fielder's choice baseball

Fielder’s Choice Baseball: Understanding The Rules And Strategies

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fielder's choice baseball


Baseball is a sport rich in tradition and strategy, and one of the key plays that every player and fan should understand is the fielder’s choice. It’s a play that can impact games in significant ways, yet many casual observers may not fully grasp its nuances. Whether you’re a seasoned player looking to improve your performance or a casual fan seeking a deeper appreciation of the game, understanding the strategies of the fielder’s choice baseball rule is essential.

In this post, we’ll explore the history and evolution of the fielders choice. We break down the different scenarios and provide valuable insights on when and why to use it.


What is Fielder’s Choice in Baseball?

Definition

Fielder’s choice is a strategic play that requires quick thinking and good judgment. In situations with runners on base, the fielder must decide between making the out or preventing the runners from advancing. Factors such as the speed of the runners, the strength of the batter, and the score of the game can influence the decision. Fielder’s choice can be a game-changer, and it is a huge aspect of baseball strategy.

According to MLB, a fielder’s choice is an act of a defender who fields a ground ball and attempts to put out a preceding runner at either second, third or home instead of the batter at first base. This term can also describe the advancement of runners that is not a direct result of a hit or error.

The In the 2021 MLB season, there were 6,268 fielder’s choice plays recorded across all teams. (Source: Baseball-Reference)

How it Works

Scorekeepers record a fielder’s choice play as an out, but they do not charge the batter with an at-bat. The official scorer will credit the fielder who made the play with an assist. If the play results in an out, the scorer will also credit the fielder with a putout. The scoring of a fielder’s choice play can be complicated based on the circumstances of the play.

When a fielder’s choice occurs, the defensive team has the option to retire the batter-runner or any other baserunner. Typically, the fielder makes the choice based on their defensive skill, the baserunners’ speed, and the game’s circumstances. For example, if there is a runner on third and less than two outs, the defense may choose to make a play at the plate to prevent the run from scoring.

Infielders such as the shortstop or second baseman often make fielder’s choice plays. These plays require quick thinking and skill to make the correct decision on which baserunner to put out.

The most common scenario for a fielder’s choice is when there is a runner on first and a ground ball is hit to an infielder, who throws to second base in an attempt to get the lead runner out. (Source: FanGraphs)


Fielder’s Choice in Scoring and Statistics

The Impact of a Fielder’s Choice on Batting Average

Batting average in baseball is calculated by taking the number of hits and dividing it by the number of at-bats. A fielder’s choice plays a role in this calculation, and it does indeed have the effect of potentially lowering a player’s batting average.

When a batter makes contact with the ball and reaches first base due to a fielder’s decision to try to put out another runner, this situation is referred to as a “fielder’s choice.” It’s essential to recognize that a fielder’s choice counts as an at-bat for the hitter, even if they reach base safely. Since the play does not count as a hit, it can reduce the player’s batting average.

There are only a few specific circumstances in baseball where a plate appearance does not count as an at-bat. According to Section 9.02 of the 2023 MLB Official Rules, no time at bat shall be charged in the following situations:

  • Sacrifices: Both sacrifice bunts and sacrifice flies are exceptions.
  • Walks: Being awarded first base on four called balls.
  • Hit by Pitches: When the batter is hit by a pitch.
  • Interference or Obstruction: If the player is awarded first base due to catcher’s interference or other forms of obstruction.

These situations are exceptions to the general rule and will not affect the batting average. However, a fielder’s choice does not fall into these categories and therefore counts as an at-bat, playing a direct role in calculating the batting average.

How it Affects On-Base Percentage

A fielder’s choice does, however, count towards a batter’s on-base percentage (OBP). This is because a fielder’s choice results in the batter reaching base safely and not making an out. The scorer credits the batter with a plate appearance, and they calculate OBP by adding the number of times the batter safely reaches base (hits, walks, hit by pitch, and fielder’s choice). Therefore, a fielder’s choice will increase a batter’s OBP.

How it Affects RBI Statistics

A fielder’s choice can affect a batter’s RBI statistics. A batter receives an RBI (run batted in) when their plate appearance results in a scored run. However, there are certain exceptions like when a runner scores on an error. While a fielder’s choice may not affect a batter’s batting average, it can affect a batter’s OBP and RBI totals.


Fielder’s Choice vs. Errors

Difference Between Fielder’s Choice and Errors

In baseball, there are a few common ways for a batter to reach base without getting a hit. Two of those being a fielder’s choice and an error. A fielder’s choice occurs when a fielder chooses to throw to another base in an attempt to put out a preceding runner, instead of throwing to first base to put out the batter-runner. An error occurs when a fielder fails to make a play that an ordinary fielder should make easily. As a result, the runner reaches base safely.

The key difference between a fielder’s choice and an error is in the intent of the fielder. In a fielder’s choice, the player is making a conscious decision to try to get an out at another base. With an error, the fielder is simply failing to make a routine play.

How to Score an Error

The official scorer has the responsibility to determine whether a play should be scored as an error or not. This makes the scoring of an error a bit subjective. However, there are some general guidelines that scorers follow.

To score an error, the official scorer must determine that the fielder failed to make a play that an ordinary fielder should make with ordinary effort. This can include things like dropping a routine fly ball, misplaying a ground ball, or throwing wildly to a base.

It’s worth noting that scorekeepers do not score all defensive miscues as errors. If a fielder attempts to catch a ball by diving and fails, it would not be considered an error when scored. Furthermore, scorekeepers do not score a difficult play made by a fielder that does not result in an out as an error.


Fielder’s Choice Situations

Here are some common situations where Fielder’s Choice comes into play.

Double Play Situations

In some cases, a Fielder’s Choice can lead to a double play. For example, if there are runners on first and the batter hits a ground ball to the shortstop, the shortstop may choose to throw the ball to second base to get the lead runner out, instead of trying to throw the batter out at first base. If the second baseman catches the ball and steps on second base before the runner gets there, it’s a force-out, and then the second baseman can throw the ball to first base to get the batter out, resulting in a double play.

Lead Runner Situations

Fielder’s Choice can also come into play when there is a lead runner on base. For example, if there are runners on first and second base, and the batter hits a ground ball to the second baseman, the second baseman may choose to throw the ball to third base to try and get the lead runner out, instead of throwing the batter out at first. If the runner is tagged out at second, it’s a force out, and the batter is safe at first base due to the Fielder’s Choice.


Conclusion

Fielder’s choices are an important part of the game and can have a significant impact on the outcome. They require quick thinking and decision-making skills from the fielder, who must assess the situation and determine the best course of action to take.

Note that a fielder’s choice does not always result in an out, and scorekeepers record it as a fielder’s choice regardless of whether the attempted play is successful. Furthermore, when a fielder’s choice results in the batter reaching the base safely, it does not count as a hit, and instead, the batter receives an at-bat.

Overall, understanding the concept of fielder’s choice is crucial for both players and fans of baseball. By knowing the rules and strategies behind this play, individuals can better appreciate the complexity and excitement of the sport.

Chris F.

Chris F.

Chris Forbes is the founder and editor of BaseballMode.com, a leading blog in the youth baseball space. As a lifelong baseball player, coach and fan, he decided to team up with his young son to offer advice and share their experiences with the sport they both love. Chris lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children.

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