Most sports follow the idea of the offense having control of the ball and the defense defending the players who control the ball, but baseball takes a different approach. In the game of baseball, the team that has control over the ball is considered the defense while the team that doesn’t control the ball is considered the offense. Because baseball defines the offense differently from other sports, many people wonder what the offense is in baseball.
In baseball, the offense is the team that is up to bat. The offense consists of batters (who are trying to safely reach a base) and baserunners (who were batters that already safely reached a base). Both batters and baserunners have the objective of scoring a run by safely crossing home plate.
The objective of the offense seems fairly straightforward: score more runs than the opposing team. But this objective is easier said than done, which is why baseball coaches and managers have developed some offensive strategies for helping their team reach that goal. For the rest of this article, we’ll dive more into what the offense is and then cover some common offensive strategies in baseball.
What is the Offense in Baseball?
When it comes to knowing what the offense is in baseball, there are a few critical components to understand. Let’s take a look at what those different components are and how some of these components can vary between the different levels of baseball.
In Baseball, The Offense Does Not Control the Ball
One of the things that makes baseball such a unique sport is that the offense is not in control of the ball. When you look at other sports like football, basketball, soccer, etc, the offense is generally the team that controls the ball. In baseball, the defense is responsible for controlling the ball and preventing the offense from scoring.
The defense has a pitcher who will throw strikes and balls to the offensive batter. The job of the pitcher and the defense is to acquire outs to prevent the offense from scoring and the only way for the defense to achieve their goal is by controlling the baseball.
In baseball, the offense consists of batters and baserunners. Batters are trying to safely reach a base by hitting the baseball or by getting a walk. Once batters safely reach a base, they become baserunners.
It is the job of a baserunner to score by safely advancing through all four bases, in order. Once a baserunner safely crosses home plate, one run is awarded to the offensive team.
Neither the batter nor the baserunner control the ball while they are on offense. The defense is the team that is responsible for controlling the ball and getting outs.
Offense is Set By a Batting Order of 9 Players
One of the keys to understanding an offense in baseball is to look at a team’s batting order. Because there are nine defensive positions on each team, a batting order will also consist of nine players.
Prior to each game, a coach or manager will put together a lineup that they believe gives their team the best odds of winning. The lineup lists out what position each player is playing, what order their team is batting, and what players are on the bench.
The coach will then hand this lineup to the head umpire and to the coach of the other team. A team’s lineup shows what that team’s offense will be for the game because it lists out the order in which hitters will be coming to bat. This lineup also lets the other coach know what players could potentially be pinch-hitting or pinch-running at any point in the game.
Some Baseball Offenses Include a Designated Hitter
In Major League Baseball there are two divisions, the National League and the American League. Teams that are in the American League are able to utilize a special type of offensive player called the Designated Hitter, also known as the “DH”.
The Designated Hitter specializes in hitting and does not play the field. Designated Hitters are also included in the lineup as a replacement hitter for one of the fielders. This means the Designated Hitter will be batting for one of the fielder for the entire game.
Most Major League teams use a designated hitter to bat in place of the pitcher. In the Major Leagues, pitcher are known for being poor hitters so it greatly benefits the offensive when they can have another player bat for the pitcher.
The Designated Hitter is a rule that varies from league to league. So be sure to check your league’s rule book to verify whether or not the use of a Designated Hitter is allowed.
Some Baseball Leagues Allow More than 9 Players in a Batting Order
Generally, a batting order consists of nine players, but some baseball leagues allow each team to have more than 9 players. The number of players allowed in a batting order will vary from league to league so be sure to check your league’s rule book on what is and isn’t allowed for your team’s batting order.
For example, Little League rules allow a type of batting order called a “continuous batting order”. With this type of batting order, every player on the team is inserted into the batting lineup and there is no restriction on how many players can bat.
In addition to a continuous batting order, Little League coaches can also elect to add players to the end of the batting order instead of substituting a player. This is commonly used when a player arrives late to the game. In this scenario, coaches are not allowed to alter the current batting order, but they are allowed to add additional players to the end of the batting order, which usually means more than nine players are included in the batting order.
