They’re Bunting!!!! What do we do?


You are the manager for the visiting team, The Dudes.  The score is 4-3 and you just took the lead in the top half of the 9th inning on a solo homer by the owners kid, Dude Johnson.  It is now the bottom of the 9th inning and 0 outs.  Lead-off hitter and “Plus” runner, Ricky Henderson just hit a single up the middle.  Up next is left handed bunting specialist Juan Pierre who is also a “Plus” runner.  As soon as pitcher, Sandy Koufax comes set, Pierre shows that he is sacrifice bunting.

As manager you have decided to call time out and talk over defensive assignments with your infielders on the mound.

Your assignment:

Tell each infielder what their responsibilities if the ball is bunted.

1st baseman positioning choices:

  • Hold runner on 1st base or
  • Stand on the inner cut of grass to be closer to a bunted ball

Decision choice:

  • Charge or
  • Wait until ball is bunted

If the ball is bunted to the 1st baseman what should he do with the ball?

  • Throw to 1st base or
  • Throw to 2nd base

Second Baseman positioning choices:

  • Double play depth or
  • Stand in the hole between 1st and 2nd base.

Decision choices if ball is bunted:

  • Cover 2nd base or
  • Cover 1st base

Short Stop positioning:

  • Double play depth or
  • Cheat a few steps towards 2nd base

Decision choices:

  • Cover 2nd base or
  • Cover 3rd base

Third Baseman position choices:

  • Double play depth or
  • Stand in baseline grass or
  • Inside cut of grass

Decision choices:

  • Start walking towards the bunter or
  • Charge or
  • Hold your ground until ball is bunted

If the ball is bunted to the 3rd baseman what should he do with the ball?

  • Throw to 1st base or
  • Throw to 2nd base

Pitcher Coverage choices to field a bunt:

  • Cover area in front of the mound or
  • Run to the 1st base line on bunt or
  • Run to 3rd base line on a bunt

As you walk back to the dugout you are confident that each guy understands their assignments.  Now we are going to find out if you understand the best defensive alignment.  If you are wrong and lose this game you will probably lose your job.  No pressure!

Oh and by the way….You’re playing at Minute Maid Park in Houston.  The roof is shut and there was a special 7th Game World Series promotion sponsored by Red Bull.  43,000 Red Bulled Texans are stomping their Lucchese boots and screaming at the top of their lungs.

In other words, the players on the field will not be able to hear each other even if they are 5 feet from each other.

So what are you going to do?


44 Comments on “They’re Bunting!!!! What do we do?”

  1. Bret Sanders says:

    Bring in Brad Lidge to strikeout the side.

  2. BP says:

    Jersey No. 3. Hopefully you’ve worked on silent defensive communication before.

    I crash the pitcher and third baseman. Whichever one of them fields the ball, the other goes back to third to prevent the runner on first from trying to go first to third.

    I hold the first baseman, in order to try and prevent the fake bunt and steal.

    The second baseman plays the hole and is wary of a pull bunt between the mound and 1st base. He also needs to be moving towards first base to back up in case the catcher throws behind on a missed bunt attempt.

    Shortstop covers 2nd base, in case there is a play there.

    Most importantly, get an out.

    • BP- the crowd noise is something that you have to deal with. Most big league teams don’t cover bunt defense well at all. It surprises me that more big league teams don’t put pressure on opponents with the bunt.


  3. Rick #9 says:

    If it’s a good hitter coming up behind Pierre I play for the out. If not, I let him bunt and have a force at any base. If I do defense the play I….

    Tell Koufax to throw hard and at the top of the zone in on Pierre’s hands to increase the chances of the bunt being a foul ball.

    If it’s a decent bunt you can’t get Henderson at 2B. You have to play for the out.

    1B hold and come in on the pitch.

    2B in the dirt just in back of the base line and cover 1B

    SS in the dirt just behind the base line and cover 2B just in case he Rickey pulls a hamstring and you have a prayer of getting the force

    3B come in on the bunt and go to 1B

    Pitcher covers in front of the mound

  4. Andy R says:

    3rd baseman charges the bunt, 1st baseman stands at inner cut of grass. SS covers 2nd with the 2nd baseman covering first. The catcher needs to be sure to cover 3rd in the event the pitcher fields bunt, in case Rickey decides to take off again during the melee. With Henderson’s speed, it’s doubtful the out will be at 2nd base, so the throw should go to first, regardless of who fields it.

