“Chicks dig the long ball.”

Michigan Baseball
Nick Rudden and the Wolverines have had success bunting and playing “small ball” this season (MIKE HULSEBUS/Daily).

Or so the ad campaign said a few years ago for Major League
Baseball.

The Michigan baseball team digs the “small ball.”
The Wolverines rely on it to win many of their games. Small ball is
not necessarily the most popular offensive strategy in baseball,
but it can be highly effective — just ask the World Series
champion Florida Marlins.

Small ball utilizes bunting, the hit-and-run and base stealing.
While a sacrifice bunt may not be extremely exciting, it can be
very useful.

An example of this comes from this past weekend in the Michigan
Classic. In the first game against Oakland, Michigan produced runs
by bunting twice in the third inning. Shortstop Jeremy
Goldschmeding singled to start the inning, but advanced to second
on a bunt single from leftfielder Nick Rudden. Centerfielder Eric
Rose then loaded the bases with a bunt single. A couple well-timed
hits later, and Michigan was up 2-0 on the way to a 6-2 victory
over the Grizzlies.

“(Small ball) has been a part of our philosophy all year
— since day one,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said.

By virtue of The Fish, Michigan has to play small ball. The Fish
is not a homerun-friendly park — it is a large stadium with
dimensions of 400 feet to center (which has a tall wall), 330 feet
down the lines and 375 feet to the power alleys. Since Michigan
plays at least 18 games at home, it tailors its style of play to
the park.

The first and third base lines are completely grass, not dirt,
making it much easier to bunt and get on base.

In tight games, the difference between a win and loss can be a
sacrifice bunt or a perfectly executed hit-and-run, all elements of
small ball.

“We don’t have a great deal of power, so we have to
do the small game extremely well,” Maloney said. “We
have worked extremely hard on it. Assistant coach Jason Murray has
made sure that we can play that part of the game.”

Michigan has hit just nine homeruns this season, but has stolen
21 bases in 33 attempts. Six of the steals have come from
outfielder Matt Butler, the team leader in runs batted in as
well.

“We try to utilize our speed as much as possible,”
Maloney said. “In recruiting, we have tried to get that
speed.”

While Michigan has bunted well this season, another key aspect
is actually hitting away. As a team, Michigan is hitting .317,
while keeping strikeouts to a minimum.

A team cannot count on hitting a grand slam or three-run homerun
every game to win. The Wolverines understand that and have adjusted
their play to their strengths.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *