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.

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Catchers:

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.

Batters:

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.

About 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.