When one team is up by many runs in the ninth inning, a baserunner might steal a base with no throw by the catcher. That’s odd because the catcher threw to second base earlier in the game to stop a previous base stealer. So why in the ninth inning did the defensive team allow this play to occur without any throw? The answer to that question is defensive indifference.
So what is defensive indifference, when do teams use it, how do you score it on a scorecard, and more? Find out these answers below in this post.
What is Defensive Indifference in Baseball?
Defensive indifference is when one team steals a base without the other team attempting to throw them out on the base paths. Typically the indifference occurs in the ninth inning (or extra innings) when the score is not even close. However, the formal ruling comes down to the official scorer determining if it should be a defensive indifference or stolen base.
When to use Defensive Indifference in a Baseball Game?
MLB teams batting tend to use defensive indifference (fielder’s choice) late in a game to remove the double play option. For example, a team with one out and down by five runs in the ninth inning may have their first base baserunner steal second base to remove the double play situation for their hitter. In that case, you might see the defensive team not throw to second base on the throw because they don’t want to risk an error and allow the baserunner to get to third. Also, the team’s defense may be playing back further from the base, so they wouldn’t be able to make a play anyway via a throw.
In that example above, that run won’t make any difference to the game’s outcome, which is why the official scorer won’t credit that as a stolen base. However, the decision to give a stolen base or no stolen base credit comes down to the official scorer. The official scorer will determine the game’s situation, the defensive team’s actions, and more.
What’s the Difference Between Defensive Indifference and Stolen Base?
The primary difference between defensive indifference and a stolen base pertains to how late it occurs and how that run now in scoring position won’t affect the game’s outcome. Typically speaking, you will see the defensive indifference call during a game’s ninth inning (or extra innings) if the other team is down by a handful of runs.
Unlike a defensive indifference, a stolen base receives credit during a baseball game essentially at any point, except if the game is out of reach in the ninth inning. A stolen base can take second, third, or even home plate on a pitcher’s pitch.
However, an official stolen base does not occur during a wild pitch or passed ball unless the baserunner was already attempting to steal that base. During a double-steal play, both runners can receive a stolen base if they both are safe on the play. For example, if one of the runners is thrown out trying to steal third base, the runner taking second base won’t receive a stolen base credit.
When Did Defensive Indifference Start in Major League Baseball?
According to The New York Times, defensive indifference began as a rule in 1920.
How Do You Score Defensive Indifference on a Scorecard?
Placing a “DI” or “FI” on the scorecard illustrates a defensive/fielder’s indifference during the game. If a stolen base occurs during the game, you mark it as SB with a line showing where the baserunner advances to the next base. If a baserunner gets thrown out via caught stealing, you mark the scorecard as CS with a line halfway between the base they were on and where they tried unsuccessfully to swipe. Finally, a successful pick-off attempt by the defense receives a PO on the scorecard.
Is it a Stolen Base if the Catcher Doesn’t Throw?
A stolen base doesn’t need to have a catcher throw to the base. However, sometimes the base stealer’s lead off from a base and jump was so good that the catcher wouldn’t risk the throw to the base. The only time a stolen base won’t occur if a catcher doesn’t throw to a base is during a fielder’s choice situation.
Can a Defensive Indifference Positively Impact the Game?
Most of the time, a fielder’s indifference won’t impact the game’s final score. Even taking a base and removing the double-play option for the defense isn’t a big deal if the game’s score is not even close. That is why some middle infielders play back in the infield to try and stop the hitter from getting a base hit instead of playing close to second base to prevent a steal.
Even sports statistic sites like Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant don’t keep track of defensive indifferences during the game. Both sites don’t track this stat since they lead to game-winning rallies so infrequently.
Conclusion – What is Defensive Indifference in Baseball
In summary, defensive indifference or fielders indifference is a ruling that occurs by the official scorer during the game. It occurs during the ninth inning (or extra innings) and if the game is lopsided with the scores. For example, a baserunner stealing second down by five runs in the ninth inning and scoring doesn’t matter.
Finally, the defensive indifference is a way to limit artificial stats in baseball. The official scorer determines if the situation warrants a stolen base or not. For example, a defense might play back during an at bat to stop a batter from getting a base hit. By playing back, they are out of position to stop the baserunner from stealing the next base.