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Scoring Runs Without Hitting Part II

 “Get ‘em on, Get ‘em over, Get ‘em in.”  This is the motto of many coaches who believe in generating runs though small ball.  As we discussed in Part I, there are some days where your team just will not hit.  On those days, hopefully you get good pitching and you are able to get a few runners on base (see Part I).  When you do get runners on, the coach has to make a difficult decision.  Do you try to make something happen by putting runners in motion or bunting, or do you let your hitters try to break through and come up with a few big hits.To many coaches, the answer is clear, you try to force the issue and try to make something happen.  Even though this may seem obvious, I caution you not to just automatically put on a sacrifice bunt, straight steal or hit and run in an attempt to break through.  I encourage you to consider the situation carefully to determine which of those methods will work best in any given situation.


Know your personnel:

It sounds very simple, but many coaches do not truly know who on their team can bunt, bunt for a hit, run, get good jumps, or put the ball in play consistently.  In order to obtain this knowledge, you should take time out of practice to watch baserunners stealing live against pitchers and catcher, watch hitters sacrifice and bunt for hits against live pitching.  You should also take time out of practice to time players in the 60 yard dash, home to first, first to third, and from their leadoff to second base.  All of this information will play a role in your decision to bunt, hit and run, straight steal, or let your hitters try to move the runners on their own.



Sacrifice bunt:

If you read the introduction to my blog, you know I am a bit of a numbers guy and you can probably guess that I am not a huge fan of the sacrifice bunt.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t see value in bunting, I just don’t believe that trading an out for 90 feet is a good idea in most situations.


On a day when you are not hitting, or you are facing a pitcher who doesn’t give up too many hits, I see very little value in bunting a runner from first to second.  However, it may be beneficial to try to create some havoc with bunting. So instead of bunting with giving up an out in mind, but with the idea of creating havoc and putting pressure on the defense.


I do believe that moving a runner from second to third, or from first and second to second and third is a much better move, especially in a close and late situation.  Getting a runner to third with less than two outs in a low scoring game is a big deal.  There are several ways you can score from third with less than two outs (see Part III) and in a game where you may not score many runs, every run is precious.


How do you know when you should sacrifice bunt a runner from second to third?  If the middle of our order is up, or one of your better hitters is up, I would recommend letting them swing away.  Even though you aren’t hitting much on that day, I still believe it is a bad idea to take the bat out of your best hitters hands to move a runner 90 feet.  I would also advise against bunting a runner to third if you have a very fast, good baserunner on second.  If you have one of your best baserunners on second, it may be a good idea to let your hitter swing away with no outs, then try to steal third with one out if he doesn’t move the runner or come up with a big hit.


Moving a runner to third by a sacrifice bunt is a good idea when you need only one run late in the game, or if have weak hitters who put the ball in play coming up.  They may not be likely to get a hit, but they may be able to hit a ground ball or sacrifice fly to score the runner.  Likewise, it is a bad idea to bunt a runner to third in front of someone who strikes out on a regular basis.


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A lesson that I learned early in my coaching career is to be careful bunting runners over to put your best hitter at the plate.  During one of my first years of coaching, we had runners on first and second late in the game with our number two hitter up.   Our third hitter was by far our best hitter, so I bunted the runners to second and third hoping he could come up with a hit to give us the lead (we were down one run).  As you might expect, the opposing coach intentionally walked our best hitter to set up a double play, which our number four hitter inevitably grounded into.  Lesson learned.



Bunt for a hit

If you feel as I do that giving up an out to move a runner 90 feet is not a good trade in many situations, bunt for a hit is a much better alternative to sacrifice bunt.  Bunting for a hit (as a method to move runners) is best used when there are no strikes, nobody out and runners on first, second or first and second.


When bunting for a hit, your hitters show a little later (around the pitchers foot strike), and try to put the ball on the third base line.  When we are bunting for a hit we are trying to put pressure on the defense.  The best possible outcome is that we will cause the infielders to rush their throws and we will be able to advance multiple bases on an error.  The next best outcome is that we will beat the throw to first.  A neutral outcome would be if we make an out but advance the runner.  Anything other than that would be considered a negative outcome.


Be sure that you practice bunting for a hit as much, or more than you practice sacrifice bunting since it is a more difficult skill to master (different bunting techniques will likely be a future blog topic). Next time you feel compelled to sacrifice bunt, give bunt for a hit a try.  If your hitter goes to one strike, then you can use another method of trying to move the runner.



