What Is a Pinch Runner in Baseball?

Stealing Bases and Saving Players: Understanding the Role of Pinch Runners in Baseball
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

A pinch runner in baseball is a substitute runner brought into the game to replace a runner on base, usually for strategic speed or injury reasons. This tactic can change the dynamic of the game, and this piece will discuss when and why to effectively use a pinch runner.

  • Pinch running is a way for teams to replace a base runner with a different player, typically for more speed on the base path or to protect them from injury.
  • Rules regarding pinch runners vary by league but usually allow one pinch runner per inning, and the original batter remains in the game.
  • Pinch runners need to be fast and smart on the bases and are often skilled at stealing bases.
  • Advantages of pinch-running include bringing in faster players and protecting injured players; disadvantages can hurt bench depth.
  • Famous pinch runners include Eddie Collins, Herb Washington, and Terrance Gore.

What is a pinch runner?

A pinch runner is a way for teams to substitute a baserunner for one that is faster. You may sometimes see players replaced by pinch runners, even though they are quite fast. This is done to protect that player if he is prone to injury or recovering from an injury. 

Speed is a huge part of baseball. If you have a fast baserunner, you have a better chance of scoring a run. The main goal of baseball is to score runs. In retrospect, speed leads to runs. 

Pinch runners are mainly used in late-game situations. With such high importance, some players’ only role on a baseball team is to be pinch runners. These guys will be extremely fast and are very skilled at running the bases. 

Rules regarding pinch runners

While the ability to use a pinch runner is useful, a couple of rules come into play. 

Each team is allowed to use a pinch runner one time per inning. You may not use a pinch runner twice in one inning. Each player can only be substituted for a pinch runner once during a game. 

A convenient part of using a pinch runner is that it does not replace the player they go in for. This means the original batter will remain in the game even though a pinch runner came in for him. This exception allows teams to keep their players on defense but have someone else run for them. 

It’s essential to recognize that the rules surrounding pinch runners will vary depending on what league you’re playing in. You should always check with league officials to ensure you know the rules.

Skills needed to be a pinch runner

Baseball players need to be able to throw, catch, and hit. For pinch runners, they just need to be smart on the bases and somewhat fast. 

Pinch runners carry out the specific role of running the bases when called upon. Speed is the most important factor out of any other when it comes to base running. Pinch runners are similar to pitchers in the sense that they only have one job. When you have one main job, you can hone in on it in an attempt to perfect your craft. 

Position players must be efficient on both offense and defense. While a pinch runner should be fast, he should also be smart. Now, we aren’t talking about 5 + 5 smart. We are talking about smart when it comes to base running. 

A smart baserunner is able to know when he can advance and when he cannot. They also tend to be masters at stealing bases. While you need to be fast to be a pinch runner, there are a few more things that go into it.

Famous pinch runners

Throughout the history of baseball, we have seen many extraordinary pinch runners be a part of the game. 

Some of the notable ones include Eddie Collins, Herb Washington, Terrance Gore, and many more. All of these guys were known for having an extreme amount of speed and quickness. When you possess this type of speed, you are feared by all defenses. 

A pinch runner with immense speed is a weapon like no other. Herb Washington stole 31 bases in two seasons without ever batting once. Herb is the perfect example of how speed can give you many great opportunities.

Advantages and disadvantages of pinch runnings

Pinch running has a mix of advantages and disadvantages when it comes to using it. 

As far as advantages go, you can bring in a player who is faster than the one you currently have on base. The new player might also be much smarter on the bases and faster. He could also be a more experienced and veteran-like player. 

Another advantage is being able to protect a player who is injured or in the middle of recovering from an injury. Most guys can still hit even when they are injured, unless it’s a serious one. However, running is a different story and can potentially create an even worse situation for that player. A pinch runner can come in to prevent the injured player from risking anything. 

While there are many advantages, there are also a few disadvantages. Some teams might only have one guy on their team who is specifically a pinch runner. It is important to remember that you can only use a player to pinch run once during a game. Even if you use him early in the game, you won’t be able to use him when you get into the game’s later stages. 

With that being said, using a lot of pinch runners can hurt your depth on the bench. It is crucial for coaches to be selective and patient when deciding to use a pinch runner.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a pinch runner hit?

No, a pinch runner is only allowed to come into the game to run the bases. Once the player he ran for comes up to hit again, the pinch runner does not hit. 

How many times can a pinch runner be used?

Generally speaking, a team can use a pinch runner once per inning. This means they can use nine pinch runners in a game if they want to. When it comes to a specific player, each player can pinch run once in a game. Once he comes into a pinch run, he is done for the game after that.

What is the difference between a courtesy runner and a pinch runner?

Courtesy runners are primarily used in situations to help speed up the game. For example, a courtesy runner is typically used if a catcher is on base. This gives the catcher time to get his gear on for the next inning while protecting his legs and knees. Pinch runners are specifically used for adding speed.


Pinch runners were introduced into the game in the early stages. It has paid off well, giving players more opportunities and increasing the game’s speed. These types of players are extremely talented, even though they don’t always play offense or defense. 

Pinch runners can make or break a game. They play a massive role in a baseball game and should continue to be that way for a long time.