Bunting Isn't Popular, But It's a Necessary Skill

Bunting Isn't Popular, But It's a Necessary Skill

2017: The Year of the Mammoth Blast! Has a nice ring to it, conjuring images of big men, big swings, and lots of power. Which is a far cry from an old-school approach to offense like small ball and its emphasis on getting ’em on, moving ’em over, and driving ’em in.

One of the key elements of a successful small-ball strategy is the humble bunt, for both getting on base and for moving runners over. When bunting is used by hitters looking to sneak their way to a single with finesse and speed, it succeeds a surprisingly high percentage of the time: a batting average of .433 in 600 attempts in 2016.

When bunts are laid down as a sacrifice -- a critical component of an offense looking to “manufacture” runs -- they are typically successful about 70-80 percent of the time.

So if bunts end in hits more frequently than regular plate appearances, and if they advance runners into better scoring position seven out of ten times, why have they become so scarce? Why has bunting become a dying art in Major League Baseball?

Who are the Bunters?
The 600 plate appearances in 2016 where batters were bunting for a hit was the lowest number of the last decade by a wide margin: about 20 percent lower than 2007. It was most certainly a far cry from the all-time record of bunt-for-hit attempts, which we’ll likely never approach again -- can you even imagine a $100M power hitter turning and squaring up to bunt?

Yet, that’s precisely what used to happen back in the day. In fact, none other than Mickey Mantle -- he of the 536 career home runs and 18 World Series home runs -- bunted for a single 12 times in 20 attempts in 1956, the year he won the Triple Crown!

He bunted in the postseason, too, and even tried to lay one down in the 1964 All Star Game, which just goes to show that the all-time greats could do everything well, including playing small ball when needed.

Bunting for Hits
Pushing bunts toward the opposite field and dragging bunts down the line are offensive weapons that rely on precision and the element of surprise. In other words, they’re a crafty way of exploiting shaky or unsuspecting infield defense.

What’s more, bunting is a great rhythm breaker when an opposing pitcher is really locked in a groove, so there are a couple fundamentals all players need to know when trying to push or drag their way on base.

First of all, it’s imperative that you catch the opposition unaware; so unlike a sacrifice bunt, bunting for a hit requires that you not take a bunter’s stance too soon. Secondly, also unlike sacrifice bunts, you will need to start moving toward first base as you make contact with the pitch.

As for what young hitters need to do between the time they show bunt and the moment they blast out of the batter’s box, Rick Strickland Baseball can teach them everything they need to know.

Sacrifice Bunts
Advancing runners with a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt may not sound simple, and it sometimes doesn’t look simple when it goes awry, but the fundamentals that allow you to do it really are simple.

They take into account three important things: an agile stance, proper hand and bat placement, and a bit of fluid motion.

“Squaring up” your stance and getting into a relaxed athletic position as the pitcher starts his windup is the first thing to do. You will be facing down the first base line now with your feet shoulder-width apart, your knees bent, and your bat out in front of you.
Proper hand and bat positioning is crucial. Your top hand will move up to the barrel of the bat, your bottom hand will move up slightly from the knob of the bat, and your arms will extend out from your body so the bat is in fair territory near the top of the strike zone.
As with a regular swing, your body will be in motion as the pitch comes home. And since the bat will be starting at the top of the zone, you’ll only need to lower it to make contact. When doing so, be sure to keep the barrel above your hands at all times to avoid popping out. Bend at the knees to lower the bat (don’t simply lower your arms), and be soft with your hands to “catch” the ball with the bat, instead of jabbing it.
Oh, and it also takes a bit of courage, especially when a guy like Aroldis Chapman is throwing 100-mph heaters up into the zone.

A Necessary Skill
It’s often said of baseball that it’s a simple game: get ’em on, move ’em over, and drive ’em in. But while this sort of small-ball approach may be less popular in today’s power-oriented game, young players -- especially young pitchers -- still need to know how to do it properly.

That’s why Rick Strickland Baseball’s training programs are instructive for hitters in all areas of offense. Not only will they help players improve their swings, they are aimed at maximizing each individual’s skills and abilities, including things like bunting, which might even be necessary in the World Series. Just ask Mickey Mantle.

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