Hit and run (baseball)
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (July 2013)|
The hit and run relies on the positioning of the defensive players in the infield. The first and third basemen normally stand close to the lines, generally near their bases but slightly closer to home plate. The second baseman and shortstop stand on either side of second base, covering the areas between first and second, and second and third, respectively. Second base itself is not directly covered, as the pitcher can field hits in this direction.
In normal play, if the ball is hit in the infield one of the players will run toward the ball while another will run toward the base that is no longer covered. For instance, if the ball is hit toward the second baseman he will run toward the ball, and the shortstop will run toward second base. This allows the fielding player to throw the ball to the player on the base to attempt the out.
However, during a stolen base attempt this normal turn of events and positioning may be upset. In the typical case, a baserunner on first base will start running toward second, causing the infielders to move toward that base in order to tag the runner when the ball is thrown to them from the pitcher or catcher. This reaction places the infielders out of position for a hit ball, with holes opening at midway points between first and second and second and third.
The hit and run takes advantage of this by having the baserunner attempt to steal as soon as the pitch is thrown. The batter then attempts to hit the ball into the resulting holes in the defense. Ideally, the ball will be hit into a gap and travel into the outfield, allowing the runners lots of time to reach the bases.
Depending on the timing, the fielder may not have moved very far from their normal position by the time the ball is hit toward them. But even in this case, the fielder may have turned to run toward the base in order to cover the baserunner. In normal play the fielders would face the batter, allowing them to react in any direction, but after they have turned toward the base this becomes much more difficult. Their momentum in this direction adds to this problem.
The hit and run also has defensive qualities. In normal play the baserunner would start toward second base when the ball was hit. If the defensive players react fast enough, they may be able to throw the ball to second and first before either runner has reached their base, causing a double play. In the case of the hit and run, the baserunner has a huge head start, so the chance of them reaching second base after the ball is reduced. The timing may force the fielders to attempt the out only at first, thereby advancing the runner. 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.
The risk in the hit and run is that if the batter fails to make contact with the ball the runner is vulnerable to being thrown out (technically caught stealing) at second base.[note 1] The defensive team can improve their odds in this case by using a pitchout, having the pitcher throw the ball far outside the strike zone so the catcher can easily catch it and attempt to pick off the runner.
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 the runner is allowed to return to first, so the attempt protects 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.
The hit and run is so effective that defense against it is now an automatic part of fielding. Generally the second baseman and shortstop will cover the hit and run possibility by having the fielder closest to the batter's strong arm be in charge of covering the base. For instance, if the batter is right-handed, the second baseman will be in charge of covering stolen bases, as the batter will likely send the ball toward the shortstop. Likewise, the shortstop is in charge of covering stolen bases when a lefty is on plate.
- 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.