In a first and third situation with no outs, Curt Jefson isn’t going to hesitate to have any of his players square around to bunt.
But what type of bunt play does Jefson chose: safety squeeze or suicide squeeze?
“I just really love the safety squeeze with first and third,” said Jefson, the varsity baseball head coach at Seymour (Wisconsin) High School. “If you’ve got a kid on first that maybe he’s not one of your top three or four baserunners and they have a good catcher, so you can’t just steal second — it’s a great situation because the first baseman is kind of stuck; you’ve got to hold. The coach can bring him, but he’s kind of got to hold there.”
Jefson said teams rarely have the first baseman charging. With the fielder back, the entire right side of the grass is open for a bunt attempt.
Jefson is a big proponent of the squeeze, especially the safety. It allows his hitter some leeway if he can’t get the bunt down or he hasn’t seen a strike. It also eases the mind of the runner since he knows he’s breaking for home only if contact is made. But a suicide squeeze lays it all on the line. The hitter has to get his bat on the ball or the runner will be left out to dry as he converges on home plate.
Jefson teaches his baserunner to trust his reads and also get a good secondary lead off third once the pitcher throws home.
“When we’re practicing bunting, we’ll have that guy read the ball off the bat,” Jefson said. “We work on contact plays, too, which are similar. I think getting those baserunners experience reading the ball off the bat is really significant in getting them to be confident in their read.”
For Jefson to opt for a suicide squeeze, he has to have a feel for the pitcher on the mound. Is he going to going to throw a strike or is he erratic and can’t hit the zone? Also, a coach has to have a good feel about how his hitter controls the bat in these types of situations.
“For suicide, it’s a feel thing for when you’re going to call it,” Jefson said. “Obviously, with no count you’re confident that pitcher’s going to throw a strike, that’s a good count to do it on. If that first pitch is a strike and your kid takes it, now you’re down a strike and it’s pretty tough because they can throw anything.”
If Jefson doesn’t have a good feel early in the game for the opposing pitcher, he might not signal a squeeze. But there aren’t many times in the game that Jefson won’t think about laying down a good bunt.
“I always want to get ahead early, so if the situation presents itself — especially if you feel like your opponent and their pitcher is going to be a tough day anyway,” Jefson said, “I’m probably more prevalent to do then, but I’ll do it against teams that supposedly are weaker too just because you get that run on the board you get a little more confident; kids relax at the plate and hit the ball a little bit better.”
Jefson isn’t afraid to squeeze even if his team is down a few runs late in the game. Putting pressure on the defense, a fielder might make an error and allow Jefson’s team back into it.
Jefson said in his program, kids are generally taught how to bunt at the Babe Ruth level, ages 14 and 15. Younger kids might be playing in a league where leading off isn’t allowed, so bunting doesn’t work too well.
Jefson, who believes repetition is key for teaching bunting, works with his players quite a bit during preseason practices and two-a-days. He has extensive talks with his players on how to approach the bunt. Jefson wants to make sure his players buy into the small-ball approach, because “everybody’s bunting,” he added.
For a suicide squeeze, Jefson advises his players to try and place the ball anywhere on the grass — beyond four or five feet from the plate so the catcher can’t pounce on it. If the ball makes it to the lawn, the runner from third should score.
One drill Jefson uses for bunting is primarily a tool to help a player leg out a base hit. Two hula hoops are used as targets: one on the third-base side past the pitcher’s mound, the other in the dead zone where the pitcher, second baseman and first baseman have a hard time making a play on the ball.
“Doing those drills, even though we don’t have a bunch of kids bunting for base hits, it gives the kids confidence that when it is a suicide or safety they directionally put the bat on the ball,” Jefson said.
Jefson will also break down his players into groups of three for station work on bunting. The guys will work on sacrifice bunts down the first-base and third-base lines and then suicide squeezes.
“Sometimes we’ll have the coach throw that so that they understand if the pitch is high, if the pitch is in the dirt, the pitch is outside, you’ve got to get a bat on it,” Jefson said. “You cannot let that ball go by without an attempt. That concept is really one you have to drill in their head. That takes some time because they’re so used to, if it’s a ball, I’m taking it.”