Coaching 101: When to Bunt & Steal

One of the most agonizing decisions a youth Coach can make is when does she/he decide to utilize the bunt or ignite their running game? We introduce to you how you can use math and player analysis to help drive decision making during crunch time.

Let’s start with stealing second base on a U12 “select” team. A baserunner with a 6.0 second 40 yard dash time will take approximately 3.5 seconds to run 70′ and reach 2B. A good pitcher, catcher and middle infielder applying a tag will take about 3.75-3.95 seconds for the entire play to unfold based primarily on the catcher’s arm.

ARM STR 6.5 6.0 5.5
55 MPH 3.95 / 3.77 3.95 / 3.50 3.95 / 3.20
60 MPH 3.84 / 3.77 3.84 / 3.50 3.84 / 3.20
65 MPH 3.75 / 3.77 3.75 / 3.50 3.75 / 3.20

Note: these #s are based on average Catcher release times & accurate throws; average Pitcher motion time and velocity; and average tags at 2B. If any of those variables are better/worse than average, adjust your game plan!

Is your runner fast enough to beat the tag?

The # on the left is the total time it should take the defense to make a play at 2B based on the Catcher’s arm. The # on the right is how long it should take your baserunner to reach 2B. We add a 0.2 second difference between the two times posted above as a buffer in our decision making.

We use the catcher’s arm as our indicator not because that is the most important – it is the most consistent and easiest to scout. Pitcher moves to the plate, pitch selection, catcher throwing accuracy, and so on are variable. But…catchers either have cannons for arms, or they do not. It’s easy to see, even without using a radar gun.

As you can see, the challenge in stealing 2B arises with a stronger armed catcher and/or a slower baserunner or if the catcher, pitcher, or middle infielders are above average.

What you should also be able to clearly see is that premium speed should equal many stolen base opportunities!

Transitioning into bunting, this is an area that requires a deep introspective understanding of your team. The general rule is simple: the less outs you have made = the greater chance of scoring. However, if you are not blessed with a lineup that can consistently drive the ball into the outfield, you may need to rely on the bunt at certain times. Let’s examine one such scenario:

Late in the game, trailing by 1 run, our first batter has made it to 1B with 0 outs. Should the batter have the green light, or should we move that runner to 2B and sacrifice an out?

To bunt or not to bunt, that is the question.

A lot of coaches are afraid to hit into a doubleplay during a close game such as this, so they bunt. Statistically speaking, that decision will lower the number or runs you can score that inning by 20% or so.

Using the data below, with a runner at 1B and 0 outs, teams will score 0.83 runs that inning. Bunting that runner to 2B, and adding 1 out, lowers that score to 0.64 runs. Simply stated: your team is losing 0.19 runs that inning by bunting the runner over.

NONE 0.47 0.25
1B 0.83 0.49
2B 1.10 0.64

Transversely, if you can get runners to 1B AND 2B with still nobody out, you now are set to score on average 1.4 runs that inning. Bunting at that time – moving runners to 2B and 3B with 1 out – now only drops your average runs scored that inning to 1.28.

You can also use the information from our guidance on stealing 2B along with this information to determine if you’d rather have your baserunner steal instead of using the bunt.

1B & 2B 1.41 0.88
2B & 3B 1.87 1.28

Like all of baseball, none of this is an exact science. However, the primary goal in baseball – especially at the youth level – is to score runs. Understand the team you have, and the team you are up against. Take a few moments to scout their pitchers, catchers, and middle infielders. Use those impressions (or data if you have the tools) along with the data on your team to determine when you can reasonably steal, or if you need to bunt.

Like MLB teams do, analyzing player performance and using data that is available to you, can make a huge difference between playing “smart” youth baseball and losing tournament games.

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