If you check out the list of rules of the Major Leagues, you’ll notice that there are pages upon pages of rules. In fact, there are 188 pages in the 2019 edition of the official MLB rules. Out of all of these rules, there are a handful of rules that don’t happen very often and one of those rare rules that can occur during a baseball game is the dropped third strike rule. But, what is the rule on a dropped third strike in baseball?
The dropped third strike rule in baseball is when a hitter strikes out, but the catcher fails to catch the pitch in the air. When the ball hits the ground on a third strike, the hitter is allowed to run to first base. If the hitter safely makes it to first base, no out is awarded to the defense.
It may seem like a strange rule, but this means that hitters get a second chance at making it to first base after they strike out. One thing hitters will quickly discover is that this rule does not apply to every single strikeout.
What is Dropped Third Strike?
Whether you’re in Little League, high school, college, or in the Major Leagues, the dropped third strike rule is the same across all baseball leagues.
For all levels of baseball, the dropped third strike rule is in effect when the following are true:
- The batter strikes out
- The catcher does not catch the pitch in the air
- There are less than two outs and first base is unoccupied or there are two outs
When these three things are true, the batter becomes a baserunner and is allowed to run to first base. If the runner makes it to first base before the defense tags them out or before the defense gets the force out at first base, the runner is able to stay on first base and no outs are recorded.
In other words, a dropped third strike is like a second chance play for a hitter to make it to first base. If the catcher is unable to catch the ball in the air, either due to missing the ball or due to the pitcher throwing a breaking ball in the dirt, then the hitter has an extra opportunity to become a baserunner without recording an out.
When Can a Batter Advance on a Dropped Third Strike?
Part of the confusion around the dropped third strike rule is knowing when a batter can advance to first base and when a batter is unable to advance.
In general, a batter is able to advance to first base on a dropped third strike in two scenarios. The first scenario is when there are less than two outs and first base is unoccupied. The second scenario is simply when there are two outs.
To give some additional context, we can dive into each one of these scenarios in more detail.
When There are Less Than Two Outs and First Base is Unoccupied
One scenario in which a batter can run to first base on a dropped third strike is when there are less than two outs and there are no baserunners on first base. In this scenario, first base is considered to be “unoccupied” so the rule allows a batter to become a runner if a dropped third strike occurs.
Reading this rule may also prompt some people to wonder “can a batter run to first on a dropped third strike if the baserunner on first base is stealing?”
Generally speaking, a batter will not be allowed to run to first base on a dropped third strike if the baserunner on first base was stealing second base. Since the baserunner was occupying first base as the pitch was delivered, the dropped third strike would be recorded as a strikeout.
When There are Two Outs
When there are two outs in the inning, batters are able to run to first base on a dropped third strike regardless of whether or not there is a runner on first base. So if a batter strikes out with two outs already recorded, either by swinging or by the umpire calling a third strike, and the catcher fails to catch the ball, the batter is still allowed to run to first base without recording an out.
Because of the slight differences in rules depending on how many outs there are, both the offense and defense need to be aware of their situation at all times.
Can You Run on a Dropped Third Strike With Bases Loaded?
When looking into the dropped third strike rule, a common question people wonder is if a batter can run on dropped third strike when the bases are loaded.
When there are less than two outs, a batter is not allowed to run to first base on a dropped third strike because first base is occupied. However, if there are two outs, a batter is allowed to run to first base on a dropped third strike. In both scenarios, baserunners are free to run at their own risk.
So the same rules around outs will still apply when the bases are loaded. However, in the scenario where a batter is allowed to run to first base on a dropped third strike and the bases are loaded, there is a force out at any base. This means that a catcher simply has to step on home plate in order to record the third and final out of that half-inning.
Can a Runner Score on a Dropped Third Strike?
Another common question people wonder is if a runner is allowed to score on a dropped third strike.
During a dropped third strike, a runner would be able to score because all baserunners are allowed to run at their own risk. A dropped third strike is considered a live ball which means a run would count if a runner crosses home plate before the third out is recorded.
And because the dropped third strike play would operate like a normal live ball, a run would not count if the final out of the inning is made due to a force out.
An example of this would be if the bases were loaded and there were two outs. When a dropped third strike happens in this scenario, there is a force out at any base. So even if the runner who was on third base crossed the plate right away, that run would only count if one of the other runners did not get out due to a force out.
How is a Dropped 3rd Strike Scored?
Due to dropped 3rd strikes happening fairly infrequently, there can be some confusion around how to score this type of play.
A dropped third strike is initially scored as a strikeout and as an error on the catcher, or “K-E2”. If the catcher were to throw the runner out at first base, then the play would be scored as a strikeout and the catcher getting the out at first base, or “K 2-3”.
So if the runner were to get on base, then the play would simply result in a “K E2”. But if the defense was able to record the out, then we would score it as a strikeout, followed by the play that resulted in the out.
How Does a Dropped Third Strike Affect Batting Average?
If a runner were to get on base due to a dropped third strike, how does that affect that player’s batting average?
A dropped third strike is recorded as a strikeout for the batter, which means a player’s batting average would decline. Even if the batter was able to safely make it to first base and avoid recording an out, the batter is still awarded a strikeout, which negatively affects their batting average.
If the runner safely makes it to first base then the play is recorded as a strikeout and an error on the catcher. This scoring would be similar to the batter hitting a ball and having the defense record an error, which means the hitter’s batting average would decline.
Is There a Dropped Third Strike Rule in the MLB?
Sometimes there are differences in rules between different levels of competition, but the dropped third strike rule is one that is fairly consistent from league to league.
According to the official MLB rules, there is a dropped third strike rule. Rule 5.05(a)(2) of the rule book states that the batter becomes a runner when the pitch is not caught and first base is either unoccupied or first base is occupied with two outs.
In fact, below is a short video where you can see a compilation of dropped third strikes that have occurred in the Major Leagues.