When a sacrifice fly (a fly ball out that scores a runner from third) happens, the plate apperance is not counted as an at-bat. However, fly ball outs that move runners from second to third are at-bats, as are ground ball outs that score runners from third. Why?
They are not sacrifices.
Now if the batter bunted, it would be a sacrifice, and no at bat would be recorded.
Yeah, but why? I think the answer is “because”.
Fun fact: A sacrifice fly doesn’t count as an at-bat for the purpose of computing batting average, but it does count as a plate appearance for the purpose of computing on base percentage. However, a sacrifice bunt does not count as an appearance for either purpose.
I had the impression that when the ball was caught, the batter was out and anything that happens after that, i.e. a runner taking off for the next base, was akin to a steal. Sure, the runner could have gone at any other time, but chose this moment because the ball happened to be in the hands of some guy way out in right field. If there had been a moment during the game when the pitcher became disoriented and threw the ball into the outfield, the runner would have the same opportunity.
Or so it seems to my non-fan self.
This, as the comment says, is known as tagging up and is why with fewer than two outs you’ll see the guys on second and/or third lounging around the base until the outfielder catches the ball (or not), then taking off for the next base if they judge that they can make it before the throw in from the outfield.
You are correct in your last thought: The runners are free to advance if there is a wild pitch or passed ball and – again – they judge they can make the next base before the errant ball gets there.
I realize I phrased it inelegantly, but my point was that the batter has to touch his base after the pop fly is caught and at that moment, the batter’s out and all the runners could hold their positions and the play would be over except that a runner could decide “hey, the ball’s 300 feet away in the glove of the right fielder, I bet I can make it to third” and start his run, which is why the batter doesn’t get any kind of credit (I thought); his involvement ended the moment the ball was caught. What the runners do after they fulfill their obligation to touch up is none of his concern.
A couple of things:
At times in the past sacrifice flies were recorded (i) any time a runner tagged and advanced any base after a caught fly (ii) not at all, and (iii) the current rule.
Sacrifice flies but not sacrifice bunts do stop consecutive hitting streaks. So for example, if a batter comes up three times in a game and walks twice and has a sacrifice bunt the other time, a consecutive game hitting streak is not ended. However, if he walks twice and has a sacrifice fly in his third time up, the streak does end.
The reason I’ve heard for recording sacrifice flies is that in the old days, players actually did alter their hitting technique somewhat to try to hit flies with men on third. This was back in the dead-ball era when one run was important. Nowadays, many sacrifice flies are just missed home runs when the batter was not doing much different. I suspect the rule is kept around for tradition – and quite possibly to keep recorded batting averages higher.
In most circumstances giving up an out to get a runner home (i.e. to score a run) is much more advantageous to the offense than giving up an out to advance a runner to any other base. Of course, in many cases it doesn’t make sense to give up an out at all - even to score a run - but the scoring rules don’t take this into account.
It’s harder to explain why advancing a runner to, say, third base with a bunt counts as a sacrifice, while advancing a runner to third with a fly does not. One difference is that it’s the manager who calls for a sac bunt. I think it makes sense not to hold the batter responsible for giving up an out when he’s been ordered to do it by the manager. On the other hand, no manager who wants to move a runner from first to second or from second to third will order the batter to hit the ball in the air. There are better ways to accomplish this, like a sac bunt, a hit-and-run play, or a ground ball hit behind the runner. This raises the question as to why advancing the runner in these other ways aren’t counted as sacrifices. I suspect the reason is that a sac bunt is an obvious deliberate act, while in the other cases the batter may not have wanted to give up an out.
Major League Baseball counted fly balls that scored runners from third as sacrifices (not separately) in 1908. In 1926, the definition was broadened to include plays where runners advanced to second or third. In 1930, batters were given at bats for these plays. In 1939, the sacrifice fly rule returned for season. Then it disappeared. In 1954, it came back in its current form.
So it is important to note that Ted Williams did not have the benefit of sacrifice flies to raise his average over .400 in 1941.
Back in the days when the ball was dead, runs were scarce and advancing a runner from base to base was very important. So it’s possible to imagine that with a guy on third and less than two outs, the batter would really try to hit a fly to the outfield.
With runners on first and/or on second, though, the batter would have an easier job bunting the guys forward, so it was deemed that if he hit an outfield fly, he did not do it on purpose. Bunting is much more difficult with a runner on third, though, because of the proximity of the ball and home plate on the play. Thus the notion of sacrifice on an outfield fly in this situation.
This said, I agree that the rule doesn’t make much sense anymore.