Rule Book Edge: Dropped Third Strike

Another quality installment from the Rulebook Guru on how to react during a dropped third strike.  Learn the rule and what to do as the catcher, hitter, or baserunner.

Dropped Third Strike

When are you not out on strike three?

With Little League and other youth organizations ready to start their spring ball season, I thought I would write an article geared towards those players moving up to a different age bracket, who will be playing with different rules for the first time.  In particular, I’m going to cover the “3rd strike/passed ball” rule.  This rule typically does not apply at younger levels, and depending on the organization, at some specific age level it kicks in (e.g., in Little League this change kicks in when a player moves from Majors to Juniors).

What is the 3rd strike/ passed ball rule?   Let me quote the entire rule from the rulebook, as it’s nice and short:

Rule 6.09 (b):  The batter becomes a runner when the third strike called by the umpire is not caught, providing (1) first base is unoccupied or (2) first base is occupied with two out.

So, what does this mean?

  • If on a pitch which is called strike three (whether swung at or not), the catcher does not catch the ball (including if it bounces before he catches it), the batter is not automatically out. He can try to run to first base before the catcher either tags him with the ball, or throws the ball to first.
  • An exception to this is if there is a runner on first base already. (This is because that runner would then have to go to second, and the defense could try and get 2 outs on the play. To prevent that from being able to happen, a batter is automatically out on strike 3 if the catcher does not catch ball, when there is a runner on 1st)
  • An exception to this exception is if there are already 2 outs, then the batter is not out even if there is a runner on 1st.

At younger levels, this rule does not apply, so players first playing with this regulation need to be aware of a few things.  This is most important for catchers, but also applies to batters and baserunners.



Remember that you have to catch the pitch on the 3rd strike.  If you get complacent and let it tip off your glove, the ball is live, the batter can run, and all sorts of chaos can happen on the base paths.  Be aware if the batter starts running in a situation where he is automatically out.  Do NOT throw the ball to first base, risking an overthrow and allowing other baserunners to advance.  Do, however, keep an eye out on other baserunners, who may mistakenly think they need to run, and can get thrown out easily.  Also, be aware of the rare but critical situation where the bases are loaded with 2 outs.  All you need to do this in this instance is step on home plate, as all runners are forced to run.

4 key points to remember:
  1. Try to catch the pitch cleanly, so you don’t need to worry about points 2, 3 and 4.
  2. Always know the situation prior to the pitch!  Know if you need to get the batter out or not – don’t throw the ball if you don’t have to.
  3. Remember that you can avoid having to throw the ball, by tagging the batter if you can.
  4. If you do throw the ball, remember that other baserunners can run.  If you have time, look them back to their base, so they don’t advance.


The biggest thing to remember here is to run after a dropped third strike.  Always!  Many times I’ve seen a batter swing and miss, and stand at the plate feeling sorry for himself, until a coach or teammate yells at him to run, and he gets thrown out by a step.  If he started running right away, he might have been safe.  As a batter, don’t worry about whether you are automatically our or not, or even look to see if the catcher caught the ball.   On strike three, just start running towards first base.  This accomplishes the following:

  • If the catcher did not catch the ball, you already have a running start towards 1st base. He cannot just tag you now, he needs to throw the ball. And if he did catch the ball, there is no harm. (Other than maybe some good-natured ribbing when you get back to the dugout)
  • If there is a runner on 1st base, run anyways, because the catcher may forget the situation (or hasn’t read this article!), and throw the ball. If he makes a bad throw and it ends up in the outfield, the other runner(s) can advance. (You as a batter are out anyways.)
  • Remember that the ball is live if the catcher does not catch it, or if the ball bounces before it gets to him. Keep this in mind, if you swing at low pitches with 2 strikes on you.  In extreme situations, you may want to swing at a wild pitch if you are confident it won’t be caught, and you can make it to first base before the catcher retrieves the ball and throws it.

Base Runners:

Similar to a catcher, you need to know the situation prior to the pitch.  Specifically you need to know whether or not you have to run.   Very simply, unless there are 2 outs, you never need to run.  Either the batter is automatically out, or there is no force.  Remember the following points:

  1. Unless there are 2 outs, do not be fooled into running to second because you see the batter running to first. He is automatically out, and he is trying to fool the defense, not you.
  2. Always be alert for where the catcher is throwing the ball.  For example, if you have a good lead on 2nd base, and the catcher throws to first, you may be able to get to 3rd base safely.

Many more permutations and combination of runners and outs for catchers and runners are covered in the Rulebook Edge 3rd Strike page, but if you learn the basics above, and remember to apply them, you will be in good shape for the season.

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About The Author

The Rulebook Guru

The Rulebook Guru is a former baseball coach turned Umpire. His baseball knowledge includes 15 years of coaching youth players, and he has been umpiring since 1997. With the unique perspective of an Umpire who knows what coaches go though, he has set up a website to help educate coaches on some of the finer points of the rules, and how to maximize them for their advantage. You can read his tips at The Rulebook Edge and check out his blog at The Rulebook Guru’s Blog.

