Baseball is a highly strategic sport. Everything from determining the batting order to where infielders position themselves involves strategy. We will look at three main categories of baseball strategy: offensive, pitching, and fielding.
A major aspect of offensive strategy is determining the lineup. The lineup is created by a team's general manager and can change from game to game.
The first batter in a lineup is called a leadoff hitter. In general, the leadoff hitter has a high on-base percentage, can run fast, and is a skilled baserunner. Managers look for traits like these because the leadoff hitter's main objective is to reach and stay on base, so the rest of the lineup can help him reach home.
The next notable position in the lineup is the fourth batter, called the cleanup hitter. Managers generally put their best, most powerful hitters as the cleanup hitter, since they can "clean up" the bases. That is, if any of the first three batters have gotten on base, the cleanup hitter can drive them home, thus emptying the bases of runners.
The ninth batter is generally one of the weaker hitters of the lineup, since batters at the bottom of the lineup usually do not get as many at-bats as batters at the top. In the National League, the ninth batter is almost always the pitcher. Sometimes, the pitcher/ninth batter will utilize a bunt to compensate for their subpar hitting skills. 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 top of the lineup can try to drive them in.
Like batting order, the starting rotation is strategically determined. Generally, a rotation consists of five starting pitchers. The first pitcher in the rotation is usually the best pitcher, also called the ace. From there, the pitchers' quality generally decreases as you move farther down the rotation.
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 he must first send a relief pitcher to the bullpen to warm up. If the manager waits too long to alert a reliever, the starter may be overworked and give up hits.
Choosing which reliever to use also takes strategy. Some managers will employ one-batter relievers, meaning a reliever will only be used to pitch to one batter, and then he will be taken out of the game. Usually, this reliever specializes in a pitch that the batter statistically doesn't hit well, or his dominant hand is the same as the batter's. This rule will soon change in the MLB in 2020, when there will be a three-batter minimum.
A closer is a special type of reliever (usually the best one on the team) who is often used only in certain situations: 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.
One of the most common fielding strategies is the defensive shift. The most obvious shifts are when a batter is about to bunt, or when a batter has a strong tendency to hit the ball to one side of the field. The latter type of shift is called an extreme shift. This is when all the infielders and outfielders occupy a spot significantly to the left or right of what they usually occupy. For example, if the fielders are doing an extreme shift to the left, the left fielder might stand around the left foul line, instead of around the middle of left field where he usually stands. For shifts in response to a bunter, all the fielders will move closer to home plate.