During any given baseball game, there is an average of 146 pitches thrown by each team and a vast majority of these pitches are either called a ball or a strike. With almost 300 pitches being thrown in each ball game, how many different ways can a batter get a strike?
There are three ways a batter can receive a strike:
- When the ball passes through the strike zone.
- When the batter hits a foul ball.
- When the batter swings and misses.
If a batter does not swing and the pitch does not fall into one of these three scenarios, the pitch is called a ball.
Even though there are only three different ways a batter can receive a strike in baseball, there are a handful of one-off scenarios that can happen within each one of those categories.
Explanation of When a Pitch Becomes a Strike
A Pitch is a Strike When the Ball Passes Through the Strike Zone
The first scenario where a batter can get a strike is when the ball passes through the strike zone and the batter does not swing.
In baseball, the Strike Zone is defined as the area over home plate that is between the batter’s knees and between the mid-point of the batter’s waist and shoulders (typically around the chest).
Whenever the pitch travels through this area, the pitch is called a strike by the umpire.
An important thing to remember is that the home plate umpire must call all strikes and balls. Whether the batter believes the pitch should be called a strike or a ball, the home-plate umpire has the final say on how the pitch is called.
In my years of playing baseball, I’ve been a witness to really great umpires and really terrible umpires. Most of the time the umpire will fall into the middle of the pack on how they call their strikes and balls, but batters must be aware that if they do not swing at the pitch – the umpire has the final say in how the pitch is called.
Interested in learning more about the strike zone? Check out my previous article on understanding the strike zone in baseball.
A Pitch is a Strike When the Batter Hits a Foul Ball
Each ball diamond has a fair territory and a foul territory. Fair territory is any place between the first baseline and the third-base line while foul territory is any place that falls outside of the third baseline and first baseline.
Whenever a batter has less than two strikes and hits the ball in foul territory, the play is ruled dead and the batter receives a strike.
This may seem like a straightforward rule, but it turns out there are a couple of caveats to this rule.
If a Batter Has Two Strikes Then a Foul Ball Has No Impact on the Count
Because a batter is allowed a maximum of three strikes during an at-bat, it is very possible for a batter to hit a foul ball while they have two strikes.
In baseball, the count is not impacted whenever a batter hits a foul ball and already has two strikes. So if the count was one ball and two strikes (or 1-2) and the batter hit a foul ball, the count would still be at one ball and two strikes (1-2).
This foul ball rule with two strikes is also the same for fast-pitch softball, but it is not the same for a lot of adult slow-pitch softball leagues I’ve been a part of.
So if you happen to be looking for how adult slow-pitch softball leagues rule a foul ball with two strikes, then make sure to check that league’s rulebook because this rule can vary from league to league (typically, slow-pitch softball batters can be out from hitting a certain number of foul balls).
If a Batter Bunts the Ball Foul With Two Strikes Then the Batter Has Struck Out
In baseball, batters are allowed to bunt whenever they would like, which means that they are also allowed to bunt while there are two strikes.
According to baseball rules, batters are allowed to bunt with two strikes, but if the bunt goes foul, the play is ruled dead and the batter is called out due to a strikeout.
This rule is in place to prevent batters from continuously bunting the ball foul and tiring out the pitcher.
Back in the early days of baseball, batters were actually allowed to bunt the ball as often as they would like and they wouldn’t be charged with a strike, but thanks to a rule change in 1901 in the National League and 1903 in the American League, the Foul Strike Rule went into effect and eliminated the strategy of tiring out great pitchers by fouling off as many foul balls as possible.
For a more in-depth look at how the Foul Strike Rule came into effect, check out my previous article that discusses why bunting foul with two-strikes is an out.
A Pitch is a Strike When the Batter Swings and Misses
Probably the easiest way to determine if a pitch is a strike is when the batter swings and misses the ball.
Regardless of where the pitch goes, if the batter swings and misses at the ball, the batter is awarded a strike.
It can be hard to make solid contact with a baseball, so swinging and missing at a pitch is a widespread occurrence in baseball. And believe it or not, there can be a lot of controversy over this rule.
Aside from the obvious strike call from a player swinging at a pitch and missing, there are numerous occasions where a player will begin their swing, but not fully complete their swing.
In these instances where a player performs a check-swing (fully stopping their swing after beginning their swing), the home-plate umpire must determine if the player made enough of an effort in their swing for it to even be called a swing.
And in the cases where the home-plate umpire is unable to determine if the batter swung at the pitch, the home-plate umpire can ask for help from the umpire on the field (typically the first-base umpire).
So, what determines a swing in baseball? As it turns out, there is no official definition for what a swing is in baseball, but a common guideline most umpires use is if the players break their wrist during the swing or if the bat crosses the front of the plate then the pitch is called a strike.
In my experience, the best way to learn about a rule is to see some examples. So check out the quick video below of Erick Aybar utilizing the check swing in a game.
After reviewing the replay, most people would agree that Erick Aybar did not fully attempt a swing and this pitch should have been called a ball.
How Many Foul Balls is a Strike?
In general, one foul ball equals one strike in baseball. However, when a batter already has two strikes and hits a foul ball, the play is dead and no strike is awarded.
So if a batter fouls off the first two pitches of the at-bat, then those first two foul balls would count as a strike. But if that batter hits any other foul balls after there are two strikes, then the strike count is not impacted.
How Many Strikes Does the Batter Get?
During each at-bat, a batter is allowed up to three strikes. Once the third strike is called, the batter has been struck out and the play is recorded as an out.
One of the most coveted stats by pitchers is how many strikeouts they can acquire. More strikeouts generally means players are unable to make contact with the ball and this is good news for the defense.
Because pitchers are always going for another strikeout, they are always aware of how many strikes the batter currently has. If there are two strikes and no balls, the pitcher will often try to fool the batter with a breaking pitch or a pitch outside of the strike zone to see if they can get an easy strike for another strikeout.