Tagging Up In Baseball

The tagging up rule is one of the most confusing aspects of baseball. Here's how it works
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

Tagging up in baseball refers to the baserunner’s strategy of staying on their current base until the ball is caught when a fly ball is hit. Once the catch is secured, they can attempt to advance to the next base. This play requires keen judgment and timing, pivotal in tight games where every run counts.

What Is The Tagging Up Rule?

The tagging up rule is actually pretty simple. A baserunner has to return to the base they started on and wait at that base until the fielder catches a ball hit in the air. It does not matter if the ball is in fair or foul territory.  If they do not return to the base, the runner can be tagged out or a fielder can touch the base while in possession of the ball. This play is reviewable. 

Simply stated – the baserunner needs to retouch the bag after the fielder touches the ball. If they leave early and don’t return before the ball is thrown to the bag, or they get tagged, then they are considered out. There have to be less than two outs and the ball hit must be in the air. 

If a new pitch/play has not been attempted, the defense can appeal to the field umpire to make a call. 

Why Less Than Two Outs?

The point of the rule is to remove the advantage of the runner advancing while the ball is in the air. If there are two outs and the outfielder catches the ball, the inning is over – there’s no advantage. However, if there is only one out and the runner would have an advantage.

Without the rule, the runner could start running as soon as the ball was hit. Pop-ups could score runs whether the fielder caught the ball or not. The tag-up rule still keeps the pressure on the defensive player to catch the ball, but takes away the advantage of the runner away by making them wait until the fielder catches the ball. 

Taking a Chance 

Can a runner take a chance and leave early? Absolutely. A baserunner can decide to try and advance bases in hopes that the defensive player does not catch the ball. However, if the defensive player makes the catch, the baserunner will have to run back the same route they ran to touch the original base. 

Can Fielders Bobble a Ball on Purpose? 

The way that the rule is written runners can advance as soon as the fielders touch the ball. This prevents a player from bobbling the ball on purpose and holding the runner to a base. So in theory the runner can advance before the ball is caught cleanly. 

Why Would Runners Advance? 

There are obvious reasons why runners would want to advance any time a ball is hit. Runners are attempting to advance bases or score on any offensive play. In addition, it is important to remember that some runners are required to advance. For example, if there is a runner on first and a ball is hit, then the batter would force the runner to advance. However, if the ball is hit in the air, the runner on first would be caught between advancing and tagging back up at first. 

How Does a Runner Tag Up?

When there is a runner on base, you may notice a few things happening. If the ball is hit in the air, you may notice coaches and players yelling at the runner. They are reminding the runner that the ball is in the air and they need to tag up. In those cases, you may simply see the runner scurry back to their original base and wait for the fielder to catch the ball. 

This process can be complicated when a runner is sent on a hit and run or straight steal. In these cases, a runner could find themselves reaching and passing the next base. In this play, if the runner advances during the pitch and the hitter swings, the runner is in danger of being doubled up.

If the ball is hit into the air, the runner will need to turn back a retrace their path back to first base. They cannot simply run across the field and return to first. If the runner passed second and was headed to third, then it would be necessary for the runner to turn around retouch second base and head back to first. If the runner reaches the base in time, then they will be safe. 

The other option is that the fielder doesn’t catch the ball and the runner is simply able to advance. 

When Should You Tag?  

Determining when you should tag up and when you should run can be a difficult choice. There are a few factors that go into making this determination. The very first variable that you should consider is the number of outs. If there are two outs in the inning, you should never tag up.

The whole point of tagging up is to avoid being doubled up (when the fielder throws the ball to the base you started on because you left before the ball was caught). If there are two outs, the fielder ends the inning with a catch – so there is no need to tag up. 

If there are fewer than two outs in an inning then there will be other things for you to consider. For example, you will want to consider how deep the ball was hit. You would also want to consider the chances of the ball being caught. 

The base that you start on would also be a consideration. If you are starting on first base, you are further from scoring and therefore it may be better to go half-way between the bases in case the ball is dropped. However, if you are on third base, you will tag up in case you can make run for home plate. 

The bottom line is that it can be safe to tag up, but you need to have situational awareness. Sometimes it is worth the risk and sometimes it pays to play it safe.