Baseball Bunt Defense: Runner at Second
Baseball is, in many ways, a thinking person’s game. The pace is slow enough that there’s time to assess each circumstance before and as it occurs. As a result, the players who do this the best — that is, those who understand the game, read situations, and make smart decisions — are often the players who excel on the field.
Defending a sacrifice bunt, while common and reasonably routine, is often a high-stress play because it places a great deal of pressure on the defense to always get an out. Bunting situations with a runner on second (or runners on both first and second) mostly occur with no outs. An error on such a play could lead to a disastrous inning, but even a successful sacrifice puts a runner on third base with one out — not an ideal situation.
As such, if you have a chance to get a force out at third base, it’s tempting (and occasionally worth it) to go for it. It all comes down to decision-making and your ability to read the play as it happens. This guide outlines the proper execution of bunt defense with a runner on second base so that you have the knowledge to make good decisions come game time.
Bunt Coverage Responsibilities
With a runner on second base, the batter will almost always try to bunt the ball towards third base. Both the first baseman and pitcher will crash and try to get the out at third, so the batter wants to keep the ball away from the charging players. But if the third baseman has to come off the base to field the ball, there’s no way he can get an out at third, and the sacrifice will be successful.
Executing bunt coverage with a runner on second forces the defense to decide quickly if they can get an out at third, or if the smart play is to first base. Much of this responsibility inevitably falls on the third basemen, but each position has an important role to fill as well.
Hot Tip: Get Low
A common mistake occurs when fielders charge a bunt, rush themselves, and bobble the ball. When you field a bunt, always get in a low, athletic position. Line the ball up between your feet and bend your knees. Don’t rush — make sure you have the baseball before you try to throw it. And if the ball has stopped moving when you get to it, always use your bare hand to pick it up.
The catcher’s task is essentially the same for any bunt — namely, to be the captain of the infield. If the ball is bunted just a few feet in front of home plate, the catcher should pounce on it and look to throw out the lead runner.
If the ball is bunted to another infielder, the catcher needs to assess the play and call out which infielder should take the bunt. He has the best view of the play in front of him, so he also needs to yell out the number of the base where the throw should go.
The pitcher’s role in the bunt coverage is much more significant with a runner on second than with a runner on first. It’s more likely that he will have to field the ball, and he needs to be aggressive to the ball instead of deferring to the other infielders (as he normally might).
When the ball is bunted, the pitcher is responsible for everything on the left side of the infield. If the ball is bunted hard enough, the third baseman might charge, call the pitcher off, and get the out at first base (in which case, the pitcher should sprint to cover third base). If the third baseman doesn’t call him off, it’s his ball and he needs to follow these steps:
- Call for the ball loudly.
- Listen to his teammates; they should tell him where to throw the ball by screaming “One!” or “Three!” (or maybe even “Two!”) depending on where he has the best chance to get an out.
- If the play is to third, he needs to sprint to the ball, bend his knees to field it, and get his feet squared towards third base. This is a fairly simple maneuver for lefties, who will approach the ball already facing third base. A righty will need to “get around” the baseball by pivoting on his right foot as he fields the ball, turning 180 degrees towards third base, and making a quick throw.
- If the play is to first base, he needs to sprint to the ball, get in a low, athletic position to field it, and square his feet towards first base. This is easier for righties, who will approach the ball already facing first base. A lefty will need to “get around” the ball by pivoting on his left foot as his picks up the baseball, turning to his right to face first base, and making an accurate throw.
The first baseman’s job in this coverage is fairly simple. Playing in front of the base runner, he begins moving towards home plate when the batter squares to bunt. If the ball is bunted to the right side, the first baseman crashes hard, calls for the ball, and fields it. His teammates should yell loudly which base to throw to.
The first baseman needs to go aggressively after every bunt to his side and look to make a quick throw to third. (This is an easier play for a lefty, whose shoulders will already be facing that way). If there is no play at third, he should set his feet, turn his shoulders back towards first base, and throw to the second baseman (who should be covering the bag) for the out.
The third baseman has the toughest job in this rotation because he has to make an instantaneous read on the bunt. If the ball is bunted to the right side or directly back to the pitcher, it’s an easy decision: The third baseman “stays home” at third base and straddles the bag in preparation for a throw from the pitcher or first baseman.
If the ball is bunted to the left side, he needs to judge the speed and direction of the bunt. If the ball is bunted softly or in a place where the pitcher can make a play, the third baseman should stay home in case the pitcher has a chance to get an out at third base.
Generally, the batter will try to bunt the ball hard to third base (that is, at least halfway to third base). If this is the case, or if the ball is bunted directly down the third base line, the third baseman needs to charge quickly, call off the pitcher, field the ball, and throw the batter out at first base. This play needs to be defended quickly, so he cannot afford to wait and contemplate his options. When in doubt, charge the bunt and get the sure out at first base.
The second baseman’s role on a bunt with a runner at second is essentially the same as with a runner on first. The main difference is that one or both middle infielders need to hold the runner at second base before the pitch is made.
When the ball is bunted, the second baseman needs to sprint to first base and get in position to catch the ball with his foot on the bag. In all likelihood, the throw will be to first base, so the second baseman needs to get there ahead of the batter to make sure the defense can record an out.
The shortstop’s responsibility depends on the situation. If there is only a runner on second base, he needs to sprint to the outfield grass behind third base to back up a potential throw to third base from the pitcher or first baseman.
If there are runners on first and second, the shortstop is responsible for covering second base after the bunt. There’s a chance that the smartest play will be to get the force out at second base. If the shortstop sees that this is the case, he needs to yell “Two!” and then receive the throw like a first baseman. If there is no play at second base, he should sprint behind third base to back up the throw.
In bunting situations with a runner on second base, the defense has several potential outs. The best teams make good reads on the ball, execute their responsibilities, and are often able to get the lead runner out. Practicing these situations over and over is the only way to master them. However, even if your reads or decision-making skills aren’t always great, it’s still possible to defend bunts competently. The key is to be decisive!
Don’t wait for another fielder to take action; be aggressive to the ball, listen to your teammates, and always try to get the safest out. When in doubt, throw the ball to first base. As long as you get an out somewhere, it’s successful bunt coverage.