    • Andy great call on the catcher covering 3rd base! That is a very important point. It impresses me that you know that. It actually shows me that you had a great coach.


  5. Karen says:

    Okay, here goes. I’m presuming that these are just names, instead of the actual players (otherwise, Sandy Koufax is 74 years old, and I’m not too sure he could throw effectively anymore). Anyway, the first baseman should hold the runner, as he is a threat to steal (and I think that Rickey Henderson still could steal bases today, even though he’s 51 years old). He should wait until the ball is bunted before reacting and, if he is right-handed, throw to the 2nd baseman, who I suspect will be covering first. If the first baseman is left-handed and fields the bunt, he could possibly throw to 2nd base, depending on whether Henderson got a good jump (since the first baseman was holding the runner, he probably did not get a good jump).

    The second baseman should stand in the hole between 1st and 2nd, ready to cover 1st base if the 1st baseman fields the ball. The shortstop should cheat a few steps toward 2nd base, ready to cover 2nd if the 1st baseman or 3rd baseman fields the ball and throws to 2nd.

    The third baseman should be on the inside cut of grass, ready to charge if the ball is bunted toward 3rd base (or toward the 3rd base side of the pitcher’s mound). If the ball is bunted toward 3rd base, the 3rd baseman should check Henderson’s progress–again, what kind of jump did he get from 1st base? The safest play would be to throw toward 1st, but it might be possible to get the lead runner if the ball is bunted too hard.

    The pitcher should focus on the area in front of the mound and toward the 1st base line, since the 1st baseman is holding the runner. If the ball is bunted directly toward him, he should check Henderson’s progress before making a throw–again, it depends on the jump.

    I guess my point is that while it would be nice to get the lead runner, it might not always be practical. The main problem I see is that if you throw to 2nd and don’t get Henderson, you will have two fast runners on base and no outs–and then you have to worry about a potential double steal, since both runners have “plus” speed. Depending on who the next batter is in the lineup, it might make more sense to get the safe out at 1st, intentionally walk the next batter, and play for the double play with the batter who currently is in the hole.

    And I think that the visiting team would already have developed hand signals to communicate in case of loud crowd noise, so I don’t think that the stomping boots, vuvuzelas, air horns, etc. would have as much of an impact as you would think.

  6. Rickey’s been nabbed enough in his career to think that we should not just let him just steal the base and put odds way against us. Have first baseman hold him on. This will hinder his response time, so make sure third baseman is charging and have pitcher cover first base side. We don’t want Rickey on third so have SS cover third (since third baseman is charging) in event Rickey goes crazy, and have second baseman play DP depth to cover the bag on a steal.

    Not hearing each other is okay if catcher fields bunt (he has play in front of him) and can make decision to get sure out. Otherwise, unless non-catcher retrieves bunt quickly enough to take peek at second, always get the (high %) out at first. Rickey’s too fast and most likely will be stealing or have a great jump off the bunt to have a realistic shot at him.

    Please don’t fire me.

  7. Jake says:

    1st baseman holds runner and then charges and throws to 1st base.
    2nd baseman stands in the hole and covers 1st base if ball is bunted.
    SS cheats a few steps toward 2nd base and covers 2nd base.
    3rd baseman is inside cut of grass and charges and throws to 1st base.
    The pitcher covers the area in front of the mound.

    Of course, as my pitcher delivers to the plate, the runner takes off from first. But my relievers high fastball is popped up by Pierre, caught by my 3rd basemen and fired to 1st for the double-play!

  8. Mr. Baseball says:

    Due to it being Rickey and Juan Pierre, i’ve got my 3B holding at DP depth, 1st baseman crashing hard as soon as bunt is shown, 2B in between to cover first and SS cheating a bit towards 2B. Only a line drive type bunt attempt am i going to try to get the force (or if my first baseman crashed hard and is picking the ball up within 15 feet of the batter), otherwise if they r giving me an out, i’m taking the out.

