Bunting Strategy in Baseball: When to Bunt


When to Bunt in Baseball

When I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do in baseball was to bunt for a hit. Depending on how the game was going, a bunt was sometimes the perfect way to get on base. Although bunting for a hit can be a great strategy, there are also other scenarios in baseball that call for a bunt, and not all of them require a batter to get on base. Because there are numerous situations that require a bunt, a lot of people wonder about when to bunt in baseball.

As a general rule, batters will bunt to get on base or to move a runner into scoring position. Sometimes batters will try to score a player with a bunt, but a majority of the time batters will either bunt for a base hit or use a sacrifice bunt to safely move a runner to the next base.

There may be just two or three general reasons as to when batters bunt the ball, but there are also very specific scenarios where bunting the ball is beneficial.

When to Bunt in Baseball

Baseball Player Bunting Ball

As a baseball player, it’s important to understand when to bunt and why bunting is beneficial for the team. Not every play needs a bunt, but a perfectly-timed bunt can be the difference between an out and a run.

The table below shows all the different scenarios I could think of on when to bunt for a hit and when to bunt because the situation calls for it. Scroll down further in the post to see more information on each one of these scenarios.

When to Bunt for a HitBunting Strategies
The batter is fastSacrifice Bunt
Third Baseman is playing too far backSuicide squeeze bunt
Third/First baseman is slowSafety squeeze bunt
Third/First baseman is not a great fielder
Pitcher routinely falls to one side of the mound
To get out of a slump
At the beginning of an inning
After a grand slam

When to Bunt For a Hit

Base Runner Ties Throw to First

Sometimes it makes a lot of sense for a batter to bunt for a base hit. There may be additional situations where batters try to bunt for a base hit, but the scenarios below are the most common situations where batters may have an advantage to bunting the ball.

The Batter is Fast

Bunting is beneficial for those players who are fast. The faster the player is, the more likely they are to beat the throw to first base.

I’ve also seen when an opposing team knows you’re fast, they will usually shift the defense so either the first baseman or the third baseman are playing closer to the plate and are in a better position to defend against a bunt. So if you’re a fast player, make sure the defense isn’t in a position to field a bunt and easily throw you out.

An added bonus for players who bat left-handed is that they are a few steps closer to first base than right-handed batters. So those fast players who are left-handed have an advantage. This is also the reason why you see fast left-handed hitters practicing the drag bunt.

If you’re interested in learning more about the drag bunt, feel free to check out my previous article on how to drag bunt (for both left and right-handed hitters).

Third Baseman is Playing Too Far Back

On occasion, batters may find the third baseman is playing unusually far back. This could be because the type of defense the opposing team is playing or it could be because the third baseman isn’t paying attention. For whatever the reason, a batter can take advantage.

If the third baseman is playing so far back that they would have to run a long way to field a bunt, then bunting towards the third-base side of the field can be an easy way for a batter to get on base.

Third Baseman or First Baseman Is Slow

Hitters who pay attention to the defense they’re facing may find out that the third baseman or the first baseman is slow.

The positional players most likely to field a bunt would be either the third or first baseman and if one of those players is slow, hitters can take advantage by bunting in that player’s direction. A well-placed bunt down the line could mean a base hit for the batter.

Third Baseman or First Baseman Is Not a Great Fielder

A good reason for hitters to pay attention to the defense during warm-ups is to get a feel for how well the third baseman and the first baseman can field. Sometimes, players will run into a scenario where the third baseman or the first baseman is having an off-day, unable to make throws, or unable to field ground balls.

Hitters who are aware that the third baseman or first baseman are struggling can lay a bunt down the line with the confidence they will have a higher chance of getting on base.

Pitcher Routinely Falls to One Side of the Mound

Sometimes pitchers have a tendency to finish their pitching motion towards one side of the mound. When this happens, pitchers tend to fall towards the glove side of the mound. So right-handed pitchers tend to fall towards the left side of the mound while left-handed pitchers tend to fall towards the right side of the mound.

If a batter notices that a pitcher tends to fall too far to one side of the mound, the batter can bunt the ball toward the other side of the mound. When the pitcher realizes where the ball is, they’ll have to completely adjust their whole body and run towards the other side of the mound to field the ball.

Especially for batters who are fast, these extra few seconds it takes for the pitcher to field the ball can be beneficial towards safely reaching first base on a bunt.

Bunting to Get Out of a Slump

All baseball hitters will go through a slump at least once in their careers, if not multiple times. I know from experience that slumps are a regular part of baseball, but I also know that slumps will eventually pass (even though it may not feel like it). So if you’re a batter who is in a slump, how do you get out of a hitting slump?

One common method batters use to get out of a hitting slump is to bunt for a base hit. Bunting for a base hit will give batters confidence at the plate and bunting generally helps batters improve their hand-eye coordination for their next at-bat.

Although there may be other ways to get out of a slump, some coaches and hitters prefer to bunt for a base hit to get out of a hitting slump. Sometimes players struggle at the plate because they know they’re in a slump, but bunting for a base hit will break up the mental aspect of knowing that you’re struggling to get on base or get a base hit.

