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.

STEALING 2B
CATCHER BASERUNNER 40 YD TIME
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!

sb
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?

little_league_baseball_bunt3
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.

RUNNER(S) 0 OUTS 1 OUT
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.

RUNNER(S) 0 OUTS 1 OUT
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.

Drills That Increase Engagement

engage [en-geyj]

verb (used with object), engaged, engaging.
1. to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons)

One of the most important aspects of a youth baseball practice is keeping as many players engaged into learning and development as often as possible. It can be a real challenge to reach 10, 12, or even 15 young minds with only one or two coaches. It gets even harder with all the distractions in spring – especially in the Midwest with temperatures barely over 40°.

One way to keep players engaged is to remove yourself from the drill while keeping the kids moving around. As a Coach, you serve as the overseer, ensuring that the drill and mechanics are being done correctly.

For instance, you can accomplish many fundamentals for both fielding and batting in one simple drill. We call it the “Rapid Bunt Drill” where we line up two fielders along the foul lines and have one batter bunting balls. Each fielder soft tosses to the batter (either one after the other, or one with 5 reps) and the batter bunts the ball back to the fielder from which the ball came.

rapid-bunt

This drill takes 3 players to perform, so in theory you could set up 4 or 5 stations to get each member of your team involved. Your job as a Coach is to then rotate around the stations and ensure proper mechanics are demonstrated. You don’t need to use the field for this, just line up the fielders along any “foul line” you have available to you or have marked off with cones.

We love this drill because it helps fielders prepare for bunt defense, practice their funnel technique, and also provides a high volume of reps (20-25 in 2 minutes) to the batter to fine tune their bunting skills. In essence, you combine a bunting drill with a fielding drill into one cohesive drill. All of this is accomplished without a Coach directly involved.

Another drill to consider focuses Pitchers on different responsibilities on defense than just backing up different bases. Many teams will use all or most of their players as a Pitcher, therefore going through the defensive responsibilities for Pitchers is vital to success once the games begin. To do that effectively, consider using a drill where Pitchers are actively engaged in the defense, and not just backing up home plate or other bases. See the diagram below for more details.

p-defense-drill

You can replace the Coaches in this drill with other players, effectively keeping the entire team engaged in a drill that moves quickly while covering Pitcher bunt or weak hit defense and covering first base responsibilities. Simply rotate each position to the next logical station after they have participated in the drill.

Look at the drills you have planned for this Spring, and see which ones you can modify to increase engagement while possibly even removing yourself from the drill so you can better see the whole team at once. Feel free to comment with any drills you would add to our short list we have shared in this post.

Batting 101: Bunting

Who doesn’t love bunting?!?!? Most kids!

Bunting is a necessity in baseball, especially at the youth level. When you have a runner at 3rd base and need ONE run, there is no better way to get him or her in.

This 4 minutes video shows the absolute basics in getting into a good stance and position to bunt, then how to move your hands to execute a strong bunt. Check it out and let your Elite Coaches answer any questions you may have.

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