What Is Batting Out of Turn in Baseball?

Avoiding the Unforced Error: Understanding Batting Out of Turn in Baseball
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

Batting out of turn is a rare but critical blunder in baseball, a violation that can cost a team an out and disrupt their offensive strategy. Let’s explore how this mix-up occurs and the tactical intricacies it introduces to the game’s chess-like battles.

KEY
POINTS
  • MLB requires teams to submit a lineup card 2-3 hours before a game, which is then shared with the opposing team, officials, the public, and oddsmakers.
  • If a player bats out of turn and is challenged immediately after the at-bat (but before the next one), they will be called out.
  • Batting out of turn can occur due to an unintentional mistake from the manager, who must inform the other team and umpires prior to making changes.
  • To prevent the incidence of batting out of order, teams should keep consistent lineup cards checked for accuracy before release.

Understanding batting order

The process of deciding on a batting order starts several hours before the game. Once the manager knows the lineup, they will create what is called a “lineup card” that they are held accountable to for that game. Once the lineup for the game is set, the manager sends it to the league, which then releases it to the opposing team, the officials, the public, and the oddsmakers. Prior to the game, both team managers will also exchange a paper copy at home plate and give a card to the home plate umpire as well. They look like this:

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So why do managers have to release the lineup early, and why must they notify the umpires and opposing team of any changes?

1. MLB

The league tracks what is called Advanced Stats, and to do that, they need to know every player playing on a given day, where they are batting in the lineup, and what position they are playing.

2. The opposing team

It sounds strange because it eliminates any chance of surprise, but baseball doesn’t work that way. Both teams are required to trade lineup cards so that they can instruct their pitchers and hitters on who they are facing and devise plans for the game.

3. Oddsmakers/public

Prior to the recent boom in legalized sports betting, baseball and gambling were not friends. However, sports betting is a trillion-dollar industry, and because of that, they are allowed to access lineup cards before the game (the regular public does too). This allows oddsmakers to adjust betting lines. (Ex. If Bryce Harper has the day off and is not on the lineup card, it will make a big difference on the Phillies’ betting odds).

Now that you have a better picture of what a batting lineup is and its importance, we can get down to the business of batting out of order. Managers cannot just arbitrarily change players around each inning and say nothing. Stats wouldn’t be tracked properly, and everyone would be confused.

This is why batting out of order comes with consequences if a team is caught. It doesn’t matter if it is accidental or not; if a player comes up to bat and it is not their turn and the other team notices, they can challenge it, and that player can be called out. There is a timing factor that goes along with this rule, but we’ll get to that later.

Causes of batting out of turn

Batting out of turn is accidental, but regardless, it comes with punishment if a team is caught. Below is a recent example of a manager making that very mistake:

2016Brewers-Nationals – The Brewers were caught batting out of order in the first inning when Ryan Braun batted for Jonathan Lucroy. The Nationals waited until Braun’s at-bat was over (he hit a single), challenged the play, and Braun was immediately called out. After the game, Brewers manager Craig Counsell admitted, “It was just a screw-up, completely my mistake. I gave (the assistant coach) a couple lineups, and my mistake”.

Consequences of batting out of turn

The consequences of batting out of turn usually end up with the hitter who just batted being automatically called out. However, this is only true if the at-bat is challenged at the right time.

Batting out of turn can be appealed while the player is still up to bat (no punishment), then they simply leave the batter’s box, and the correct hitter must come to the plate and take over the at-bat along with any balls and strikes currently on the scoreboard.

If batting out of order is immediately appealed after the at-bat is over and the next player has not come up to bat yet, then the player is called out (however, the out is credited to the person who should have been at-bat, not the player who batted).

If batting out of order is not challenged until after the next hitter starts their at-bat, then nothing happens. The responsibility to challenge batting out of turn is solely on the opposing manager and no one else. 

Listen to former Dodgers manager Don Mattingly explain his thoughts on challenging these incidents:

Examples of batting out of turn in professional baseball

Batting out of turn in baseball does not happen very often, but when it does, it can have a big impact on games. Look at some of the examples below:

1. Mets-Reds (2018)

Asdrubal Cabrera hit a ground rule double, but after reaching second base, the Reds challenged, and Cabrera was out. So, instead of having a runner in scoring position, the inning was over. 

2. Giants-Dodgers (2013)

Buster Posey hit an RBI double but got called out after the play once the Dodgers challenged it.

3. Brewers-Astros (2009)

Michael Bourn batted in place of Hideki Matsui and hit a single to right field. The Brewers challenged, Matsui was called out, and Bourn had to hit again in his proper place in the lineup:

Prevention and correction of batting out of turn

To prevent and correct batting out of turn, teams must keep consistent lineup cards checked for accuracy before release. In most cases of teams batting out of turn, it is because they gave different lineups to the opposing team or the league but used a different one for themselves. Umpires must also check to ensure that the lineup card they have matches what is shown on the stadium scoreboard before the game.

FAQ

What happens if you bat out of turn?

If you bat out of turn and the opposing team says nothing, then there is no penalty. If you bat out of turn and the opposing manager protests after the at-bat but before the next one, then the batter who was out of turn is automatically out.

Do teams take turns batting in baseball?

Teams take turns batting in baseball in the top and bottom half of an inning. Each team remains on offense until three outs have been recorded, then the other team gets its turn. Teams do not take turns batting in any other way.

Does batting order matter?

Yes, batting orders matter because teams, umpires, broadcasters, and fans need to know who is playing and where they are in the lineup so they can prepare accordingly. For the teams creating the batting order, it is the central part of their offensive strategy. Depending on who the opposing pitcher is, managers will change left or right-handed hitters in and out of the lineup, move power hitters or even move their fastest players to different spots in the lineup to disrupt the other team.

Can a batting order be changed?

Yes, a batting order can be changed at any time, but only if the manager informs the opposing team and the umpires prior to making the changes. MLB managers will not change an entire lineup over the course of a regular game, but if a game goes deep into extra innings, then it is common to see the entire order change from the beginning to the end of the game because of pinch hitters and substitutions.

Conclusion

Anything created by a person has the ability to be incorrect. MLB teams play 162 regular season games, 25+ spring training games, and if they make it to the postseason, another 20+ games. All in all, that means managers of good teams must put together an accurate lineup card over 200 times each season, and if they make a mistake, it could cost them a run or even a game. Luckily, assistant coaches also look and watch to see if the other team makes a mistake in their lineup, so it doesn’t fall all on one person. 

There have been instances of teams batting out of order going back to the 1800s, but talk about bad luck: In 1917, Yankees 2nd baseman Paddy Bauman was hit by a pitch, but since he batted out of turn, the person he batted for was called out. Ouch, literally.

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