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This article is for the benefit of any newcomers of the wonderful sport of baseball. The purpose of this article is to provide a helpful guide for any new fans that would like to learn more about formal and informal terminology, basic rules, and get a general sense of how things work in the sport. This will help the new fan understand the sport better when they're watching a game or listening to analysts on TV or radio. It will also help them have more intelligent conversations about the sport with other fans.
Let's begin with some easy terms first:
When a pitcher delivers a pitch to the catcher he is "pitching". This might seem obvious to many, but the distinction must be made between a pitcher "throwing" and "pitching". The pitcher "throws" to the other bases when the ball is in play. However, it is acceptable to say that a pitcher is "throwing strikes" or "throwing balls". It all depends on the context. But if there is a hitter/batter (these terms are interchangeable) at the plate, when the pitcher throws the ball over he is technically "pitching". Any other word used to describe this action is incorrect (for example: "shooting" or "tossing").
As mentioned before, the terms "hitter" and "batter" are interchangeable. Some fans/"purists" will prefer one over the other. However, in my opinion you can use one or the other and it will not be frowned upon by most fans.
Innings and Winning Situations
- The game is divided into innings; nine full innings if the home team is not in the lead by the end of the top of the ninth.
- If the home team is leading at the end of the top of the ninth then the game is over and the home team wins. In this case, you could say that the game is eight-and-a-half innings long.
- If the game goes to the bottom of the ninth, then that means that either the home team is losing or the score is tied. In either case, if the home team gets the lead at any moment during the bottom of the ninth or any inning after that, then the game is over and the home team wins. This is called a "walk-off" (example: "walk-off single", "walk-off home run", etc.).
- If the home team is losing by the bottom of the ninth and fails to either tie the score or take the lead, then the visiting team wins after the third out.
- Should the game remain tied at the end of the bottom of the ninth, then the game goes to "extra-innings," not "overtime." There are no time limits, except for a new rule where the pitcher has to be ready to deliver his next pitch in 15 or 20 seconds depending on whether there are runners on base or not. This rule only exists in the minor leagues.
- There is no half-time but there is what is called a "seventh inning stretch," which is only a slightly longer break than what you usually see between the other innings.
- The objective of the game of baseball is to score "runs", not "points" or "goals". Those are for other sports.
- A "Hit" is when a batter reaches base safely after putting the ball in play except when there is a fielding error or what is called a "fielder's choice".
- A "Fielder's Choice" happens when the ball is put in play when there is a runner on base and the fielder that gets to the ball first decides to try and get the runner out instead of the hitter that is headed to first base. If the hitter reaches base safely in this situation, he will not get credited with a hit.
There are different types of hits:
- "Single" or 1B: when a batter reaches first base after putting a ball in play. There is a type of single known as an "infield single". In this situation, the hitter reaches first base safely after putting the ball in play but the ball did not get past the infielders and there were no fielding errors made.
- "Double" or 2B: when a batter reaches second base after putting a ball in play. There is a type of double called a "ground rule double". This happens when a ball is hit and lands in fair territory but bounces out of the field and into the stands.
- "Triple" or 3B: when a batter reaches third base after putting a ball in play. Some fans and TV commentators like to call some triples "standing triples" don't let this confuse you, it is still a triple and there is nothing particularly different about it. All it means is that the hitter was fast enough to get to third base ahead of the throw from the outfielder and didn't need to slide into the base to avoid a tag from the third baseman.
- There is an exception to scoring a double or a triple: If there is a fielding error or a fielder decides to throw out another runner and this results in the hitter reaching second or third, then the hitter will not be credited with double or triple. They can get credited with a single instead of a double or a double instead of a triple. It just depends on the situation and how it plays out. The "official scorer of the game" is the person that makes the decision of how a play should be scored and which player is credited with what. He or she oversees the entire game from a good vantage point (usually in the area where the press box is) and keeps a record of every play in the game and decides how they should be scored. Most plays are obvious for this person but there are some like the one previously described where he or she must make a judgment call.
Note: The abbreviations for singles (1B), doubles (2B), and triples (3B) are also the same that are used to identify some of the infield positions (first-, second-, and third-baseman). Though this can be a bit confusing to newer fans, the intended meaning of these abbreviations should become obvious whenever a fan reads a scoreboard or sees them on TV.
- A "Home Run" or HR is a type of hit where the hitter scores a run. This can happen in three ways: if the ball is hit over the outfield fence between the foul lines (what is called "fair territory"), the ball is struck and it hits the foul poles before hitting the ground or going into the stands, or the hitter is able to circle the bases on a hit without getting caught (this is called an "inside-the-park home run"). In the case of an "inside-the-park home run", there can be no fielding errors for it to be scored a home run.
- An "Extra Base Hit" or XBH for short, is a hit that results in the hitter safely reaching second, third base or home on a hit. In other words, doubles, triples, and home runs are all considered to be extra base hits.
