April 11, 2009

O-sac-bunt technique

In the bottom of the sixth inning, with one out and Rick Ankiel on first base, Cardinals' pitcher Joel Pineiro came to the plate in a sacrifice bunt situation. The Cardinals had a two-run lead at the time.

The situation being obvious, Pineiro might have cheated up farther in the batters' box. The farther forward the bunter is toward fair territory, the more likely a bunted ball will remain fair. Oftentimes, batters do not like to cheat forward in the box prior to the pitch, so as not to give away their intentions. In this situation, however, the bunt was of a high probability, and Pineiro made no moves to hide that a bunt was forthcoming.

There are two camps on how to hold the bat on sacrifice bunts, so there will no discussion here on Pineiro's choice, except to say that there looked to be no problem with his technique in that regard.

Pineiro made his sacrifice bunt more difficult by a) poking at the pitched ball; b) not using his legs enough to steer the bat; c) allowing the barrel to drop lower than the handle.

a) Better bunts are usually accomplished by trying to "catch the pitched ball" with the bat. In other words, use soft hands, as when gloving a ball. Some bunters like to pull the bat back slightly to reassure a soft contact. The speed of the pitch is normally enough to make the bounce off the bat of a proper amount. Pineiro failed to use soft hands, instead, poking at the pitched ball, which is often a result of "b" and leads to "c," which will be presented next.

b) Pineiro might have made better use of his legs to "steer" the bat. What this means is the bunter needs to offer the bat and use minimal arm movement in the actual bunt, using his legs to adjust to the incoming ball. Leg "steerage" helps keep the bunter from poking, which makes the bunt much harder to accomplish. An important aspect of the leg steering technique is to "peek over the barrel." When a bunter peeks over the barrel, it is much easier to line up the oncoming pitch with the barrel.

c) The ball has a tendency to run toward the skinny, or handle, end of the bat. Therefore, when the barrel drops below the handle, the ball has a tendency to get popped up. This often results when a bunter pokes at the oncoming pitch. Pineiro ran into this problem on his sacrifice bunt attempt in the situation described at the outset of this piece. The bunter, rather than keeping the bat level, should offer with a raised barrel, even as much as 45 degrees if comfortable.

From his reaction to the popped up sacrifice bunt attempt, it seems Pineiro knew at once that he had made a basic mistake in his technique. This occurs to everyone now and again. To sacrifice bunt using the techniques described here is not terribly difficult, but there is a learning process involved, and the skill must be kept sharp.

It will be interesting to see Pineiro's technique the next time he is called upon to sacrifice bunt.

April 10, 2009 -- vs. Astros

photo by Barbara Moore