Pitching Defense

By Steven Ellis, former Chicago Cubs pitching pro

I would like to share some thoughts about defending the suicide squeeze. The only SURE way of preventing a successful suicide squeeze is to throw an unbuntable pitch. But, there are some other things to think about, too.

If a pitcher works from the wind-up with a runner at 3b, he is asking for trouble. Since the runner can take a much longer lead when the pitcher works from the wind-up, the runner will be much closer to the plate when the ball is bunted (this is obviously not good for the defense). Working from the set (stretch) position reduces the likelihood of the opposition even considering this play. When the pitcher goes from the wind-up, the hitter can bunt the ball anywhere on the ground for the play to be successful (because the runner will be so much closer to the plate when the ball is bunted). If the pitcher goes from the stretch, it will take a more perfect bunt to make it work.

Let's say, hypothetically, that a given hitter can successfully bunt the ball anywhere on the ground 80 percent of the time but can lay down a real good bunt (within 3 feet of a baseline) only 40 percent of the time. In this case, the likelihood of the squeeze being successful can be dramatically reduced, just by working from the stretch. Also consider that the 40 % rate would probably be further reduced by the fact that a "good" short bunt down the 3b line would no longer be good in this situation since the catcher could pick it up and make a tag (the hitter has a much more limited area in which to place a "good" bunt). To summarize; working from the stretch not only reduces the possibility of the opposition even attempting the squeeze, it reduces the probability of a successful squeeze, should they actually attempt it.

If the hitter tips off the play by squaring or pivoting to bunt too soon, the pitcher should throw an unbuntable pitch. The runner can also tip off the play by running too soon, especially if the pitcher is going from the wind-up. I think that most coaches would tell their pitchers to "pitch out" to a LH hitter and knock down a RH hitter if they detect the squeeze. I tell my pitchers to pitch out to a lefties AND righties. After all, sometimes you would not want to hit the batter and put him on (for example, if the bases are loaded). Obviously, the catcher also has to detect the squeeze so he will be ready for the automatic pitch out. If the coach guesses that the squeeze will be on, he can call a pitch out before the pitch. I did that today, and we got him! Also, some pitchers like to throw it too low to bunt but I prefer the pitch out.

One last thing about pitching from the stretch: if a pitcher is so much more comfortable pitching from the wind-up that he does so with a runner on 3b, I would say that he probably doesn't practice from the stretch enough (in my opinion). A pitcher has to be able to get hitters out from the stretch, even if he does lose 1 or 2 mph off his fastball.


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