Baseball is a team-orientated sport that requires all players to work together for optimal success. A manager is tasked with developing strategies for their team in all areas of the game, including offense, defense, and pitching. Read more about some of the most important strategies in baseball below.
Baseball is one of few sports where strategy and communication can outweigh talent. Managers put an important focus on developing strategies to help their team succeed, starting with identifying their players' strengths and weaknesses. Offensive strategies are used to put a team in the best position possible to score runs.
Offensive strategies include:
- Lineup Creation
- Hit and Run
- Stolen Base
- Tagging Up
A simple yet important strategy in baseball is creating your lineup, or batting order. This is important because it determines who bats in the most crucial parts of a game. Throughout baseball's history we've seen general rules of thumb for where each type of player bats in the lineup. A leadoff hitter typically has a high on-base percentage, can run fast, and is a skilled baserunner. The 3, 4, and 5 spots in the order are referred to as "the heart of the order," and generally include the most talented hitters on the team, who work to get on base and drive in runs. The bottom of the order features hitters who are good in their own right, but not the best on the team. In National League games where the pitcher has to hit, managers almost always have them last (ninth) in the lineup.
A bunt is a common strategy a manager will call for during a game to help advance a baserunner closer to home. A manager makes their team aware of this by giving signs to the third base coach, who then relays them to the batter. A bunt is often used when there is a runner on first or second base and less than two outs. Although the bunter himself may be thrown out, it almost surely advances the baserunner(s), and the rest of the lineup can try to drive them in.
Hit and Run
A hit and run is another offensive strategy a manager can choose to deploy during the game. This happens when a baserunner begins to steal as a pitch is thrown, and the batter swings to make contact regardless of where the pitch ends up. The goal is for the runner to steal the base successfully, whether the batter makes contact or not. If contact is made, they have a greater chance of getting a base hit, thanks to the middle infielders leaving their field assignments to cover the stolen base attempt. It creates a bit of chaos for every defender involved, which can sometimes be the perfect strategy.
A stolen base in baseball can be a perfect rally-starter and strategy for your team to score more runs. The third base coach will give signs to a baserunner that indicate they want them to steal a base. When the pitcher begins his wind-up, the runner takes off hoping to reach the next base safely before the ball arrives. If this is done successfully, the runner is attributed with a Stolen Base (SB) and gives the lineup a greater chance of bringing them home. It is most common to see runners stealing second base, but runners attempt to steal third base often, as well. While you can steal home to score a run, this is a very risky move and is not done often. The only base you cannot steal is first base.
In baseball, "tagging up" is a strategy used to describe a baserunner advancing to the next base after an out is recorded. The term is statistically referred to as a Sacrifice Fly for the batter. If a batter hits a fly ball that is caught by the defense, a baserunner can "tag up" by attempting to run to the next base before they are thrown out. However, they must be touching the base at the moment that the ball is caught, and then leave once it hits the fielder's glove. If they leave before the ball is caught, they are automatically out. This can only be done when there are less than two outs, and usually when a runner is at second or third base and looking to advance.
Baseball teams need strong communication on the field to play defense at the highest level. Sometimes a defensive strategy may be too subtle to notice, but they are all done for a specific reason. Over the past decade baseball managers have taken a much more strategic approach to defense, focusing more on player positioning.
Defensive Strategies include:
- Defensive Positioning
A crucial strategy for managers to consider is positioning players' to emphasize their strengths. This is especially true in baseball, where all fielders are tasked with different responsibilities while playing defense. An infielder's strength is quick reaction time with their hands to field ground balls, and also arm accuracy to deliver a strong throw to first base. An outfielder's strength is usually their arms, as they are required to make long distance throws. Speed is also an important factor for outfielders to cover lots of ground. More unique positions include first base and catcher. A first baseman should be good at catching, scooping, or stopping the ball when it is thrown to them. A catcher should be good at catching and blocking balls, have a strong arm, and also be a leader. It is the most important defensive position in baseball that relies on communication and strategy just as much as talent.
The shift in baseball is a defensive strategy focused on moving your fielders to different locations based on the batter's tendencies. Shifts have become much more common in the past decade, as their effects have been massively helpful in getting batters out. Shifts can be used for infielders, outfielders, and both simultaneously. The most common shift is seen when facing a lefty hitter who likes to pull the ball to the right side of the field. You may see 3 infielders on the right side of the diamond, with the 3rd basemen left alone to man the entire left side. The shift helps a pitcher decide what to throw to a batter to induce them to hit the ball where a fielder is located. This concept makes the game of baseball much more strategic with every pitch thrown.
Pitching is one of the most important aspects of baseball strategy. The manager has a lot to consider when it comes to their pitching strategies. Some of those strategies include:
- Starting Pitcher
- Pitching Rotation
- Pulling Your Starter
- Relievers and Closers
One of the most important strategies is about who to put into the game to pitch. Traditionally, a starting pitcher continues to pitch until the manager decides to bring in a relief pitcher. The role of a starting pitcher is different from a reliever as they are asked to pitch multiple innings in the same game. They must have strong stamina to continue pitching their best late in a game, even after throwing hundreds of pitches. Because of this, starting pitchers have a set rotation of games they will pitch, with days off in between to rest their arm. This can be altered or adjusted of course, and sometimes a manager may choose a different starting pitcher than expected for various factors. These factors might include their history against a certain team, who is in the opposing lineup, or what arm the pitcher throws with.
In recent years, some coaches have adopted an "opener," who will pitch one or two innings before putting their starter in later. This is a new concept in baseball that was created due to a deeper analysis of when exactly players succeed, based on advanced analytics and technology.
Like batting order, the starting pitching rotation is strategically determined. Generally, a starting rotation consists of five pitchers. The first pitcher in the rotation is known as "the ace", they are thought as the most dominant pitcher who gives the team the best chance to win. From there, the pitchers' quality generally decreases as you move farther down the rotation. Teams often set their rotation similarly to have their order match up with their opponents. This is strategic because it has your strongest starters pitching against the opponents strongest starters, a game that could be difficult to score runs. Due to certain circumstances, like playoffs, injuries, or level of play, the pitching rotation can change throughout the season.
Pulling Your Starter
No matter what their position in the rotation, starting pitchers often do not pitch the entire game. Managers decide when to pull a starter out of the game. Usually, it is when the starter is showing signs of fatigue; the velocity of their pitches is dropping, they are throwing a lot of balls, their pitch count is unusually high, or they are giving up a lot of hits. Managers must anticipate when the starter needs to be pulled out, because they must first send a relief pitcher to the bullpen to warm up before putting him into the game. If the manager waits too long to alert a reliever, the starter may be overworked and give up more hits.
Relievers and Closers
Choosing which reliever to use also requires strategy and a strong understanding of your pitchers. Relievers are unique as they can fit many necessary roles for the team. A "long reliever" can be asked to pitch multiple innings in a game, whereas a "lefty specialist" pitcher is asked to get strictly left-handed hitters out. Since relievers typically do not throw many pitches in a game, they do not need as much rest as a starting pitcher and can enter more games. Prior to the 2020 MLB season pitchers could be put into the game to pitch to just one batter, which changed due to the implementation of the three-batter minimum rule. The three-batter minimum rule means a reliever must pitch to at least three batters before being taken out of the game. This was created to help shorten the length of baseball games, which would sometimes feature multiple pitcher changes over a span of a few batters.
A closer is a special type of reliever, usually the best one on the team, who is often used only in certain situations, like when the team is winning by one to three runs. They are in charge of securing the win and are the most reliable in ensuring that the opposing team will not score any more runs before the game is over.