sure to comment with any questions.


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Comments 2

  1. Wheel play with the CF coming in behind the 2B bag is risky, but it may work as a good pick play, or even a back pick play from the catcher on a missed bunt. If the catcher charges the runner and gets him to commit back to second base, he has a good chance for the out with a decent throw. The big downside to both plays is the potential for a ball to get past the CF! Since the corner OFs are backing up the more likely throws to the corners. No risk; No reward 😉

  2. Hello Coach JT and Scott,

    Just discovered your website. Look forward to exploring and learning from it. Could you gentleman do a write up on variations of how to hold a runner on second base and the timing nuances with when the pitcher delivers the ball to the plate? Besides, holding the runner, could you also give some variations of pick off plays at second base?


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