Baseball Magazine

The Suicide Squeeze (Part 1)

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard
At the college and professional levels, you don't see many squeeze plays.  However, I have noticed more of them on MLB highlight shows so maybe it's returning to fashion.  Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Madden recently put on two squeeze plays on back-to-back batters!  I love it!  I have found the squeeze play to be very successful most of the time.  In this two part post I'll first talk about the "why" and "when" of the suicide squeeze.  Part 2 will deal with the "how's" and offer tips for the batter, the runner, the 3rd base coach, and even the guys on the bench.

The suicide squeeze (Part 1)

It's a risky play but time it right and there is
no way to defend against it.

Why squeeze?  The main reason why I like the suicide squeeze is because if done correctly, aside from guessing right on a pitch-out, there really is no defending it.  Basically, all the batter has to do is put a halfway decent bunt on the ground and you have a run.  Obviously, there are a lot of little things that have to go right for it to work but most of those things are under your team's control.  Deciding when to squeeze, giving and receiving the sign, the timing of when the runner breaks and the batter squares to bunt, the hitter's bunting mechanics, and the conduct of the bench are all examples of the variables that are under a team's control.  The only two variables that are not under the offensive team's control is what pitch is thrown and where it ends up.  If a coach picks the right time to put the play on, even those problems becomes less of an issue.
When to suicide squeeze?  As a coach, the first thing to understand is that other than putting it on with two outs, there really should be no rules etched in stone as to when not to squeeze.  It can be successfully done in virtually any situation with any batter.  As I stated earlier, if all participants do their job at the right time, there really is no defending it.  That being said, there are times when the odds are even more in your favor due to the situation.  On the other hand, letting certain batters swing away can be better suited for situations as well.  A lot of this comes down to the manager's offensive philosophy and how bad his team needs that run to score.  Below are some variables that a coach or manager can factor in when trying to determine whether the situation is ripe for a squeeze play:
  • The score.  In a close game, the runner on third obviously becomes more important.  Unfortunately, the other team knows that as well which may increase the likelihood of a pitch-out being called.  When a team is down by a number of runs, usually the squeeze is not a great option because you are giving the defense an out.  In that situation, playing for a big inning or a "crooked number" might be the better strategy.  Giving the defense an out usually hurts a team's chances of scoring multiple runs that inning.  Putting on a squeeze when you are up by a bunch of runs is generally viewed as not being very sportsmanlike as well.  It tends to be seen as rubbing it in.  It's one of the many unwritten rules of the game.  
  • The inning.  You don't normally see many squeeze plays early in the game.  It goes back to the idea that the offensive team wants to score as many runs as they can early in the game and does not want to give the other team any outs.  Later in the game when the one run may have extreme importance, teams may be willing to sacrifice the out more quickly in exchange for a run.  However, some teams may have a very tough time scoring runs because of the pitcher they are facing.  It could also be a time when the hitting team is not very talented or has just been struggling of late to score runs.  In these occasions, putting the squeeze on early in the game may indeed be the best strategy for a team.  Again, there are no clear cut rules in this.
  • The batter.  The general rule that is mostly followed is the better the hitter, the less likely the squeeze play will be put on.  That's why the 3, 4, and 5 hitters don't squeeze very much.  They are in those positions of the lineup due to their ability to hit the ball and drive in runs and not because of their ability to bunt.  The squeeze is usually given to the hitters who are less likely to drive in runs on their own.  However, each hitter has different abilities when it comes to bunting.  Just because a hitter is batting 9th doesn't mean he can bunt.  One of the more important jobs of a manager is to put his players in positions where they can be successful.  Forcing a player to bunt who is a horrible bunter usually does not turn out well.  Knowing what your players can and can't do is an important part to any strategy. 
  • The pitcher.  Usually who is pitching doesn't play much of a factor in determining when to squeeze.  At the high school level and above, most pitchers are going to be around the plate enough for a squeeze play to work.  Who is pitching occasionally does matter though.  If a pitcher is generally wild, he probably is going to be tougher to squeeze on because the odds of getting a good pitch to bunt are worse.  The odds of just being walked are probably better.  A hard thrower who is consistently up in the strike zone is also someone who may be tough to squeeze on because high pitches are generally tougher to bunt and more often popped up.  
  • The count.  Ideally, a squeeze is most effective on counts when the pitcher is more focused on throwing a strike.  0-0, 1-0, and 2-1 are good examples.  These are counts when the batter is more likely to get a fast ball as well.
  • The element of surprise.  Of course, a squeeze play works best if the defense has no idea that it is coming.  Sharp coaches know when a squeeze is likely and usually tell their defense to be on alert in those situations.  Even so, there are a few situations when a defense can get caught napping.  It might sound crazy but a 2-2 count is an example.  In that situation, the pitcher doesn't want to throw a ball and make the count go to 3-2.  More times than not a batter will get a fast ball strike.  A two strike squeeze is risky but it is worth considering depending on who is batting and the importance of the run.  Another example is the first pitch after a big play.  An rbi triple is an example.  In that situation, the pitcher, the defensive coaching staff, and the position players are usually still thinking about the triple when the first pitch is thrown to the next batter.  That's why the first pitch to the following batter is a great time to squeeze.  

I am a big fan of the suicide squeeze.  Deciding when to put it on involves a number of variables and always will involve an element of risk.  However, I believe the rewards of including a squeeze play into your offensive strategy is well worth the risk.

Tomorrow:  The "How's" of the suicide squeeze.

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