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Defensive indifference is not a very common play in baseball, and it can be a little difficult to understand. It is quite rare, after all, to see an act of indifference during a sports game.
The word “indifference” refers to a lack of interest or effort, and that is not something professional athletes often display. So, what exactly is defensive indifference in baseball and when does it happen?
Defensive indifference is a play in which the team on defense allows a runner to steal a base without making any attempt to get them out. Defensive indifference usually only happens late in a baseball game, when the defensive team has decided that it does not matter to them whether or not the runner on base scores.
In such an instance, what happens to the runner on base does not matter to the defensive team because they are either winning or losing by more than one run. If the game is tied, or if the runner on base represents the tying run, a play cannot be scored as defensive indifference. It would make no sense for the defensive team to be indifferent towards the game-tying or game-winning run.
If the defensive team were to behave indifferently towards a runner who might tie or win the game, they might be accused of deliberately throwing the ballgame. That would be a serious offense – much more serious than an act of defensive indifference.
When Does Defensive Indifference Happen in a Baseball Game?
Defensive indifference can happen at any time in a baseball game so long as the game is not tied or within one run. However, it usually only happens in the later innings of a game in which one team is winning by a wide margin.
It is rare to see defensive indifference unless one team has a big lead, because if it is a close game, the defensive team will still be inclined to get the runner out. Similarly, it is rare to see defensive indifference in the early innings of a baseball game, because both teams still have so much time to score. Every run counts early on in a ballgame.
The later it gets in the game, the less close the score needs to be in order for an act of defensive indifference to occur. For example, in the ninth inning with two outs, the defensive team might allow a baserunner to advance even if they only have a two-run lead. This is because the pitcher and catcher would rather focus their energy on just getting the batter out, and even if the runner on base is able to score, it will not change the outcome of the game.
It is important to note that defensive indifference will not be scored if the official scorer believes there was a strategic advantage for the defensive team to not try and put out the runner. For example, if the catcher does not try to catch a runner at second base because there is a runner at third base who might try to run home, that would not be scored as defensive indifference, because it was an act of strategy and not true indifference on the part of the catcher.
How Is Defensive Indifference Scored?
Whether or not a play is scored as defensive indifference is up to the sole discretion of the official scorer of the game. If the official scorer rules that a runner advanced on defensive indifference, that runner will not be awarded a stolen base.
Defensive indifference is not typically recorded in the box score or on any statistical databases. Instead, it really just exists to explain why a runner would not be awarded a stolen base.
According to the Official Baseball Rules: “The Official Scorer shall not score a stolen base when a runner advances solely because of the defensive team’s indifference to the runner’s advance. The Official Scorer shall score such a play as a fielder’s choice.”
What Is the Difference Between Defensive Indifference and Stolen Base?
Defensive indifference and a stolen base both describe ways that a runner can advance on the bases. Sometimes, it is very easy to tell the difference between the two, while at other times it can be much harder.
The simplest way to explain the difference between defensive indifference and a stolen base is as follows: if the defensive team makes an attempt to put out the runner, but is unsuccessful, the runner will be awarded a stolen base. If the defense does not make any attempt to put out the runner, the runner will not be awarded a stolen base, and instead, it is said that the runner advanced on defensive indifference.
However, there are certain exceptions. Whether a player advanced on a stolen base or on defensive indifference is at the sole discretion of the official scorer. There is no exact difference between the two other than what the official scorer decides.
For example, the official scorer may decide to award the runner a stolen base even if the defense did not attempt to put the runner out. This could happen if the official scorer believes the runner would have still successfully stolen the base if the defensive team did try to get them out. In this situation, the official scorer has decided that the reason the defensive team did not try to put the runner out was because they knew the runner was going to be safe anyway, not because of defensive indifference.
The official scorer might also decide that the defensive team was inappropriately choosing to commit an act of defensive indifference. According to the Official Baseball Rules: “The Official Scorer may conclude that the defensive team is impermissibly trying to deny a runner credit for a stolen base if, for example, the defensive team fails to defend the advance of a runner approaching a league or career record or a league statistical title.”
Is Defensive Indifference a Rule?
Defensive indifference is not so much a rule as it is a manner of describing what happened on the field. Whether a player is awarded a stolen base or is said to have advanced on defensive indifference has no effect on the game at hand. The players might not even know the ruling until after the inning.
That being said, defensive indifference is an important rule for the official scorer to understand. While it does not have any bearing on the game being played, it does affect the players’ statistics. Statistics are a very important part of baseball, and therefore the difference between defensive indifference and a stolen base is noted in the official Major League Baseball rulebook.
In other words, while defensive indifference is not a rule of play, it is a rule of scoring.
When Was Defensive Indifference Added to the Baseball Rulebook
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the difference between defensive indifference and a stolen base was added to the baseball rulebook in 1920. This new rule explained that a runner should not be awarded a stolen base if the defensive team made no attempt to stop the runner.
Defensive indifference is described in Rule 9.07 of the moden MLB rulebook, which goes over the definitions of “stolen base” and “caught stealing.”
How Many Different Ways Can a Runner Advance a Base in Baseball?
There are many, many different ways that a runner can move up from one base to the next. The most common way to move up a base is on a ball hit into play. Other common ways to advance include a walk, a stolen base, a fielding error, and a wild pitch. Less common ways a runner might advance a base include defensive indifference, catcher’s interference, or a balk.
What Is a Stolen Base?
A stolen base is what happens when a runner successfully moves from one base to the next entirely on their own merit. In other words, the runner must advance without a ball in play, a wild pitch, a balk, a fielding error, defensive indifference, or any other event that is out of the runner’s control.
Whether or not a runner is awarded a stolen base is at the sole discretion of the official scorer.
Who Is the Official Scorer in Baseball?
The official scorer is a figure appointed by Major League Baseball to watch a game and make decisions for the scorebook. While the official scorer must take note of everything that happens in the game, their primary job is to make subjective decisions about certain plays.
Most plays in baseball have a clear, objective definition and are decided upon by the umpires. However, a small handful of plays are a matter of opinion, and it is the official scorer who gets to have this opinion. For example, the official scorer makes decisions about fielding errors, wild pitches, and defensive indifference. In some specific cases, the official scorer is also given the responsibility of naming the winning pitcher.
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