These days, bunting is becoming a less and less frequent event in baseball. Something that is even less frequent is seeing someone bunt with 2 strikes. If you see someone bunt with 2 strikes you might be thinking to yourself “Why would he do that?” or “Can you bunt with 2 strikes?” I found myself asking those same questions.
Can you bunt with 2 strikes? In any level of baseball, a batter is allowed to bunt with 2 strikes. However, when a batter has 2 strikes and the bunt attempt results in a foul ball, the ball is ruled a strike and the at-bat is recorded as a strikeout.
Some might find this rule to be a little weird. Where did it come from and why would anyone ever try to bunt with 2 strikes?
Bunting With 2 Strikes Is a Good Idea For Pitchers
In the National League, and in many leagues that are not Major League Baseball, pitchers are included in the lineup as a batter. This can pose a problem for a lot of these teams because pitchers tend to be focused on practicing their pitching, not hitting. So when pitchers are up in the batting order, the offense is not too shocked when the at-bat results in an out.
It is for this reason that pitchers are well-known for bunting. So when a pitcher is up to bat and there are runners on base, the chances of them bunting the ball is fairly high. But what happens when the pitcher has 2 strikes on them? Should they still bunt?
The answer depends on how much you trust your pitcher when he is batting. If he is a fairly solid hitter then it would make more sense to let him swing away and try to get a hit.
If he is a fairly poor hitter then it would make sense to ask him to bunt again when he has 2 strikes. If he fouls it off then he’s out, but if he makes contact then he will move the runners over.
But you still might be wondering “why not let the pitcher swing?” While it makes sense on first thought to let the pitcher swing to avoid the potential out from a bunted foul ball, managers are also aware that there’s a good chance the pitcher could hit into a double play.
So a lot of managers will take the risk of getting one out and moving the runners over if it means avoiding the potential double play, which could blow up the inning.
So the pitcher who is batting would be the one exception to the generally accepted rule of not bunting with 2 strikes. If any other player other than the pitcher is up, then it makes more sense to swing away.
All other position players practice their batting a lot more than pitchers so the chances of a position player making contact and getting on base are greater than a pitcher’s chances.
Why is the 2 Strike Bunt Foul an Out?
Believe it or not, the 2 strike bunt foul has not always been a rule. In fact, foul balls were not even counted as a strike back in the early days of baseball. Foul balls used to just be dead balls and that was that – it was neither a strike nor a ball.
According to Foul Ballz, the “Foul Strike Rule” would not become enacted until 1901 in the National League and 1903 in the American League. This rule outlines the foul ball as we know today: a foul ball is counted against the batter as a strike unless there are 2 strikes against the batter.
The Foul Strike Rule also included a rule that a foul ball could be called a strike if the foul ball was intentional and there were 2 strikes on the batter (therefore, bunting with 2 strikes would now result in a strikeout).
So the “Foul Strike Rule” was officially a rule in 1901 and 1903, but why did we need a rule for fouling off bunts when the batter has 2 strikes? Turns out, there are a handful of reasons the league wanted this rule in place.
The Foul Strike Rule Increases the Pace of Play
Even back in the early 1900s, people were making rule changes to increase the pace of play. One of the reasons this new rule would increase the pace of play is because batters would be unable to hit as many foul balls as they did before.
If a foul ball is counted against the batter then the batter has more strikes against him. These extra strikes increase the odds of him leaving the batter’s box – either from swinging and attempting to make contact or from striking out.
The Foul Strike Rule Prevents Players From Intentionally Fouling Off Pitches
Could you imagine the strategy that would be used today if foul balls were counted as neither a strike nor a ball?
Batters who are less skilled would be able to square up a bunt and continuously foul off those pitches until they receive enough balls to walk to first. In fact, this was a strategy that was beginning to be used until the Foul Strike Rule was enacted and prevented this type of strategy.
Between the time the Foul Strike Rule was enforced in 1901 in the National League and in 1903 in the American League, it was shown that the offense for the American League had higher numbers. It was clear this type of strategy was working and if the Foul Strike Rule was not around then it’s very likely we would be seeing this strategy as a very normal part of baseball today.
Making some contact with a bunt and fouling off the pitch continuously would also increase the length of time it took to play baseball. So adding this ruling also ended up helping speed up the time frame of a game.
Good Pitchers Could Be Forced Out of the Game Without the Foul Strike Rule
If batter could foul off pitch after pitch by bunting, then pitchers would have to throw more and more pitches.
With more and more pitches being thrown, the pitcher’s arm would grow tired fairly quickly. So one strategy a manager could implement would be to ask your batters to keep fouling off pitches until the pitcher is tired and must be taken out of the game.
Looking back through the lens of what we know today, this strategy seems fairly obvious and sounds like a pretty unfair advantage for the batters.
Without this called strike rule for bunting with two outs, we may have not seen some of the dominant pitching appearances that we see today because batters would have been able to tire out these pitchers much more easily.
What Happens if a Runner Was Stealing During a Foul Ball Bunt?
In the case where the ball goes foul from a bunt and the batter had two strikes on them, the ball is called dead and the at-bat is recorded as a strikeout.
If a runner is stealing a base while the batter is bunting with 2 strikes, the runner will have to head back to the previous base if the batter fouls the pitch.
This may seem contradictory though – how can a play result in a foul ball (which is typically a dead ball) and a strikeout (typically a live play) at the same time?
The answer is that in this scenario, the ball is a dead ball and the batter is penalized with a strikeout. And since the ball is a dead ball, the runner must go back to the base they were at prior to the pitch.
If the ball was not called dead after bunting foul with two strikes, think about the strategy the batter could use with a runner on third. The batter could intentionally bunt the ball foul, but bunt it so far foul that the runner would score easily.
So can you bunt with 2 strikes? Absolutely, but understand that there is a risk of being called for a strikeout if the ball goes foul. There may be some situations where bunting with 2 strikes is a good strategy, like when a pitcher is batting, but those situations are fairly rare and most managers will tell their batters to swing away when they have two strikes.