How to teach a necessary baseball skill plus the progression that will do it for you
Want to see your players have more success, enjoy the game more, and WIN more games?
Then learn how to turn your group of players into the best bunting team in the league.
I am a big proponent of swinging the sticks and swinging them hard, I am not going to sit here and tell you that players need to be bunting all of the time. Scott and I are all about trying to be objective and earnestly look at what is done at the highest level. When watching a big league game there is not an overwhelming amount of bunts being laid down. When played at the highest level, players are swinging the large majority of at bats. Therefore, if we want players to maximize their potential they need to take as many live at bats as possible.
So there are two different sides to this story:
If we take a player who doesn’t have quite as much offensive prowess and decide to bunt him every single at bat of the season we are doing him a disservice. In a sense, we would be handicapping his development and his ability to improve as a hitter.
However, we might be helping the team win if we ask this player to bunt all the time. At the major league level, if a hitter bunts every single at bat, the out will be recorded 98% of the time. That number decreases considerably when you are playing youth baseball, errors are exponentially more prevalent and simply putting the ball in play consistently, enhances the teams potential to score runs.
Every level that players or teams progress, the defense improves…meaning it becomes more important to put the ball in play with authority if we hope to have offensive success and score runs.
So what does it all mean?
I am a proponent of everyone learning how to become a great bunter. No matter how big of a bruiser you are, you are doing yourself a favor by learning how to bunt. It is a necessary skill set to have to be a complete baseball player.
Yes, I recognize that when you watch a big league game the majority of bunts you see will come from a pitcher or a speed guy. However, the game evolves and having every possible tool in your tool belt gives you an edge. Being able to evolve with the game is imperative if we want to give ourselves the edge over our competition and to identify ourselves as the crème de la crème.
Consider the trend of utilizing “the shift” in defensive alignments, that speaks to the evolution of the game and also points to a situation where great bunting skills could absolutely help you find more success. I am not going to preach that youth or high school players need to be bunting all the time but I will preach that they should all learn to become great bunters.
There will be players that you coach that are elite at one level and it seems like they should never bunt, but as they progress to higher levels the talent gap closes (no matter who you are) and that means there may very well be situations that require that same player to do something to differentiate themselves. Being the best bunter on the team is something that can be that differentiator.
Your ego may be acting as that voice in the back of your head right now saying “no not me” or “not my son” and that is perfectly natural. However, our goal is to give our players, our children, or ourselves the best opportunity for success. I promise you that taking a minimal amount of practice time and dedicating it to learning and developing the art of bunting and execution will be gaining an edge that others naively overlook.
So what is the proper technique?
This post will focus on a sacrifice bunt, in large part because players should first learn a proper set of mechanics for a sacrifice bunt, then progress to the skill (drag, push, etc.) bunts after that.
1. Pre-pitch set-up
Players need to be taught to get up in the batter’s box (towards the pitcher). Meaning they should have their front foot as close to the front line of the box as possible. This improves our angles and hence improves our ability to get the bunt down in fair territory.
2. When to show sacrifice bunt
Players need to be taught when to show bunt. Remind them that this is a sacrifice; we are giving ourselves up (for much younger players letting them know that it doesn’t count against their batting average can help their state of mind). This means we do not have to wait until extremely late to show bunt (different situations will dictate how early or late we can show bunt and we will cover those in a future post). For this set of mechanics tell the players to go ahead and show early, meaning once the pitcher comes set we can go ahead and show.
3. Early show set-up
Players should be directed to set their angle early with the barrel level to the ground. Additionally, we want to get the barrel out away from our body/face. All the while putting our face behind the bat.
3A. How to set the angle:
The 1st and 3rd baselines are perpendicular to each other, so to set our angle (as a right handed hitter) we can think about pointing the tip of our bat to 1st base to set our angle for a bunt down the third base line. Then we can think about pointing our knob towards 3rd base to set our angle for a bunt down the 1st base line…visa versa for both of these for left handed hitters. Now, keep in mind this is a sacrifice bunt so we are looking at getting it down in the 1st base third or the 3rd base third, we do not need to make a perfect bunt that is right down line. Therefore, after we have pointed the tip or the knob we will decrease the angle slightly to help insure we keep it fair.
