Utilizing the Safety Squeeze
In the newest release from GRB Academy’s The Clubhouse, we are going to take a look at the safety squeeze. This is a play that can be a very valuable play in a number of regards. We will talk about the setup of this play, advantages for using the safety squeeze and the differences from the suicide squeeze. A squeeze, simply put, is laying down a bunt in an attempt to score a runner from third base.
Right off the top it is important to understand the difference between a safety squeeze and a suicide squeeze. With a suicide squeeze, the runner from third is running on the pitch in order to have a better chance of scoring the run. With the safety squeeze, the runner is waiting to read the ball down on the ground before heading to the plate.
A safety squeeze is always run with a runner on third, most of the time with less than two outs and is extremely effective with a runner on first base as well. In the first and third scenario, the safety squeeze can serve as an effective play, even if the runner does not break for the plate.
In a safety squeeze situation, the hitter can square a little earlier than the suicide situation due to the fact that ball placement is more important than the surprise of the play itself. With the safety, we want to make sure the hitter gets the ball down on the ground and preferably down one of the baselines so the pitcher has to move to make a play, hopefully not allowing him to make a play at the plate. In a perfect safety, the hitter would get the ball on the ground down the first baseline. With a safety squeeze, hitters must understand that they are only bunting strikes and do not have to make an attempt at the ball as in a suicide squeeze situation.
In a first and third scenario, the first baseman will be holding the runner on first. While running the play with less than two outs, most likely the third-baseman is playing on the grass, and at minimum even or in front of the bag at third, giving him a chance to make a play on the ball if bunted down the third baseline. We want to force the first baseman to make a play on the ball. With the middle infielders most likely in double-play depth, pinching the middle towards second base, it is a very difficult play for the second-baseman to cover first in time to beat the runner.
A lot of times, opposing teams are not expecting a bunt in the first and third situation, so getting the ball down the first base line can cause a lot of confusion defensively in terms of who covering the bag and who will actually field the ball.
On the pitch, both runners are playing it as a sacrifice situation, meaning they are taking a normal secondary lead and seeing the ball down before trying to advance. The runner on first is playing it as a straight sacrifice, advancing to second as the ball is down. The runner on third has more of a responsibility and a decision to make.
The runner on third is keying on ball placement, reading the downward angle of the ball and deciding if the pitcher can make a play on the ball at the plate. The runner must also read if the ball is bunted too hard down either of the lines that the third or first-baseman can make a play at the plate. The last thing you want to happen is to have runners cheat trying to advance and have the ball popped in the air. A key coaching point is making the runner at third understand that it is not a must go when the ball is on the ground.
It is important to let your players know that worst case scenario on a ball bunted on the ground towards the pitcher or too hard down the lines is that the hitter is out at first and you still have two runners in scoring position. Scoring the run, even though it is the goal of the play, is a bonus and is result of a well-placed bunt.
SAFETY SQUEEZE AS A DECOY
If you become known as a team that likes to run a safety squeeze in a first and third situation with less than two outs, you can also use the play as a decoy to run a fake bunt/steal or even a slash bunt. Adding these two plays to your situational arsenal can make your team even more potent offensively.
Since the hitter is only bunting strikes, it allows you as a coach to add the fake bunt/steal as an option. The situation is the same, but lets say the hitter takes ball one on 0-0. On the 1-0 pitch, you can give a new sign, or make it automatic for the runner and hitter to put the fake bunt/steal on.
With the fake bunt steal, the hitter squares at the same time they would for the safety squeeze while at the same time the runner from first steals second, like a normal steal attempt. With the fake bunt/steal coach your hitters to pull the bat back late. Pulling the bat late keeps the catcher down in the crouch a split second longer as they are focusing more on the bunt attempt as opposed to the steal attempt. As with a normal first and third situation where you would call a steal, the runner on third reads the throw down to second and decides whether or not to make a break for the plate.
Another option to run off of the safety squeeze is the slash bunt. Once again, if the hitter takes on 0-0, give the hitter the option to slash bunt on the 1-0. When the hitter squares to bunt it creates a lot of movement with the infielders. The first and third-baseman are crashing, and the second-baseman is making his way to cover first if there is a bunt. There is a lot of room on the infield that if the hitter pulls back and takes a shortened swing, getting the ball on the ground has a chance to get to the outfield and at minimum score the run from third base.
A key to the slash bunt is to make your hitters understand that they just need to get on top of the ball and that they don’t need to take a full cut. Practicing the slash bunt is key to making this play work. Add in a couple slash bunts to your batting practice rounds. Work on seeing the top of the ball, shortening the swing and getting the ball in play on the ground.
Using the safety squeeze can be a very valuable play for a number of reasons. Not only scoring a run with the bunt itself, but also moving a runner from first to second at minimum. Becoming a team that runs a good safety squeeze also allows you to become a more diverse offense by letting you run fake bunt/steals and slash bunts.