At all times during a baseball game, one team is on offense and the other team is on defense. We've already learned about the player positions in baseball, but we've yet to see how they all work together to play defense. Playing defense in baseball is called fielding. Fielding is an important part of baseball and playing defense, because fielders must prevent runs and make outs to end each half-inning, so their team can get to bat.
Players on the defense are called fielders. They have a glove, which they wear on the non-dominant hand. Their dominant hand is used for throwing the ball. Fielders also wear a baseball cap, belt, jersey, and cleats as part of their uniform.
The team that is pitching and fielding the ball is on defense. The defense must prevent offensive players from becoming runners and advancing around the bases. The defense consists of 9 fielders that are positioned across the infield and outfield. The goals for the defense are the following:
- To prevent the batters from becoming a base runner through strike outs, tag outs, throw outs, or catches
- To prevent base runners from advancing the bases through force outs or throw outs
While on defense, a team accomplishes these goals by throwing tricky, difficult-to-hit pitches and by fielding the baseball accurately and swiftly. For example, the pitcher and the catcher try to get batters out at home plate, while the infielders and outfielders try to get base runners out as they advance the bases.
Fielders try to make catches whenever the ball is hit by a batter into the field. A catch is when a fielder captures the ball while it is traveling in the air. Fielders can use their hands or gloves to make a catch. In the MLB, fielders cannot use their cap, pocket, or any part of their uniform when making the catch. It is not considered a catch if the fielder drops the ball from a collision or fall while making the catch. Umpires will look for how long the fielder holds onto the ball when deciding if it is a catch. A fielder must show clear possession of the ball for it to be deemed a catch. A fielder can reach over any obstacle or object to make a catch such as a fence or railing in foul territory.
A fielder needs to be aware at all times and ready to make any type of play. Typically, a fielder will make one out during a single at-bat. But sometimes, fielders are presented with a rare opportunity to make multiple outs on the same play. Fielders can make up to three outs during an at-bat.
A double play occurs when two runners are put out in the same play. They typically occur after ground balls. An infielder will field a ground ball, then step on a base that a runner is approaching or throw it to another fielder who is at a base runner is approaching. The fielder will then throw the ball to another fielder whose base has a runner approaching it.
The most typical and well-known double play occurs with a runner on first base and the batter hitting a ground ball to the shortstop. The shortstop fields the ground ball, then tosses it to the second baseman, who steps on second base to get the runner who was previously on first base, out. The second baseman will then throw the baseball to the first baseman, who will then step on first base to put the batter-runner out. Both of these outs are force outs.
A triple play occurs when three runners are put out in the same play. This is even more rare than a double play. Like a double play, triple plays usually happen when the bases are loaded and a ground ball is hit relatively close to a baseman. This gives the baseman time to throw to another baseman and finally another baseman for a third out.