Another way coaches can include more than nine players in a batting order is by using an A/B hitter. Some baseball leagues allow coaches to use an A/B hitter in their batting lineup, which means that one spot in the lineup can be occupied by two players.
The way an A/B batter works in a baseball lineup is that these two players will take turns batting. The first time around the batting order the “A” hitter will bat, then the second time around the order the “B” hitter will bat. These two players will keep alternating through the game as their spot comes up in the batting order.
Offensive Strategies in Baseball
Once players have an understanding of what the offense is in baseball, the next thing they might wonder about is the offensive strategies. What are offensive strategies in baseball and what is a good offensive strategy in baseball?
In general, offensive strategies in baseball are any type of plan that gives the offense the best chance of scoring a run. These strategies can range from getting a runner into scoring position to actually getting a run across the plate.
Let’s take a look at some of the common offensive strategies that are used in baseball.
Setting the Batting Order
The most crucial piece to any offensive strategy is how the team’s players are set within the batting order. In any game of baseball, the players who are towards the top of the batting order will typically get one more at-bat per game than the players towards the bottom of the batting order.
Because coaches know the top of the batting order will be up to bat more often, they tend to place their better hitters towards the top of the batting order.
Some coaches have different opinions on how to best set their lineup, but a traditional way of setting a batting order is as follows:
- First Batter (also known as the “Leadoff”)
- This player is usually a fast runner who makes solid contact with the ball and is good at reaching base.
- Second Batter
- A fast runner who makes solid contact with the ball. Is also skilled at bunting for when they need to advance baserunners.
- Third Batter (also known as the “Three-hole”)
- This player is often thought to be the best hitter on the team. They have the ability to hit home runs and extra-base hits.
- Fourth Batter (also known as the “Cleanup Hitter”)
- Similar to the third batter, the fourth batter is considered a great hitter and is able to hit home runs and extra-base hits.
- Fifth Batter
- The fifth batter is also a great hitter with the ability to hit for extra bases. Because the fifth batter is also a great hitter, they are known for protecting the fourth batter in the lineup – if a pitcher knows the fifth batter is a great hitter, they will be less incentivized to intentionally walk the fourth batter.
- Because of the combination of great hitters in the third, fourth, and fifth spots of the lineup, this group of hitters is commonly called “the heard of the lineup”
- Sixth through the Eighth Batter
- These batters do not typically have as high of a batting average as the batters that come before them. These batters are also not expected to hit as many home runs as the previous batters. Although they are still expected to get on base, which means they must still be solid contact hitters.
- Ninth Batter (sometimes known as the “Second Leadoff”)
- There are generally two ways to look at the ninth batter of any lineup:
- The ninth batter is like a second leadoff hitter, where they are a faster player that can hit for contact. They don’t have as high of a batting average as the leadoff hitter, but they will not slow down the leadoff hitter when both of them are on base.
- The ninth batter is the worst hitter in the batting order. In the Major Leagues, the ninth batter is generally occupied by the pitcher. Pitchers in the Major Leagues are known for their below-average hitting skills so coaches will place them at the bottom of the lineup because the bottom of the lineup will bat fewer times than the top of the lineup.
- There are generally two ways to look at the ninth batter of any lineup:
Designated Hitters Can Increase Offensive Power
Depending on the type of baseball league you’re in, your team may or may not be able to use a designated hitter. If a designated hitter is allowed, then coaches will use this rule to their advantage by replacing a less-than-average hitter with an above-average hitter.
By using this strategy, coaches can increase their offensive power by having better hitters in the batting order. A good example of coaches using this rule can be found in the MLB.
In the MLB, there are two divisions: the American League and the National League. The American League allows the use of a designated hitter while the National League does not. So coaches in the American League will use the Designated Hitter rule to their advantage by having another player bat for the pitcher.