  • Frank

    The Dropped 3rd Strike rule for Little League has changed.  It is now applicable for Majors, unless the local league Board elects to opt out.

  • Troy

    Dropped third strike less than two outs runner on first advances to second, catcher throws ball to shortstop, shortstop misses the ball; both runners safe?

    • Troy, thanks for the comment and scenario.  If there are less than 2 outs and there is a runner on first, the batter is automatically out on any strike three call – dropped or otherwise.  However, the runner on first is allowed to advance at his own free will.

      So, in your scenario, the runner is safe at second and the batter is out on the strike 3 call.

  • Kkellar

    What if the batter head toward the dugout but does not go in the dugout

  • Davesokay

    What if on two outs the runner doesn’t run on a ropped third strike and instead starts to the dugout or gets to the dugout?  Does the defense still need to tag the runner or throw to first for the inning to be over?  And if there is a runner on base can they still advance even though the runner did not run and in fact goes to the dugout?

    • Llrules

      Once the batter/runner is in the dugout/bench, he is out, anytime prior to that, he may attempt to run to first – little league rule 7.08(a) in the approved ruling.

  • Randy

    whatyear did it start

  • Randy

    sorry, understand rule curious as to when it was firstimplimented

  • Next Level Ballplayer

    I’d like to add that the catchers need to also make sure to move to either the inside of the baseline or the outside of the baseline in order to have a good angle to throw to first base. When this isn’t done well, is when you see those throws hitting the runner… don’t be that guy.

  • Little League Coach

    is the umpire required to move on a dropped third strike ? Last weekend, a dropped third strike ended behind the umpire’s leg and he didnt move which prevented the catcher from getting the ball timely. I’m sure that has to be a rule violation but cant find it anywhere?

    • bigyaz

      It’s usually better for the umpire NOT to move, because he is likely to kick the ball further away. It is the defense’s fault the ball is loose, and therefore the defense’s responsibility to locale it. No rule violation at all.

  • sportyc55

    SO…if the bases are loaded with only ONE out, and the batter is struck out with an “uncaught third strike” then he is automatically out BUT the runners can advance if they so choose…in other words the 3rd base runner can take home, second-base runner take third and so on……is this correct?…..the ball is LIVE and if it is at the backstop…runners can go?

    • Yes, the batter is out and runners can advance at their own will during this scenario.

  • AndySmyz

    OK here is a scenario, that might qualify UNDER the INTERFERENCE RULE (a) of Offensive players: No outs, runner on first, batter swings at a 3rd strike, catcher drops the ball, the BATTER runs to first thinking that he has a 3rd strike drop rule and entices the catcher to throw to first,….the catcher throws to first and the player on first runs to second. According to that rule: “offensive interference is an act by a member of the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders, or CONFUSES any fielder attempting to make a play. If the umpire declares the batter, batter-runner or a runner out for interference, all other runners shall return to the last base that was,” So basically that states if the batter runs (which he is not allowed due to 1st base being occupied), he is CONFUSING the catcher to throw the ball to first instead of trying to make play on the runner stealing to second. Runner on second should proceed back to 1st base and batter is out.

    • Andy,

      Thanks for the comment and scenario. This is actually a fairly common occurance at the younger levels and even high school. However, very rarely is the Interference rule cited. Usually, the batter makes the mistake of running because he does not understand the dropped 3rd strike rule or is unaware of the situation, not because he is attempting to “confuse” the catcher. That being said, it is also the catcher’s responsibility to not throw the ball in the situation you presented. Furthermore, a dropped 3rd strike is a live situation, and the runner on 1st can choose to run if he wishes. So again, the catcher needs to know that the batter is out and make the play on the runner attempting to reach 2nd base.

      The umpire would really have to know the hitter’s intent to make an interference call. And judging intent in this situation is really tough. No matter what, the hitter is out.

  • Thomas H. Martin

    Scenario: Batter takes off on dropped third strike. 1st baseman uses safety bag for the putout. Does the rule allow for this, so as to avoid injury either by a forced collision (1st baseman catching the ball in foul territory with foot on inside base) or ball thrown to inside of baseline and striking the runner?

  • Santo Landa

    Runner on 3rd, 2 outs. Catcher drops 3rd strike, overthrows 1st, right fielder picks up ball, throws batter/runner out (force). Runner from 3rd scampered home. Does he score if he crosses home plate before runner is forced out at 1st?

  • Jules R

    What if it’s the third strike and the catcher drops the ball…but the batter doesn’t know so he starts walking back to the dugout, he doesn’t make it inside because the couch tells him to still run. The catcher is still fumbling over the ball…and the runner goes to first and then second. Does that count? Because he didn’t step in the dugout before he ran to 1st

    • ObservantGuest

      In MLB, the batter is out if he is not running to 1st base and leaves the circle surrounding home plate. In Little League where the third strike rule is in play, the batter can begin running anytime before reaching the dugout (or bench where there is no dugout). The ball is live, so the batter can take as many bases as he/she risks (could even round the bases and score).