Hit and run (baseball)
A hit and run is a high risk/high reward offensive strategy used in baseball.
When the offense has a baserunner on first base (more runners may be on base, but there must at least be a runner on first), the runner on first breaks for second as the pitch is thrown. The batter in turn attempts to hit the pitch, and, if he can, to hit the ball through the area that has been vacated by the defender covering second base on the runner's ostensible stolen base attempt. [note 1] The vacant defensive area is also generally larger than it is when defended because the fielder's momentum may take him in a direction opposite to the batted ball, whereas these fielders usually are stationary or moving toward the hitter so they can field a ball in either direction of their body.
Due to the runner's head start, the "hit and run" has a secondary benefit of allowing the batting team to avoid a double play on an infield grounder even if it is hit directly to an infielder. It may also allow the runner to advance more bases on a hit than he might otherwise due to that running head start.
Although a line drive can easily turn into a double play, line drives are rare so the risk to getting doubled off from a line drive is minimal. Additionally, if the batter fails to make contact with the ball -- or if he can not make contact because the defense has executed a pitchout, in which the pitch is thrown far, far out of the strike zone to make it easy for the catcher to handle the incoming pitch and throw the ball to a base -- the runner is vulnerable to being thrown out (technically caught stealing) at second base. [note 2]
Also, the batter may choose to take a bad swing at a bad pitch to make it harder for the catcher to handle the incoming pitch, or so the ball goes foul, in each case to protect the runner from being caught stealing. Either way, this can cause the batter to fall behind in the count, making it harder for him to get a hit. And if he does hit a bad pitch he really can't handle, it could result in poor contact leading directly to the batter being put out, so he may end up giving his at-bat away with no advantage to the offense.
The hit-and-run has the best chance to be successful when the batter is someone who does not frequently swing and miss, at a time when the count won't disadvantage a hitter if he takes a bad swing, with a runner fast enough to take second base even if the batter does swing and miss.
Often the precise circumstance to call for a hit-and-run occurs with a two balls, one strike count on a hitter, as this situation may meet all of the above criteria, depending on who is at bat and who is on base, but it can occur at other times. An alert defense understands the probability that the offense will call the play at a specific moment, and thus it may choose to call for a pitchout at that moment to defend it. An alert offense, in turn, understands the probability of a forthcoming pitchout, and use the hit-and-run opportunity as a decoy, causing the pitchout to become another ball in the count in the hitter's favor, increasing his chances of reaching base by walk or hit.
The hit-and-run is a very old baseball strategy, dating back to the 19th century game. The terminology is confusing because the "run" starts before the "hit". And a variant of the hit-and-run is the run-and-hit, in which the runner takes off on a steal attempt of second and the batter has the option of whether or not to swing at the pitch.
- Usually (but not uniformly) it will be the second baseman covering second on a steal if the hitter is righthanded, because hitters typically bat balls in the direction of their swings, and the shortstop if the hitter is lefty for the same reason.
- A runner trying to advance on a failed hit-and-run is more likely to be thrown out than a runner attempting a "straight steal" of second, because the runner is not waiting for the best pitch to steal on, and does not get the best head start on the way there because he waits a bit longer at the original base to preserve the deception a while longer.
- "Hit and Run". Baseball Prospectus.