Defensive indifference in baseball is when one team steals a base without the other team attempting to throw them out on the base paths since that run does not matter. The indifference occurs in the ninth inning (or extra innings) when the score is not even close. For example, if one team is up by seven runs and there are two outs and a running steals second base, it will be defensive indifference.
So, when do teams tend to take advantage of defensive indifference in baseball? What is the difference between defensive indifference and a stolen base? How do you score this in the scorebook when it occurs during a game?
Here is the complete breakdown to what defensive indifference is in baseball.
When to use Defensive Indifference in a Baseball Game?
MLB teams up to bat tend to take advantage of 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 a 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.
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