Unwritten rules of baseball that you don't get

Here’s two that I have heard over and over again and no matter how hard I try to figure it out, don’t know why. And this is from a guy that THINKS he knows a little about baseball!

  1. You don’t use your closer on road games

  2. You don’t make the . . . Im trying to get this straight . . . .the first or third out of the inning on third base?

Any others that don’t make sense? And can the baseball experts here clarify?

I’ve followed baseball for 40 years, and I can’t say that I’ve ever heard this. Can you point to some cite or mention of it?

There’s some logic to this, particularly to the “don’t make the third out at third base.”

Think of a player who’s already made it safely to second base, with two outs. Taking a risk to get from second to third (on a play on which he isn’t going to continue all the way to home, such as if the runner is trying to stretch a double to a triple) sounds important, but it’s not as important as you think. If a player is going to advance to home from second, the two most common ways for him to do it are:

  1. If the next batter hits a single. Since there are already two outs, the runner on second is almost undoubtedly moving with the pitch, and unless it’s an infield single, or a hard-hit ball directly at an outfielder, the odds are high that the runner can score from second. Being on third base when the next batter hits a single doesn’t increase the likelihood of scoring a run very much, compared to being on second.

  2. If the next batter hits an extra-base hit, the runner will score from either second or third.

The situation in which being on third (as compared to second) is important is if there’s fewer than two outs, because then, a sacrifice fly can score the runner from third. With two outs, the sacrifice fly isn’t possible.

With some googling, I found that “don’t use your closer on the road in a tie game” is a thing.

The reason why is that, if you were to use your closer in this situation, and he does his job (i.e., keeps the home team from scoring in the bottom of the 9th), he hasn’t saved a win, he’s only given you a chance to maybe score a run in the top of the 10th. And, if you do get the lead in the 10th (or later), you would have wanted your closer available to close out the bottom of an inning in which you’ve gained the lead, in order to save a win. (Remember that, these days, closers are almost never expected to pitch more than a single inning.)

Too late to edit: further reading suggests that “don’t use your closer on the road in a tie game” is by no means a universally-agreed-upon unwritten rule.

If you’re in the dugout, and you gotta scratch your junk, you have to wait until the TV camera is on you.

I have trouble understanding why you can pitch around a batter if first base is open, but not if there’s a runner on first. I hear play-by-play announcers commenting that stealing second is bad when a good hitter is up, because the opposing team can now walk him. There’s no reason why they couldn’t have done so while first base was occupied.

Or why it’s horribly insulting if you bunt or steal a base in later innings if your team is up a few runs (as if major come-from-behind rallies have never happened).

Don’t forget the “spit as soon as the camera light comes on” rule. :smack:

I think there’s a similar logic to not getting the first out of an inning at third base. Let’s say you’re the leadoff batter, and you hit a ground ball to the corner in right field. It’s an easy double, and maybe a triple. You take third base if you’re absolutely sure you can make it. If you’re not sure, don’t take the risk. If you stop on second, you’ll have plenty of chances to score; any base hit (your team will have at least three more batters), two sacrifices, a couple wild pitches, or combinations of the above. If you’re out at third you’ve squandered a great opportunity, if you make it to third your chance of scoring a run isn’t that much greater; it’s not worth the risk.

This ‘rule’, I assume, goes back before the Moneyball era and the analyzing of lots of statistics. I don’t know if the numbers back it up. I wonder if anyone has computed the chance of scoring after a leadoff triple compared to a leadoff double, and how much better off you are to take third.

And it backfired spectacularly in the 2016 Wild Card game.

It shouldn’t be one at all. In a tie game, the bottom of the ninth is already overtime, so to speak. If you assign a lesser pitcher to the task, you’re just increasing the odds that the home team will score and win before you ever get a chance to get your closer in.

Yes, the rule about ‘closers’ stems from the mistaken belief that there’s something special about getting a save. In fact, the save stat is tremendously misleading. For decades it’s altered manager and pitcher behavior in ways that are detrimental to maximizing the chances of a team winning a game.

Instead, teams should focus on high-leverage situations to use their best relief pitcher. If a team is up by one and runners are on first and third with one out in the seventh why the hell do you put in a lesser pitcher. To save your closer for the ninth? What if the ninth - you don’t know this at the time - is a nothing inning? Instead, the game may be decided right there in the seventh. That’s the moment to bring in your top relief pitcher.