3B. Why level instead of tip up:
Some coaches are adamant about the tip being considerably higher than the hands. That is how I was taught, however, when we start in that position it means we have to drop the tip down as we are bunting the ball. By starting with the barrel level we are going to be able to change elevation by using our legs, which will allow us to keep our eyes at the same spot relative to the barrel of the bat. This makes it much easier to track the pitch and get the bunt down.
3C. What do you mean face behind the barrel:
We want players to gain depth with their chest and their eyes and have their eyes above the barrel while the face is behind the bat.
3D. Where should the barrel be set from an elevation or height standpoint:
Our eyes and the barrel should be set at the top of the strike zone, anything that is above the barrel we will pull back and not offer at the pitch. Any thing that is a strike and below the starting position of the bat we will simply take the back knee down towards the ground to change the elevation of the bat. As this move is done the eyes should change elevation at the same rate as the barrel and therefore stay at the same spot relative to the barrel (as we just discussed…but this is really important, beat it to death until the players make the adjustment). Emphasize having the players watch the ball hit the bat.
3E. Should the bat be out away from the body or in close:
Get that thing out there! When bunting down the third base line as a righty, we have had success with the verbal cue of: “think about your back shoulder touching your chin and reaching that right hand out in front.”
A lot of people have concern that reaching the arms way out in front leads to hard hands. To avoid this think about keeping a micro-bend in the elbow (emphasis on micro!) and be loose with the hands, this will keep us nice and soft. One of the other quite common verbal cues you can use to potentially help with this is: “catch the ball with the bat.”
3F. How our lower half should be set up:
Think about a lunge position with the lower half, with the back foot pivoted around (turn the shoe laces over). This sets us up to be able to very efficiently change barrel/eyes elevation with our legs by simply taking the back knee down towards the ground.
4. Where the ball should be bunted:
The situation will dictate where we want to bunt the ball bunted. In most cases it is favorable to get sacrifice bunts down in the 3rd base third of the infield. Typical sacrifice situations will be when there is a runner on 1st only or when there are runners on 1st and 2nd base.
4A. Situation #1 - Runner on 1st base only
When there is a runner on 1st, if we get the bunt down the 3rd base line then we create an interchange situation for the defense. This is when either the pitcher or the catcher is supposed to interchange with the third basemen. Very often teams are not properly coached on how to run the interchange or the pitcher or catcher flat out forgets. That means 3rd base is open and the runner that we sacrificed to 2nd base can now potentially take 3rd base due to the fact that no one covered it up. However, if we bunt it down the 1st base line the third basemen should retreat to 3rd and have it covered.
4B. Situation #2 – Runners on 1st and 2nd base
When there are runners on 1st and 2nd we especially want to try to get the bunt in the 3rd base third of the infield because it draws the 3rd baseman in to field the bunt (dependent upon the bunt defensive play that has been called by the opponent). As an offense we want the out to be made at first and the other 2 runners to advance, if the 3rd baseman has to field the bunt this desired outcome is much more likely.
Bunting progression you can use today
Below I have put together a bunting progression that can be implemented into practices to help skyrocket player’s ability to execute. Try implementing this during practice; it will take a fair bit of time to explain the proper technique and the progression itself the first time you introduce it to your team or child, but after that it should be something that can be completed in 10 minutes.
- On one knee with one hand 5x to 1B side
- On one knee with one hand 5x to 3B side
- On one knee with 2 hands 5x to 1B side
- On one knee with 2 hands 5x to 3B side
- Lunge position, take back knee down to ground 1 hand 5x to 1B side
- Lunge position, take back knee down to ground 1 hand 5x to 3B side
- Lunge position, take back knee down to ground 2 hands 5x to 1B side
- Lunge position, take back knee down to ground 2 hands 5x to 3B side
If players do this on a daily basis they will undoubtedly improve as bunters. If you can consistently get bunts down and they are called for in the correct situations it will absolutely lead to more wins. Try it out and let us know if you have any questions.