A commonly understood rule of baseball is that a batter can get a max of three strikes or four balls in a single at-bat and when one of those numbers has been reached, the batter’s turn is over. Although, if you’ve watched enough baseball, you’ll know there is one caveat to this rule – the foul ball. This exception to the rule makes many people wonder about how many foul balls a batter can hit in baseball.
In baseball, there is no set limit to how many foul balls a batter can hit. Even though a foul ball is considered a strike, a foul ball will not increase the number of strikes when the batter already has two strikes in the count.
A batter may be allowed unlimited foul balls in baseball, but there is also a rule that a batter can be called out if they bunt the ball foul with two strikes in the count.
How Many Foul Balls Can You Hit in Baseball?
To fully understand the answer to the question about how many foul balls a batter can hit, we must look at the two different ways a batter can hit a foul ball. The first way to hit a foul ball is by swinging the bat and the second way to hit a foul ball is by bunting.
A Batter Can Have an Unlimited Number of Swinging Foul Balls
When a batter hits a foul ball, one strike is added to the count. But if a batter hits a foul ball while there are already two strikes in the count, no strikes are given to the batter.
The foul ball rules of baseball are designed to allow an unlimited number of swinging foul balls because foul balls are almost always unintentional. When a batter swings at a pitch, they are attempting to put the ball in play. And because they are attempting to put the ball in play, hitting a foul ball is usually an accidental result of the swing.
So the rules of baseball do not penalize a batter with a strikeout when they are attempting to put the ball in play and the batted ball lands in foul territory.
A Batter Can Strikeout if a Bunt Goes Foul With Two Strikes
Another way a batter can hit a ball foul is when they are bunting the ball. During the first two strikes of any at-bat, baseball rules treat all foul balls the same – which is that the foul ball results in a strike being awarded to the batter. The difference in rules comes during the last strike of the at-bat.
When a batter has two strikes and they lay down a bunt, the ball must go fair. If a bunted ball goes foul while the batter has two strikes, the ruling is the ball is dead and the batter has struck out.
In the very early days of baseball, batters were actually allowed to continuously foul off balls with a bunt. This was a strategy that was used to make pitchers throw a lot of pitches because batters were able to more easily foul off pitches. The foul strike rule that encouraged batters to swing at the last strike wasn’t enacted until 1901 in the National League and 1903 in the American League.
For a more in-depth look at the Foul Strike Rule and when it’s beneficial to bunt with two strikes, check out my previous article on when bunting with two strikes is a good idea.
How Many Fouls Equal a Strike?
In baseball, a foul ball is sometimes a strike, sometimes a dead ball, and sometimes a strikeout. Because of the various ways a batter can get a strike called on them, lots of people begin to wonder about how many fouls equal a strike.
In general, one foul ball equals one strike. Although, if a batter has two strikes and they hit a foul ball while swinging, a strike is not counted. If a batter bunts the ball foul with two strikes, a strike is counted and the batter has struck out.
Another scenario where a foul ball would equal a strikeout is when there is a foul tip and the catcher makes the catch. In these scenarios, a strike is called and the batter has struck out.
What is the Most Amount of Foul Balls in One At-Bat?
To see a quick version of this at-bat, check out the video on MLB.
Why is the Third Foul Ball Not a Strike?
When thinking about the rules of baseball, it’s very easy to wonder where some of these rules originated. When it comes to the third foul ball not being a strike, we must go all the way back to the year 1901 to know more about the implementation of the Foul Strike Rule in baseball.
What is the Foul Strike Rule in Baseball?
The Foul Strike Rule became a rule in the National League in 1901 and a rule in the American League in 1903.
The Foul Strike Rule is when a batter is awarded a strike for a foul ball during the first two strikes of the at-bat. If there are two strikes in the count and the batter bunts the ball foul, the batter will be called out via a strikeout.
Prior to the Foul Strike Rule, no strikes were awarded to the batter if the batter hit a foul ball. This included both bunted foul balls and swinging foul balls.
Because there was no penalty for hitting a foul ball, some batters would continuously foul off pitches by bunting the ball. By making the pitcher throw a lot of pitches, batters would use this strategy to force a walk.
Rule-makers thought this strategy gave the batters an unfair advantage so they implemented the Foul Strike Rule in 1901 and 1903 to even the playing field.