What is a Sacrifice in Baseball?

Sacrifices come in three forms—fly outs, bunts, and squeezes. Find out how each play works below.
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

A sacrifice in baseball refers to a strategic play where a batter deliberately makes an out to advance a base runner, enhancing the team’s scoring potential. This selfless act comes in two forms: a sacrifice bunt or a sacrifice fly. Let’s delve into the tactics behind sacrifices and their impact on the game’s outcome.

  • A “sacrifice” is an offensive strategy used to advance or score runners in baseball.
  • There are three types of sacrifices: sacrifice fly, sacrifice bunt, and squeeze play.
  • A successful sacrifice requires a runner in scoring position (RISP), who must be able to tag up and score as a result of the play.
  • Sacrifices should not be confused with fielder’s choices; while both involve trading outs for runs, only sacrifices do not count against batter averages.

The Sacrifice Fly

The sacrifice fly can be a difficult play. The first requirement is that you have a runner in scoring position, and that runner scores as a direct result of the sacrifice fly.

A runner is considered in scoring position if they are on second or third base before the pitch is thrown. With the runner in scoring position, the batter’s job is to hit the ball in the air.

The trick is that the ball needs to be hit deep enough into the outfield that it gives the baserunner a chance to tag up and score. If the ball is hit too shallow, then the baserunner will be stuck at the same base. If the runner does not score, then the out is wasted and is not credited as a sacrifice fly. 

You can have a sacrifice fly with two runners in scoring position (RISP), but one of the runners has to score as a direct result of the sacrifice fly. For example, if you have runners on second and third, and your batter hits a deep fly to the right field that is caught if the runner on third scores, then it is considered a sacrifice fly. If the runner is thrown out at home, it is not considered a sacrifice. 

The Sacrifice Bunt

The sacrifice bunt is a little different than the sacrifice fly. It still requires skill to be executed, but less is left to chance.

In order for your team to execute a sacrifice bunt, you need a runner at second who is paying close attention to the action on the field. Your hitter is going to push a bunt down the first baseline. The bunt has to be good enough that it does not put the runner on second in jeopardy as they run to third.

The batter does not have to beat the throw to first. This is what makes it a sacrifice bunt. You are sacrificing the batter so that the runner can advance to third. Obviously, if your batter beats the throw to first, it is no longer a sacrifice – it is simply a hit. 

In an ideal situation, you actually have two baserunners: one at first and one at second. With the sacrifice bunt, you can advance both runners and sacrifice only the batter.

If the batter’s bunt creates a double play, then it is not a successful sacrifice. However. If you can get the runners from first and second to second and third, then you now have two runners in scoring position. This is a successful sacrifice. It does not guarantee that you will score runs, but it gives you a greater opportunity to do so. 

The Squeeze Play

The sacrifice bunt is one way to increase your chances of scoring. However, there are a few other ways that you can sacrifice a batter while bunting. 

The traditional squeeze play is when you have a runner on third, and the batter lays down a bunt, expecting to be thrown out at first. It’s a simple play if you have a batter who is good at laying down bunts. You will most likely take this opportunity when there is only one out. If there are no outs, chances are you will have the batter swing away. With two outs, you can’t sacrifice an out because the run would not count. 

The safe squeeze play is a little different. With the safe squeeze play, the runner on third will wait for the bunt to be laid down before running for home. This avoids potential double plays or rundowns with the runner at third. The runner will take a safe lead at third (a short one) and wait for the bunt to get down safely before running toward home plate. 

The last squeeze option is different. Commonly referred to as a “suicide squeeze,” the last option is the riskiest one. In this option, the runner at third will break for home when the pitcher is in the windup or heading toward home in the stretch.

While it is not a straight steal of home plate, the thought is that the runner will be so far advanced to home plate that there can’t be a play at the plate. The batter’s responsibility is to get the ball down in play. If the batter gets the ball in play in fair territory, then the only play to make is at first – and the run scores.

However, there are several risks with this play. If the batter misses the pitch, the catcher could simply tag the runner. If the batter bunts the ball into the air, the ball could be caught, and then the runner could be doubled up. If the batter gets the bunt down, the chances of a play at the plate are minimal. 

A Sacrifice Versus a Fielder’s Choice 

There is a misconception that a sacrifice is the same as a fielder’s choice. The two plays are not the same. When a batter completes a sacrifice, the only play that is possible is retiring your batter. A fielder’s choice is actually a choice that a fielder has. They potentially could throw out your baserunner or your batter. 

Another difference between the two is how it affects the batter’s average. A sacrifice does not count as an official at bat. While it may affect the batter’s OPS, it will not affect their batting average. A fielder’s choice does count as an at-bat and can affect the average of a batter.