Hit and Run
When there is one or more runners on base, a coach may use the strategy of a Hit and Run.
A hit and run play is broken down into two parts: stealing and hitting. To perform the hit and run, baserunners will begin by stealing when the pitcher begins their throw. Because the coach called for a hit and run, the batter is already aware that the baserunners are stealing so the batter knows that they must swing at whatever pitch is thrown and make contact with the ball.
A successful hit and run results in the batter getting a base hit and the baserunners advancing an extra base. To see a great example of a successful hit and run, check out the clip below.
Sacrifice bunts are used as a way to advance a baserunner, but the end result is that the batter gets thrown out at first base. When a sacrifice bunt is successful, the batter is not awarded with an at-bat.
To perform a sacrifice bunt, the batter will lay down a bunt and the baserunner will advance one base. The defense will field the ball and throw out the batter at first base. Because the batter intentionally got themselves out in order to advance the baserunner, this play is called a sacrifice bunt.
Sacrifice bunts can be used to advance a runner from first to second or to advance the runner from second to third. To see some great examples of teams using the sacrifice bunt to advance the runner from second to third, check out the video below.
A Sacrifice Fly is a strategy that is used with less than two outs and is most often used to score a runner from third base. A sacrifice fly could be awarded to a batter from moving a runner from first base to second base or from second base to third base, but the sacrifice fly is overwhelmingly used to score a runner from third base.
To perform a sacrifice fly, a batter must hit a long fly ball to the outfield. When the outfielder catches the ball, the baserunner will tag up and advance towards the next base.
When a sacrifice fly is successful, the batter is not charged with an at-bat. To see an example of an exciting sacrifice fly, check out the video below.
For fast runners, stealing bases can be one of the most fun offensive strategies to use. When a player successfully steals a base, they move themselves into a better scoring position and give their team a better chance of scoring a run.
Below is one of the most iconic stolen bases in MLB History, where Rickey Henderson breaks the all-time stolen base record with his 939th career stolen base.
When performed well, a squeeze play is a useful strategy because the end result is that the offense scores a run.
A squeeze play is a combination of a stolen base and a sacrifice bunt. To perform the squeeze play, a batter will bunt the ball, which gives the runner on third base the opportunity to score. When successful, the runner will score a run.
To see a well-executed squeeze play, check out the video below where the Brewers win the game with a walk-off squeeze play.
Breaking Up a Double Play
When you’re on defense, the one play you’re always trying to make it to get the batter out. The next best thing is turn a double play and get two outs within the same at-bat.
Avoiding that dreaded double play is why good baserunners learn to break up a double play. Typically, you’ll see baserunners break up double plays at second base. To break up a double play at second base, baserunners will slide towards the base, but they will also position their slide so they are interfering with the player standing on second base who is about to make the throw to first base.
Although these types of plays can sometimes cause controversy between the baserunner and the thrower, these plays are legal because the baserunner is technically sliding into second base. To see two of these plays in action, check out the video below where the Cardinals break up two double plays against the Cubs.
A pinch runner is a player who comes in to run for a current baserunner. A pinch runner is considered a substitute player so if the coach does not switch out the pinch runner for another player, the pinch runner will also play the field.
Although a pinch runner can be used any time the offense has a runner on base, a pinch runner is most often used towards the later innings of a baseball game. A home team who is behind by a run in the bottom of the last inning may use a pinch runner to give their team a better chance to score.
The video below is an excellent example of when a pinch-runner comes in handy. In this video, the pinch-runner comes into the game in the bottom of the ninth inning and steals two bases. By doing this, he put his team in the best possible position to tie the game and prevent a loss (unfortunately for the pinch-runner Pompey, he did not score and Toronto lost this game).
A pinch hitter is a player who is a substitute player that comes into the game for the purpose of hitting. Sometimes the pinch hitter will stay in the game and play defense, but the main purpose of a pinch hitter is to bat for another player.
A coach will use a pinch hitter when they think the pinch hitter has a better chance of getting on base than the player they are substituting for.