Hit and Run

Hit and run is a good tactic to use when you have a good runner on (not a great runner), when you have someone at the plate who handles the bat well and is able to put the ball in play.  I will generally try a hit and run in a fastball count (1-0, 2-1) or after a pitcher throws a ball with a curveball with less than two strikes (very rarely will a pitcher throw a curveball for a ball then come back with another).


If you are unable to move the runner with no outs, you should consider using a hit and run with one out.  A hit and run opens up the infield, it puts pressure on the opposing defense, and creates an opportunity for a big inning.  If your hit and run is successful, you will have moved the runner to 3rd (not just to 2nd) with one out.




Straight Steal

Obviously a straight steal has a high “risk/reward” play.   To minimize the risk and maximize the reward, choosing the appropriate time to run is key.   Trying to move a runner into scoring position with two outs, or trying to move a runner to third with one out are examples of times when the reward of a successful steal attempt may outweigh the risk of being thrown out.


I personally believe that a straight steal can be a good strategy when used in the correct situation.  One of the biggest keys is to know the numbers.  Make sure that you time the pitchers delivery to home, and the catchers “pop” time (the time from his glove to the glove at the base).  You should also know your players leadoff to second base times in a game situation (you can get these times during practice by setting up realistic stealing situations). If the pitchers delivery time plus the catcher’s pop time is less than your runner’s leadoff to second time, stealing may be difficult.  If the pop time plus pitcher’s deliver time is more than your runner’s time, you should have success stealing.


That is a very simplistic view of stealing a base, and we all know there are many more variables that go into it.  Another key to stealing a base is choosing a curveball count.  Curveball counts are any count where the pitcher is ahead (0-1, 1-2, 0-2) or any even count where the pitcher threw a fastball strike on the previous pitch.  Additionally, knowing how a pitcher has attacked different hitters in your lineup may help you pick a curveball to run on.  A full count is also a good time to run when you have a hitter who puts the ball in play.


Another strategy you can use to help your runners in this case is to have your hitter “protect” the runner with less than two strikes.  If you put the straight steam on with less than two strikes, your hitter should swing through any pitch they don’t want to hit in order to give protection to your runner.  Make sure they swing slightly after the ball has crossed the hitting zone and that they do not interfere with the catcher.




While those are not the only means to move a runner 90 feet, they should give you a good idea of when and how you can move the runners.  Ultimately, coaches should choose which strategy matches the individual situation and their team’s personnel.  Remember, the goal in this scenario is to move runners when you are not hitting.  Each of these strategies comes with its own risks and rewards.  As you can see, your decision of how to move the runner is not as easy as it seems from the outside, there is a lot that goes into deciding when to bunt, when to steal, or when to hit and run.  All you can do is prepare yourself with enough knowledge to make the best decision for your situation.


In Part 3, we will explore the ways to get runners in from third when you are not hitting.


NOTE:  I will discuss more of the technical aspects of the sacrifice bunt, bunt for hit, hit and run and straight steal in future posts.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Greg Brumley says:


    I speak from a perspective of coaching jr. college and college players, so this may not square perfectly with high school.

    However, I think sabermetrics’ lack of perspective is laid bare in this issue. The sabermetrics “gurus”, by and large, did not play the game past youth or high school. Their lack of empirical understanding shows up in their denigration of the sacrifice bunt and the steal. Good coaches should not buy into it. One need only look at World Baseball Classic powers like Japan and the Caribbean teams — or even MLB World Series champions like the Cardinals of 2011 and early 2000s Yankees, to name just two — to see the impact of the sac bunt and steal.

    The sacrifice bunt is very valuable with a runner on first. We are all familiar with the number of ways one may score from 3rd vs. from 2nd. Look at the difference between from second and from first: it’s at least as significant. And the need to avoid the force play and double play is as great with one runner as with two. Moreover, the sac. bunt is the easiest offensive play to execute. (And to denigrate trading advancing a runner for an out is to disrespect a lot of great at bats which don’t produce hits. A bunt, a ground ball to the right side, a fly ball which advances a runner are all the same thing. They’re all productive outs, without which championship seasons don’t happen.)

    As to the steal: Depending on the runner and the catcher, stealing second base is 60% to 80% successful. Against all but the best batteries, it can be executed by skilled runners with average — or even below average — speed. The advantages of successful steals of second are myriad. Not only do they multiply the runner’s chance of scoring, they change the way the pitcher must approach the hitter and the way the infield and outfield must position and react. They also create offensive momentum and defensive tension.

    Your commentary indicates you don’t believe a single bunt or steal will greatly affect a defense. But the inside game consists of a combination applied every inning: HBPs, expanded pitch counts, walks, sac bunts, steals, and productive outs. This combination requires the infield to hurry throws. Just as importantly, it requires the infield to be in motion on every pitch (motion in response to offensive strategy, BEFORE moving in response to the batted ball). Both the bunt and steal are great distractions to the pitcher, and both force him to throw more. These offensive plays not only force errors, they constrict the defense’s range and options. A barrage of hits will break down a pitcher; the inside game breaks down the whole defense.

    Bunting and stealing not only destroy defenses, they also yield much better pitch selections for your power hitters.

    Finally, there is the impact of the sacrifice bunt on team cohesion. Let’s be honest: Though the sacrifice bunt is the easiest execution for a hitter, many hitters fail with the hope (conscious or unconscious) that the sign will be taken off and they may hit away. I believe any coach who allows this is foolish. Here on the west coast, it is common at all levels to see the batter receive the bunt sign after he has failed to get a bunt down on the first two strikes. The message is clear and ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL: “You were sent to the plate to execute a bunt for your teammates. Either do your job or fail your teammates.” On the flip side, dugouts cheer executed sacrifice bunts with the same enthusiasm they cheer RBIs.

    • Kyle Nelson says:


      Thanks for the comments. I am one of those rare stat heads who played the game above the high school level. As a player I was a huge student of the game. I tried to learn everything these was to learn about every aspect of the game. Over the past 10 years (I am a high school statistics teacher also) I have begun to integrate my knowledge of numbers and probability into my understanding of the game as well. I believe that the true answer falls between the two camps on Sabrmetrics.

      In regards to both sacrifice bunt and steal, I don’t think we see these issues very differently. When I put on a bunt, it is for the exact reasons you mentioned… to create havoc with the defense and force them into an uncomfortable position. I actually believe that as you move down levels in baseball, bunting becomes an even better proposition because every third basemen you see is better than 95% of the third basemen we see. Sacrifice bunting at the MLB level is almost an automatic out. At my level you’ve got a 3rd basemen who has just grown into his body and probably hasn’t been coached the correct way to field bunts and slow rollers. The odds of something good happening for us on a bunt is much better at the high school level than at the college or pro level.

      The thing that I have learned from my study of numbers… outs are the most precious thing an offense has. They are the clock. When we bunt, we don’t bunt with the intention of making an out. We bunt with the intention of creating havoc and creating a big inning (big innings win games). It may not fit your team cohesion model exactly, but our view is that it is best for the team to create big innings.

      Here is our list of outcomes for bunting:

      Positive results:
      1.) Create an error that costs multiple bases
      2.) Batter safe, all base runners safe

      Neutral Result:
      3.) Baserunner(s) advance and the batter is out

      Negative Results:
      4.) Lead runner gets thrown out
      5.) Make an out without advancing the runner
      6.) Double play

      1 and 2 are what we strive for, 3 is acceptable, 4-6 are unacceptable.

      I also agree with your comments on stealing bases, I may just make a few extra calculations than most. Some go on gut feeling. I hate making outs at any point, so I make sure I know my players lead off to second base times in game situations, then compare it to the pitchers time to the plate and the catcher’s pop time in game situations. The tag generally takes about .2 seconds. I also watch the catcher’s accuracy because an inaccurate throw adds to the time of the tag. I also try to pick curveball counts to run on since that greatly slows down the process. Our stolen base % over the past 4 seasons has been between 85-95%. This year, I am looking to run more to see if we can pick more of those good situations to run in.

      A few years ago, we had a player who ran a 6.45, he had the green light and could steal whenever he wanted.

      I don’t thing our views on these to subjects are very far apart, and I do believe that many of the stat heads ignore the human element of the game. I also feel that any program would benefit from an understanding of to use numbers and probabilities to their advantage (and how they can be mis-used).

      Thanks again for your comments. There is nothing I enjoy more than exchanging baseball ideas. The strategy involved in the game is second to none.

      Kyle Nelson
      Owner and Founder
      Cornerstone Coaching Academy

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