Other Stats and Terms
- Stolen Base or SB: when a runner decides to advance to the next base when a ball is not in play. A runner cannot steal a base during a mound visit or if an umpire has called a time-out. There is a certain situation where a stolen base will not count. This is known as "defensive indifference". The conditions for defensive indifference are the following: it must to be late in the game (around the seventh inning or after), the score is not close (one team must be leading by a considerable number of runs), and when the runner attempts the stolen base the catcher does not try to throw him out. The official scorer is the person that decides whether these conditions have been met and then makes the call.
- Caught Stealing or CS: This one is self-explanatory. A runner is thrown out trying to steal a base. However, there is one exception. If a runner is thrown out trying to steal the next base, it is scored as a CS. But if he is thrown out trying to get back to the base he's on, it is scored as a "pickoff." A "pickoff" can be done by either the pitcher or the catcher.
- Base on Balls or BB: This is what is known as a "walk." To put it simply, if the pitcher misses the strike zone four times (also known as throwing balls instead of strikes), then the batter moves to first base. Then there is the "intentional base on balls" or IBB, more commonly known as an "intentional walk".
- A "Plate Appearance" or PA is every single time that a hitter comes up to bat regardless of the result.
- An "At Bat" or AB is different in that it tracks every plate appearance that does not result in a walk, a hit-by-pitch (HBP), a sacrifice fly (SF) or sacrifice hit (SH), or when the batter is awarded first base because of catcher interference/obstruction. By the way, sacrifice hit is just another way to say "sacrifice bunt".
- Distinguishing between PA and AB is helpful in better understanding Batting Average or AVG. Batting average is the number of hits divided by the number of at bats. If the AB results in an out, an error, or fielder's choice, then the AVG goes down. If it results in a hit, then it goes up. If it results in a sacrifice (SF or SH), a walk/HBP, or in anything that results in the AB not counting, then the AVG remains unchanged. A batting average that is near or above .300 is considered to be good.
- "On-Base Percentage" or OBP refers to how frequently a hitter reaches base safely. Hits, walks and HBP are the factors that can raise a player's OBP. An OBP that is higher than .340 is considered to be good.
- "Slugging Percentage" or SLG is a stat that tracks the average of total bases that a hitter gets per AB. The main factor that drives this stat is XBH because they get the player multiple bases per AB. So the more XBHs the hitter gets, the higher the SLG. SLG percentage that is near or above .430 is considered to be good.
- "On-Base Plus Slugging" or OPS is the sum of a player's OBP and SLG. This combination is used to determine if the player is a good overall hitter. An OPS of .750 or above is considered to be good. An OPS of .900 or above is what the best hitters in the league usually get.
- "Runs Batted In" or RBI tracks the runs that a hitter is directly responsible for scoring. So if there is a man on base, and the hitter gets a hit that allows the runner to score, then the hitter is credited with an RBI. RBI can also be credited if a sacrifice fly (SF) results in a run being scored or if a hitter walks with the bases loaded and a run scores.
Basic Pitching Stats
- "Earned Run Average" or ERA tracks the average "earned runs" that a pitcher allows per nine innings. An "Earned Run" is scored when the pitcher allows the opposing team to score without the help of a fielding error, or a wild pitch/passed ball. Runs scored as a result of an error will not count towards a pitcher's ERA. For starting pitchers, an ERA under 4.00 is considered good and for relief pitchers and ERA under 3.00 is good since they pitch fewer innings. An ERA above 4.50 is generally considered to be bad.
- "Walks and Hits per innings pitched" or WHIP for short is another self-explanatory stat. It is the average number of hits and walks that a pitcher allows per inning. A WHIP that is 1.40 or below is considered good.
The rest of the basic stats in a pitcher's stat sheet are pretty easy to understand and many are self-explanatory.
However I should make note of a few things that may be a bit confusing about pitching stats: First, strikeouts are officially abbreviated as "SO", however they will show up on a scoreboard and scorecard as "K" if it is a swinging strikeout and a "ꓘ" if the hitter strikes out looking (meaning that they did not swing at the pitch). Another thing to note is that the "innings pitched" stat or "IP" has decimals on it. The decimal on IP will always be either .0, .1, or .2. This is because an inning for a pitcher is divided into thirds since there are three outs in every inning pitched. So if a starting pitcher pitches five innings, gets an out in the sixth inning and is then replaced by a reliever, he will have pitched five and a third innings or 5.1 IP. If he had gotten two outs in the sixth, his stat would be 5.2 IP or five and two-thirds. Finally, if the pitcher gets all three outs in the sixth inning then he gets 6.0 or just 6 IP. Also, on some game broadcasts, the decimal can be shown as a fraction instead.
So, this was my rather brief guide into some of the basic rules, stats, and terminology of baseball. I hope some of you have learned from this article and have a better understanding of the sport. I will write a second part for this article soon where I will discuss some more baseball lingo and facts. The will be a bit more advanced than the ones shown in this article and I will also address some misconceptions of the sport.
Information on the interpretation of some of the stats presented is courtesy of mlb.com and baseball-reference.com.