In the Major Leagues, pinch hitters typically come in late in the game to bat in place of the pitcher. The coach is planning on taking out the pitcher in the next inning, but that pitcher’s spot in the batting order is coming up in that inning. So the coach will use a pinch hitter, with the hopes of getting a run, and then replace that pinch hitter with another pitcher after the inning ends.
On occasion, coaches also use this spot in the batting order as an opportunity to use another strategy called the Double Switch, which we’ll cover in the section below.
Although the double switch is a defensive move, it also contains offensive advantages. To perform a double switch, a manger will take specific steps:
- Swap the pitcher with another fielder
- Use a substitute to replace the fielder (who is now a pitcher)
- Use a substitute to replace the pitcher (who is now somewhere in the field)
By performing a double switch, a manager can legally and strategically change the batting order to ensure the pitcher comes up to bat as late as possible in the next inning.
Because the pitcher is typically the worst hitter in the batting order, the manager wants the pitcher to bat as few times as possible. By using the double switch, the manager can make sure the pitcher is the last player to bat in the next inning.
If you’re interested in learning more about the double switch in baseball, I also wrote this in-depth article on what is the double switch in baseball.
Not Swinging When the Count is 3-0
Sometimes a pitcher is struggling to throw strikes. When this happens, coaches will instruct their team to take a pitch when the count is 3 balls and no strikes.
The idea behind taking a pitch when the count is 3-0 is the force the pitcher to throw strikes. If the pitcher throws a ball, then the batter gets to take first base. If the pitcher throws a strike, then nothing is hurt and the batter still has two more strikes to work with.
Running Halfway During a Fly Ball and Less Than Two Outs
For baserunners, running halfway to the next base during a fly ball when there are less than two outs is a common strategy. When coaches talk about going halfway on a fly ball, the word “halfway” is used as more of a generalization for how far the baserunners should be off the bag.
Usually, baserunners will go about a quarter of the way to roughly halfway to the next base when there are less than two outs and the batter hits a fly ball. Depending on where the baseball is hit, baserunners may not want to actually go halfway towards the next bag because they could get thrown out when they try to tag up.
If the baseball is hit deep into the outfield then going halfway to the next bag is reasonable, but if the fly ball is hit to the shallow outfield or even somewhere in the infield then the baserunner does not want to go halfway to the next base.
Running on Contact When There are Two Outs
There are three different scenarios we can cover for how baserunners can run on contact when there are two outs.
Running When There are Two Outs and a Force Out Play at the Next Base
When the baserunner can be forced out at the next base and there are two outs, that baserunner should be running as soon as the batter makes contact. Regardless of where the ball is hit, the baserunner is going to be forced to run towards the next base, so the baserunner may as well start running towards the next base as soon as they are sure the batter has made contact with the ball.
If the batter strikes out or pops it up, then the inning is over and the baserunner is not able to be thrown out. If the batter gets a base hit then the baserunner will be safe at the next base and potentially be able to advance one more base.
Stealing When the Count is Full, There are Two Outs, and There is a Force Out Play at the Next Base
As a general rule, baserunners should always steal whenever the count is full and there is a force-out play at the next base. In this scenario, it does not matter what happens with the pitch because the baserunner will need to advance to the next base anyway.
If the batter swings and misses, the inning is over. If the batter swings and makes contact, then the baserunner has to advance to the next base regardless of where the ball is hit. The one thing baserunners need to be wary about in this scenario is that they do not get picked off by the pitcher, because the pitcher also realizes that all the baserunners will be stealing.
Running When There Are Two Outs And the Batter Hits a Fly Ball
In another scenario with two outs, if the batter hits a fly ball then all baserunners should be running all of the time. In the scenario where a fly ball is hit with two outs, there will never be a need for a baserunner to tag up so the next best thing a baserunner can do in this scenario is to keep running until the defense catches the ball.
If the defense makes an error, then the baserunner can advance an extra base and potentially score. If the defense catches the ball, then the inning is over.