As a fielder, sometimes you'll make a mistake. It happens very rarely at the professional level, but humans aren't perfect. Errors do happen and when they do, they can affect the outcome of a game. There are two types of throwing errors we will cover:
While wild pitches are not technically considered overthrows, they occur when a pitcher throws a baseball that is so far from the strike zone that the catcher is unable to catch it. In this case, runners may advance.
If the pitch was the batter's third strike, the batter may also advance to first base. However, it is not considered a wild pitch if no runner advanced bases. If the bases are empty and the batter had less than two strikes, it is not considered a wild pitch even if the catcher was unable to catch it.
PRO TIP: A runner is awarded to two bases on any wild ball that is thrown into the stands based on where the runners were on base.
A Wild Pitch is a penalty that can be dealt to the pitcher in a situation where the pitch is so far outside of the strike box that the catcher can't control it. A Wild Pitch can only be called in the event that runners are able to advance onto a new base during the time period before the ball is recovered. Simply put, it occurs when the pitch isn't caught by the catcher due to the pitcher's fault and runners advance as a result.
Additionally, regardless of how many runners advance during the play, the Wild Pitch penalty is only counted once. The only exception to the Wild Pitch is when there are no runners on base when the pitch is thrown, in this case, it is called as a ball. It is also important to know that any pitch thrown that bounces on the ground before reaching home plate is automatically ruled a Wild Pitch.
In the event that a Wild Pitch is called after two strikes and the players on base advance but the hitter doesn't, the play is recorded as a Wild Pitch and a strikeout by the scorer's table. If a runner is attempting to steal a base before the Wild Pitch is thrown then the play is ruled a stolen base instead of a Wild Pitch. Lastly, a Wild Pitch penalty can be averted if the defending team is able to make an out before any of the runners on base are able to advance.
The difference between a Wild Pitch and a Passed Ball can be difficult to identify due to their similarity. Both penalties revolve around the delivery of the pitch to the catcher and the ability of the offense to steal bases. As mentioned previously, a Wild Pitch is a pitch that is out of the strike zone and the catching range of the catcher. Wild Pitches are charged to the pitcher whereas a Passed Ball is charged to the Catcher. A Passed Ball is charged when the Catcher is unable to catch a legal pitch in the strike zone and it results in runners advancing onto new bases. Similarly to a Wild Pitch, if a Passed Ball is called after the hitter's second strike then the official scorer records the play as a strikeout and a Passed Ball.
Wild Pitches used to be far more common than the average fan may guess. In fact, the MLB records it as a stat similar to a first or second base hit. The all-time career Wild Pitch leader is 343 pitches held by Tony Mullane who last played in 1896 and over 504 games in a 13-year career. The active career Wild Pitch holder is Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners with 154 Wild Pitches since 2005. However, the all-time season leader is Bill Stemmyer of the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians. He recorded a jaw-dropping 63 wild pitches in one season which subsequently led to his early departure from the MLB after just four seasons in 1888. Having a high number of Wild Pitches may get your name etched in the hall of fame, but not for the right reasons. An increasingly large number of Wild Pitches on a players record indicates a lack of control of the ball and low cohesiveness as a teammate.
As these stats tell us, the odds that a Wild Pitch occurs in a game today is far lower as the competition and skill level of players in the MLB has dramatically increased over the past 100 years. Yet, in non-professional play, a Wild Pitch being called is nothing new so athletes everywhere should know how it affects the game.