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Sacrifice in Baseball

Baseball Questions: What is a Sacrifice?

By Loot, MLB Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

There may be some confusion or misunderstanding as to what a sacrifice is, but it’s actually quite simple. It’s when a batter sacrifices his at-bat for the betterment of the team. It can be done in order to score a run or to simply move runners into scoring position. It can be deliberate and it can also be accidental.

For example, a batter can lay down a bunt. Sure, he hopes he lays down a beauty and is able to reach first base safely, but the main impetus of the bunt is to move runners. Obviously, all sacrifices occur with less than two outs, otherwise it’s not wise to sacrifice being that moving runners into scoring position is not of much value if there are three outs.

There are many kinds of sacrifices. Some of the ones that are accidental include when a player hits a sacrifice fly (aka: Sac Fly). Generally, this takes place with a man on third and under two outs. A batter hits a fly ball deep enough so that the runner can tag up and score from third. Though it counts as a sacrifice, the batter may not have been intending to do that. Sure, a lot of times, a player is trying to hit the ball into the outfield with the intention of scoring the man from third. Other times, it just sort of happens. Perhaps he was trying to get a hit, but just ended up hitting a fly out that scored the runner instead.

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Maybe with no outs and a runner at second, a batter will purposely hit the ball to the right side of the infield. If it sneaks through for a hit, that’s great. But the real purpose is to get that runner to third with one out. So it becomes a little hazy on what constitutes a sacrifice. Technically, a batter who is trying to get out on purpose to advance runners is in fact “sacrificing” himself.

Statistically, a sacrifice is either a sacrifice fly or a sacrifice bunt (aka: Sac Bunt). If a batter gets out on purpose to advance or score a runner, it doesn’t count as an at-bat. It’s just that it is a little confusing. Not all players that hit a sacrifice fly to score a runner from third were expressly trying to do that. Meanwhile, a player can hit the ball to the right side of the infield to try to advance a runner and he won’t get credited with a sacrifice. If he were to bunt instead of swinging away, he would then be credited with a sacrifice.

Then again, not all bunts have the same intent. If a slow-running pitcher bunts, it seems like more like a sacrifice since his chances of reaching first successfully are not particularly rosy. But if a fleet-footed leadoff hitter bunts, for example, it’s not certain that he was sacrificing, being that getting a hit was a distinct possibility.

The definition has changed multiple times throughout the history of the game. In the old days (before 1940), a sacrifice was anytime a batter advanced a runner, though they were all registered as official at-bats, regardless of the intent of the player. Nowadays, a sacrifice that fulfills certain standards, like a fly ball scoring a runner from third or a bunt, is not registered as an at-bat.

A pitcher will be called on to sacrifice more than any other batter in the line-up. With little or no hitting prowess, managers often use a pitcher’s at-bat to move runners. Therefore, it is natural that sacrificing is a bigger part of the game in the National League and not so much in the American League. With the DH in effect and just a different offensive philosophy at play in the American League, batters are encouraged to swing away for the most part. In the National League, you see more of this “small ball” type of play, where managers attempt to manufacture runs by doing things like employing the sacrifice.

The rationale for not counting a sacrifice as an at-bat is that a player should not be penalized when he in fact executes a successful play. Sacrifices, however, do register as plate-appearances, meaning a player who sacrifices will take a small hit in the on-base percentage category. In any event, sacrificing is a big part of the game, especially in the National League.

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