In baseball, every team gets 27 outs, but the teams that do more with those outs tend to win more games. Sure, nobody likes to make an out, but by making a productive out, you can sustain rallies and help the team win more ballgames. There are a few ways of making productive outs, some intentional, some not so much; but with a little bit of plate discipline and situational hitting, you can turn some of your 27 outs into a positive for your team.
Baseball Rules Overview
The rules of baseball are set up in such a way that efficiency and strategy win out the majority of the time. The game is split up into 9 innings, with each team getting 3 outs to produce as much offense as they can muster. Once 3 outs are attained, the slate is wiped clean and play resumes with the next inning. Because you only have 3 outs per inning, it becomes paramount that you as a team do something productive with each out, especially since you can’t expect every player in the lineup to reach base safely every game.
Defining a Productive Out
A productive out is defined as an at-bat that results in an out, but allowed base runners to either move up or score. This can only be done if there are:
A) Runners on base
B) Less than two outs
Any time your at bat allows a base runner to score or advance is a productive at-bat, but we want to focus on how you can do this even if you make an out. Strikeouts and short pop-ups are probably considered the least productive outs in baseball because it makes it almost impossible for the runners to advance.
The Leadoff Man
The first player to bat every inning is said to “lead off” the inning (not to be confused with the leadoff hitter who is the first player to bat for each team when the game begins). It is technically impossible for the leadoff man in each inning to make a productive out, so it is crucial that he does things that benefit the team in other ways. Ultimately, reaching base is the best possible outcome for the leadoff hitter, but don’t underestimate the value of an at-bat that goes deep into the count or an at-bat that forces the pitcher to throw a lot of pitches. In these scenarios, even if the leadoff man is retired, the rest of the team got to see and time more pitches from the pitcher’s repertoire. Unfortunately, however, if the leadoff man makes an out, it becomes infinitely harder to score a run that inning than if he had reached base.
There are two ways that a hitter can sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the team. The first is called a sacrifice bunt, the second is called a sacrifice fly. The hitter is rewarded for a successful sacrifice bunt or fly, by receiving an 0/0 on his stat sheet. Basically, even though he made an out, it doesn’t count against him. In many cases, a sacrifice fly will also net the batter a run batted in (RBI).
The sacrifice bunt is when a batter intentionally gives himself up in order to advance the existing base runner to the next base. There can be no sacrifice without an existing base runner. The most common sacrifices involve moving the existing base runner from first to second, or from second to third. Occasionally runners can be sacrificed from third to home, but this is commonly referred to as the “Squeeze Play.” Ok, so what needs to take place for a sacrifice bunt? Well, first of all, the runner needs to safely advance from one base to the next, while the batter needs to be forced out at first. The best way to do this is by bunting (basically deadening the ball with your bat). This makes it very difficult for the infielders to make an out on the base runner, forcing them to get the batter out instead. For example, if there was a runner on first and nobody out, if the batter were to hit a ground ball to any of the infielders, there is a good chance that they would be able to force the runner out at second, and possibly force the batter out at first, resulting in two outs and a killed rally. Bunting makes it so that the ball is moving so slow that it is nearly impossible to get the runner out at second, making the only realistic play a force out on the batter at first. The result? One out and a runner in scoring position at second. Now the offense has two chances to get a base hit which will usually result in the runner from second scoring (that’s why runners on second and third are said to be in “Scoring Position”).
Tim Lincecum Lays Down a Perfect Sac Bunt
The sacrifice fly is when a batter hits a fly ball deep enough into the outfield to allow a runner on third to tag up and score. Theoretically, a sacrifice fly could be credited if a runner tags up from first or second and scores without any errors in-between, but such cases are extremely rare. There is a little bit of a debate over whether a sacrifice fly can truly be referenced as a sacrifice, mainly because it is not clear whether the batter was intentionally giving themselves up in order to score the run. Alas, the baseball rules still refer to it as a sacrifice and the batter is rewarded with an RBI, and is not charged with an at-bat. A sacrifice fly is probably the most productive out in baseball, because it is one of the only outs that directly results in a run being scored for the offense.
Hitting Behind the Runner
While this may not be as intentional as a sacrifice bunt or fly, hitting behind the runner can result in a very productive out. Because the base runners advance the bases in a counter-clockwise rotation, hitting behind the runner is defined as any ground ball hit that the runner will have his back to when running to the next base. For example, if there is a runner standing on second base, a ball would have to be hit to the right side of the infield (or in some cases right back up the middle) to be “behind” the runner. This usually results in the base runner advancing a base, because it is very difficult for a ball hit behind the runner to be fielded and thrown to the destination base before the runner reaches safely. The runner has a head start, is usually moving once the ball is hit on the ground, and it is a far throw for the second or first baseman to make. Hitting behind the runner is a great strategy when there is a runner on second and less than two outs. For this reason, left handed hitters are very valuable, since their tendency is to hit the ball to the right side of the infield (behind the runner). Right handed hitters with good plate discipline and bat skills can wait for a pitch that they can easily hit to the right side, allowing the runner to advance. If there is a runner on first, it is pretty much impossible to hit behind them, although there are some instances where a ball is hit softly enough to where a force out on the runner at second is not possible. This is usually referred to as an “unintentional sacrifice bunt” although the batter receives no credit for it.
When a runner is on third base with less than two outs, it is still possible for them to score if the batter makes an out, but this is usually only possible if a few pieces line up. First of all, the runner on third needs to be pretty fast and be a pretty good base runner. Second, the infield needs to be playing at normal depth, or deeper. Lastly, the ball really can’t be hit too hard, or the runner trying to score from third will most likely be thrown out. The last scenario really depends on the unique situation of the game. If it is late in the game (inning 7, 8, or 9) and the score is tied or the team on defense is either up or down by a run, they will generally bring the infield in with a runner on third and less than two outs. This way, they can prevent the run from scoring on a ground ball since they will be closer to home, cutting down the time it takes for the ground ball to reach them, as well as the throwing distance from where they field it to home plate. With the infield in, it is pretty tough to make a productive out on a ground ball.
Hopefully this helped you understand the game of baseball a little better. An out isn’t always a bad thing, as long as you can use that out to help put your team in a better position to score runs. To all you youngsters out there, practice hitting the ball to the right side when taking batting practice. Especially at the high school and college levels, being able to hit the ball with control to all fields is a huge necessity.