Bunting at the Beginning of an Inning

When a game is close, bunting at the beginning of an inning can be the spark your team needs to get the bats going.

If successful, bunting at the beginning of an inning is beneficial because it allows the team to get a runner on base with no outs. This gives the base runner the best opportunity to score, which is perfect for a close game. This also gives the hitting team additional options, like stealing second, performing a hit and run, or using a sacrifice bunt to move the runner over.

On the other side of the equation, if the bunt is unsuccessful, the batter records an out. The good news is that not much is lost because there were no runners on base and the team still has two more outs to go in the inning.

Bunting After a Grand Slam

In baseball, it’s often said that a grand slam is the best way to kill a rally. Hitting a grand slam is the dream of any baseball player and once a grand slam is hit, it’s often thought that the inning will end shortly afterward.

Whether or not it’s true that grand slams kill a rally in baseball, coaches and players are aware of this notion. So to combat a grand slam from crashing the momentum of a team, players will bunt for a base hit. If successful, this bunt could lead to another rally within that same inning.

Bunting Strategies

Player Bunting Baseball

The scenarios given above reference general situations for when a player should bunt. However, there are also very specific situations where players will want to bunt. Typically, these situations involve strategically moving a base runner towards the next base.

Sacrifice Bunt

One of the most common bunting strategies in baseball is something called the sacrifice bunt.

A sacrifice bunt is when a batter bunts the ball with the purpose of moving a runner into scoring position, but the batter will be thrown out at first base. The batter “sacrifices” themselves in order to move a base runner into scoring position.

When successful, a sacrifice bunt is not considered an official at-bat in baseball. Although it’s most common for batters to use a sacrifice bunt with no outs in the inning, some common scenarios for a hitter to use a sacrifice bunt include:

  • Less than two outs, with a runner on first base
  • Less than two outs, with runners on first and second base
  • Less than two outs, with a runner on second base

Another added benefit to a successful sacrifice bunt is that it removes the possibility of the defense turning a double play. This is especially beneficial when there is a runner on first and the player who is up to bat is not a strong hitter.

The possibility of a double play is also why you see a lot of pitchers in the Major Leagues perform a sacrifice bunt when it is their time to bat. Major League pitchers are generally not thought of as strong hitters so managers would prefer pitchers perform a sacrifice bunt instead of hitting into a double play.

In fact, some pitchers in this scenario still try to perform a sacrifice bunt when they have two strikes, just to prevent a double play from happening.

Suicide Squeeze Bunt

For teams who are looking for a risky bunting strategy, a suicide squeeze play may be just the right call.

A suicide squeeze play in baseball is when a batter bunts the ball, but the baserunner on third base takes off for home as the pitcher is delivering the pitch. It is called a suicide squeeze because the batter is expecting to be thrown out at first, but the objective is to score a run.

A suicide squeeze play is risky because the baserunner will be easily tagged out at home plate by the catcher if the batter misses the bunt.

When performed successfully, a suicide squeeze play in baseball does not count as an at-bat. A suicide squeeze is another form of a sacrifice bunt, which does not count as an official at-bat.

Safety Squeeze Bunt

A less-risky version of the suicide squeeze play is a play called the safety squeeze.

A safety squeeze is when a batter bunts the ball with a runner on third base and the baserunner will only take off for home once they know the bunt is successful. A safety squeeze protects the runner from getting out if the batter were to miss the bunt.

A safety squeeze play is less risky than a suicide squeeze because the batter is not taking off until they know the bunt is successful. Once the runner on third base knows the bunt is fair, they can take off towards home and try to score.

The one drawback to a safety squeeze is that the base runner will have a better chance of getting thrown out at home. So for a safety squeeze to be work, the batter must bunt the ball far enough into the infield to where the defense is not able to get to the ball in time to throw out the runner at home.

When performed successfully, a safety squeeze play in baseball does not count as an at-bat. A suicide squeeze is another form of a sacrifice bunt, which does not count as an official at-bat.

Should You Bunt With Two Outs?

Baseball Player Ready to Hit

There are only three outs in each half-inning of baseball and once that third out is reached, the offense and the defense switch roles. This leads a lot of people to wonder whether they should bunt with two outs.

In general, it is not advised to bunt with two outs because there is a good chance the defense will retire the runner and end the inning. However, most defenses are not prepared for a bunt so coaches may allow a bunt with two outs if the batter is confident they can safely make it to first base.

It is generally frowned upon to bunt when there are two outs in the inning, especially when you have runners on base. Base runners are more likely to score off of a base hit than with a bunt so coaches prefer to see their players swinging the bat when there are two outs.

One exception to this general rule would be if there are no runners on base and there are two outs in the inning. In this scenario, a coach would be ok with a batter bunting for a base hit because there is nobody on base and the team needs baserunners.

Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball on two different adult baseball teams in the surrounding area.

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