  9. James says:

    First thing to tell a pitcher: “He’s giving you an out. Take it!”

    1st base: hold the runner, charge, throw to first
    2nd base: cover hole, cover first
    SS: before pitch hold near 2nd in case of a miss and steal, cover third on bunt
    3b: charge, go to first
    P and C: be ready to field a straight ahead bunt.

    The guy’s giving you an out. Take it and get the next two.

    • James I like it. If the 3rd baseman gets the ball and Ricky isn’t stealing, I would like him to get the lead out at 2nd. But, I can’t argue at all with the thinking. I agree with you. I wanted to simply say an additional idea, but I can go with this!


  10. Third baseman on grass, first baseman holds the runner, SS at double-play depth, 2B maybe a couple steps toward first. No one charges until the ball is hit.
    Don’t sell out for the bunt because 1) it’s not a certainty 2) Henderson’s just as big a threat to steal as Pierre is to bunt 3) even if you charge everyone and Pierre does bunt, you’re not going to get both runners anyway and 4) Pierre’s got good enough bat control that he could drop the bat head on the ball and loop it over the head of a charging corner infielder. If the ball is not bunted, this increases your chances of turning the double-play or at least getting the lead runner. If the ball is bunted, first baseman charges, pitcher runs to 3B line, second baseman covers first, SS covers second, and third baseman stays put to avoid a repeat of Johnny Damon-on Pedro Feliz from last year’s World Series (I am a Phillies fan and this is Rickey Henderson on second).
    Better to play it conservatively, get the sure out at first, and face the middle of the order. With one out and a runner on second, Houston would be expected to score about 3/4 of a run, according to Tom Tango’s base/out run expectancy finder. With Henderson on second and the middle of the order up, that might go up, but with Sandy Koufax on the mound, it might balance out. You concede the possibility of 1 run, but reduce the possibility of a multi-run inning. If you give up 1 run in the inning, you still have about a 50/50 chance of winning. If you give up two, you’re dead. Get the out. Take your chances with Koufax.

  11. Mike Weaver says:

    Besides calling a “pitchout” on the first pitch, we are going “Right” on a bunt. Third baseman crashes. Short is left in limbo to push over to cover third if need be (Along with Left Field moving up to cover). Second covers his base and possible throw down on a steal. Center Field crashes as back up to throw down. First will hold guy on and close (a few throw overs would not hurt). Pitcher will cover left side (1st baseline) if ball is bunted. Unless you are Any Pettite and A-Rod, you should end up with at least one out.

  12. Teri says:

    i like bret’s answer! i was always Lidge’s #1 fan! 🙂

  13. gayle says:

    OK question who is the catcher and what kind of arm does he have as if Rickey is a real plus speed guy might the bunt be just a fake and rickey will try and steal the bag on his own?

    Second do we think that the first show of bunt was again just a way of having defense think bunt and you set your positions for bunt onl;y to h ave the batter take a full swing on the next pitch and your defense is totally out of whack.

    if we know that he is going to bunt here is what I would do:
    run the wheel play

    • Gayle I love the wheel play, but it is gutsy when the bunter is showing early. Most big league teams don’t show early which makes life easier for infielders. My goal in life is to get big league teams to show the bunt early. It makes defending the bunt a mess.


  14. formerlyanonymous says:

    First thing I do is tell my pitcher the next pitch is a pitch out. I want to see if we can get Pierre to show that he is going to bunt, but have a bad pitch for him to make an attempt on. If he gets wood on a pitch out, it isn’t going to go where he wants it, and hopefully goes right to the third baseman. I want to see if we can catch Henderson off the bag or trying to steal as well. After that, we’ll try to jam him on the inside corner.

    The time he comes set, I’m playing the first baseman holds the runner, and he’s going to stay at home unless it’s a push bunt right at him. If it is a push bunt to him, he’ll tag first and look for the runner rounding 2nd.

    Second base will play double play depth. He’ll cover second. Shortstop will stay at double play depth, as he should be able to get to third on time to cover the bag if needed.