But the SAVE stat bends things - and salaries - to a specific usage structure. It’s been costing teams wins for a long time. Managers who have learned this lesson may get an extra win or three per year out of the bullpen.

This unwritten rule quite possibly cost Baltimore the 2016 wild card game. They never used their best pitcher, and lost with an inferior one.

ETA: Ninja’d.

The correct extra innings strategy - and this isn’t something I made up, it’s the competing received wisdom in MLB - is that in extra inning, you use the bullpen “backwards” in extra innings; that is, you use your ace FIRST, your next best reliever after that, your next best after that, etc. until you reach your worst pitcher or get to a starter/long reliever you’re hoping will pitch all the remaining innings. That maximizes the chance you will survive until the inning you score some runs.

Spend too much time listening to play-by-play guys and your brain will hurt a lot.

However, walking a man with a runner on second absolutely IS less damaging than walking a man with a runner on first. Having a runner on second is absolutely worse than having a runner on first. Going from a runner on first to runners on first and second is a much worse step than going from a runner on second to runner on first and second.

Ask and ye shall receive.


To sum up, making the first out at third is marginally bad and making the second one is very bad.

They sum it up this way at BP:

“Never make the first out at home. Don’t make the last out at third base if there is another runner behind you.”


“Never make the last out at third base. Never make the first out at home plate. And never make any out at home plate if more than one run is needed in the inning.”

That also has to challenge the definition of ‘best pitcher’.

If you will recall, the Diamondbacks went with Randy Johnson to finish off the 2001 World Series. Manager Bob Brenly brought in Johnson - who’d started the previous DAY, God help him - to relieve with the Dbacks down 2-1 in the eighth. Johnson went 1.1 innings of hitless pitching to give his team the opportunity to score in the bottom of the ninth and win the Series.

Interestingly, Yankee’s manager Joe Torre also broke the rule there as he brought in his ace closer, Mariano Rivera in the 8th inning. Interesting contrast.

Number one would be absurd and has never been an “unwritten rule of baseball”.

Number two has been eloquently explained by Kenobi65

I don’t get it. If you have an opportunity to make an out at home, doesn’t not making that out mean that a runner scores? And of course you absolutely want to prevent runners from scoring-- That’s the entire end goal of baseball defense.

Unless it’s the third out, of course, but it seems to me that for the third out, you go for whichever one’s closest to the ball, to maximize the chance of getting it.

I think you’re viewing this backwards, Chronos. We’re discussing the offensive team taking risks that can lead to making outs, not the actions of the team on the field.

So the RUNNER shouldn’t make the out at third. Not the third baseman.

But not all unusual. During regular season games, Rivera was usually limited to pitching just the final inning. The postseason was a completely different story. Since becoming the closer in 1997, Rivera pitched more than one inning 53 times and 2 or more innings 27 times.

Right, strategies are different in October, and contenders’ rosters need to be built for it - few games are left, they all matter, and there are lots of off days to recover. It absolutely makes sense to have your closer work 2 innings in a close game, when it might not in July. You can also let your starter work well over 100 pitches and go straight to your closer, if that’s what it takes. The back of the bullpen, the fifth starter (and maybe the fourth), and the bench guys should be happy to get to watch.

But there are still those who think the postseason is just a crapshoot.

I did a piece for SABR 20 years ago about the postseason and what factors it IS essentially random. The simple fact is that a series of short series are too vulnerable to exogamous factors to truly be determinant of which team is best. Especially when most teams that reach the post-season are fairly closely matched.

As I recall, and I don’t have the numbers with me anymore - this was before I even registered here - I found that teams that have significant advantages in season-long OPS, ERA and Runs Allowed win their playoff series between 10-20% more often than that which would occur randomly. If all of those things weren’t on one side the randomness reasserted itself pretty quickly.

In short, any single game can be essentially random. A series of seven is less random and a season can be determinative.

OTOH, for determining an individual player’s value an entire season may not be determinative. There’s way too much variation in performance to make a value judgement based on a single season’s statistics.

As the old saying goes, in the playoffs, the best way to prepare for the next game is to win the one you’re playing.