    The third baseman will line up inside the cut, and he charges. If he gets the bunt VERY quickly, he can go to 2nd. Chances are he will have to go to first. I’ll ask my catcher to be vocal on where he should throw. I’ll also tell the catcher anything in front of the dish, he can go to second. Anything down the baselines that he can get to first, go to first. He can see the field, so we’ll trust him to make the right call.

    With Koufax being a left handed pitcher, he doesn’t have a good angle to make a play from the third base side on a plus runner. Koufax will be responsible for anything on the first base side, where he will go to first unless it’s a push bunt past him. If it’s the push bunt, that’s the 1st baseman’s ball, and since Koufax is expected to be moving toward first after the bunt, he should go to the base in case the 1st baseman needs to flip the ball to him for the force.

    • Formerly anonymous I like that you have thought this through. If we pitch out and the ss is leaning to 3rd base….the next pitch I am stealing Ricky. The SS will not be able to think 3rd and cover a steal. Love the rest of the explanation! Great work


  15. Steve Stein says:

    Well, since we’re playing at Minute Maid park (which opened in 2000), Koufax is at least 65 years old. Between the age and the arthritis, Koufax has probably lost a lot off his fast ball, and I’m surprised Rickey didn’t take him deep. And I’m also surprised Pierre’s going to bunt, but if he does, my guess is Koufax won’t be too nimble off the mound.

    But let’s let all that slide.

    I’m also NOT a big fan of bunting to move a runner from first to second with no outs, when a competent batter is up. The only time I like the sacrifice is with an out-matched batter, or in order to move the tying or winning run from second to third with no out. Here I’d try a straight steal or a hit and run with Rickey.

    But let’s let that slide as well.

    Firstbaseman holds the runner.
    Secondbaseman in the hole, SS cheating towards second.
    Thirdbaseman on the inside cut of the grass. (BTW, this has got to be the scariest thing a fielder has to do – I have the greatest respect for 3Bmen.) Charge when batter squares to bunt.

    Secondbaseman ready to cover first, Pitcher ready to field bunt down the 1B line.

    • Steve- You and I both know that Koufax will still be throwing at least 92 at age 65!

      Why don’t you like the sacrifice bunt?


      • Steve Stein says:

        Lots of reasons: Giving up an out to move a runner from first to second is just not worth it in most cases, especially with a competent hitter. (See James or Thorn or just about any sabermetric analysis done in the last 25 years.) If Henderson and Pierre just batted, I’ve got to believe that the 3-4-5 guys are coming up. With two plus runners the chance of a DP is greatly reduced.

        Having written all that, I went back to check “The Book” (Chapter 9, “To Sacrifice Or Not”), and find things are not so clear. What I was thinking when I wrote the above was Run Expectancy (and I think I’m on solid ground there). What I really needed, though, was the probability of scoring AT LEAST one run – more important for the bottom of the 9th instead of the top, but we’re talking about the tying run here.

        I didn’t find the probability table I was looking for. It might be in one of my older James references. But there’s LOTS of good stuff in that chapter. At the end of the chapter is this:

        “The Book Says: In the ninth inning of a close game, below average hitters should bunt most of the time, given typical speed and bunting ability. Average hitters should bunt about half the time. Above average hitters should rarely bunt.”

        Which is a much more favorable assessment than I was familiar with.

        Oh well, back to the books! Though it’s a bit painful, I do love it when things I think I know turn out not to be so clear cut.

  16. Tim #11 says:

    I have the first baseman holds the runner, (you have to with a premium base stealer on 1st, Otherwise, he takes second without a bunt even being required.) and gets into position as quickly as possible when the pitch is thrown. He only fields the bunt if it gets past the pitcher, and throws to first (pitcher covering.)

    The second baseman is double play depth. He doesn’t have to cover first because the first baseman is going to be covering it.

    The shortstop is double play depth. He will have to cover third if the batter bunts, but he has time to get there even from double play position.

    The third baseman is playing on the edge of the grass, and charging when the batter squares. If the ball comes to him quickly and he has a play at second, he can take it, but otherwise, play is to first.

    The pitcher is covering the 1st base side on the bunt. If he gets the ball quickly, and can get the force at second, he does it. Otherwise, play to first. If the ball gets past him he has to keep going and cover first.

    The Catcher is ready to jump out quickly from behind the plate to get the bunt if it is short. Otherwise, he is yelling to the other fielders which base to make the throw to.

  17. Wes says:

    #5 says:

    1B: Hold the runner. I want Henderson to have to use all 90 feet between first and second… I’m not going to give him a head start! I instruct the 1B to charge the bunt and, should he field it, go for the batter.

    2B: In the hole. If there’s a bunt, it’ll die pretty close to the plate where either my corner infielders or catcher will field it. I need the center infielders to defend the single in case Pierre swings away. On the bunt, 2B will swing to first.

    SS: Cheat towards second, if anything. SS will cover second base.

    3B: Start on the fringe and charge as soon as Pierre squares to bunt (or at the pitch). Again, I’d go for the batter.

    Pitcher fields the area in front of him. Catcher also fields, directs the play (since it’s in front of him) and will cover 3B if necessary.

    Usually I’d want to throw out the lead runner but if it’s Henderson it probably won’t happen… he’s just too fast. The batter won’t get a good start out of the box so he’s a sure out. So get the out and go after the next guy!

  18. Matt says:

    formerlyanonym is thinking along the exact same lines as I am.

    Pitch out with a 0 -0 count, if you catch ole Rickey with a bad jump, especially off of a lefty, you have a chance at nailing him. However, being a very smart base runner and unless he had morons for coaches, he’s not stealing with a bunt called, he’s reading it into the ground with a hefty secondary lead with more than enough time to get to 2nd. Now, the risky play offensively is for him to take off with a 0 – 0 or even 1 – 0 count giving him time to force the throw to first and possibly go all out to 3rd if he reads there is no coverage, but we’re smarter than that defensively.

    The “safe” play is to make sure of the out with both of your corner infielders crashing. I’m also taking into account who do we have up and who is available off of the bench if this thing happens to get tied up in extra innings. Right now I’m playing for the out at first, after the pitch out and most likely a 1 – 0 count with Henderson still on 1st, we’re running one in on his hands not letting Pierre get “good wood” on the ball which he may pop up if the stars are aligned just right.

    Positioning wise, I’m with formerlyanonym, 1st baseman holding and holding position and the only one he fields is a bun that is bunted hard enough for him to take one step in and step on the bag before Pierre. 2nd baseman is covering 2nd just in case but most likely not going to have a play, SS is rotating to 3rd to have coverage, 3rd baseman is running in like his hair is on fire but not too far to prevent a little dink over his head, Mr. Koufax is covering the 1st base line. Catcher is calling the play once it’s bunted which I’m about 95% positive will be to 1st. I’ll take my chance with the next guy up depending on the matchup, he may very well be put on even though I’m not a fan of putting on the game winning run but that also depends on the matchup of the guy behind him, if he hits a ton of ground balls against Koufax the #3 man is on if not, we’re taking our chances with a hit and the outfield isn’t letting anything in front of them, but that’s another situation entirely.

  19. […] He describes a baseball problem in part 1 of this two-parter. If you’re into baseball, read it because it’s a really good problem. If you think baseball is a simple game where the sole tactical issue is figuring when to bring in a relief pitcher, read it because it offers a good look into how complex tactically the game really is when played at this level. […]

  20. Collegeprospect says:

    (Right handed pitcher) will fall off left
    1b stay the whole time on first
    2b covers second
    ss covers 3rd so the lead runner does not have a free base at 3rd
    3rd charges and covers the right side of pitcher mound to the foul line
    Pitcher covers the left side to the 1st base line
    Catcher plays balls in front of him
    Left is backing up third
    Center is backing up second
    Right is backing up first

    (Left handed pitcher) will fall off right
    1b charges and covers left side of the pitcher mound to 1st base foul line
    2b covers first
    Ss covers second
    3b covers third
    Pitcher covers the right side to the third base line
    Catcher plays everything in front of him
    (Outfielders are the same)

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