When a baseball team takes the field offensively, there are between 9-13 players involved. In addition to the nine field position players, who now will take their turn at-bat offensively, you have two base coaches. When strategy or injury calls for it, a pinch runner may also be used. In some leagues teams are also allowed to use a designated hitter.
Each of these positions, along with the basics of their strategic purposes, are described in greater detail below.
Batter: The person in the batter’s box at home plate swinging at the pitches thrown by the opposing team’s pitcher.
Base Runner: Once a batter arrives safely on base, s/he becomes a base runner. Their objective is to run the bases and arrive safely at home plate to score.
Before each game the coach creates the lineup and posts it in the dugout as well as giving it to the umpire and official scorer. The lineup tells the team what order they will be batting in. The batting order remains the same throughout the game.
There are nine batters, one for each position, per offensive side. When the ninth player bats, the rotation begins again. If one player is substituted for another during the game, the replacement player will take the same spot in the lineup their teammate occupied before them.
Base Coaches: Base coaches are responsible for helping the runners get from one base to the next. Either a player or a coach can act as a base coach.
The first thing to understand about base coaches are their hand signals. Watch a base coach out of context and you might think s/he is so fidgety that the team puts them out there to keep all that extra energy out of the dugout. In reality, when a coach gives a sign, it is general hidden in all that motion commotion.
A sign is generally one of a series of moves. The coach will touch their cap or rub their gut. The rest, the swipe on their arm or tug on their pants, are really just a dance of sorts to keep the opposing team from “stealing your signs” or guessing what you’re going to do.
When runners are in motion you’ll see base coaches sometimes do a windmill motion with their arm. This signals the runner to keep running right on past the base they are headed to and onto the next one. When they put their hands up like a traffic cop it means exactly what you think, stop. If the coach looks like he’s just given the dog command for laying down he’s telling the runner the ball is coming at him and he should do exactly that, lay down, by sliding into the base. This is to try and beat the throw, as well as for protection.
1st Base Coach: A team on offense will always place a person on the first base path to help the runner know what’s happening with the ball while it is in play. When a batter runs to first base from home plate they can, often time, see the ball in play but sometimes plays happen behind them, with the catcher for example, that they need direction about as well. When they run from 1st to second, their profile will be facing the field of play so the base coach on 1st helps them know when it is safe to leave first base to attempt to get to second. This can be to steal the base or run on a play based on the next batter’s at bat.
3rd Base Coach: Like the 1st base coach, the 3rd base coach stands next to 3rd base and directs the runner when to come from 2nd to 3rd and then when to run home as well.
A second duty of the 3rd base coach is to tell the batter what type of offense to use at the plate. For example, they may instruct the batter to bunt or pop up for a sacrifice to advance the runners. They may also instruct the batter to swing at the next pitch to give a runner on base time for a stolen base attempt.
Pinch Runner: In certain instances, a person may be allowed to pinch run for a base runner. For example, if a player injuries themselves running to the base, a pinch runner may be sent in to replace them.
Another situation where a pinch runner may be used is late in a game with a close score. A coach may decide to put in one of their fastest runners to try to help the team advance around the bases further than they would with the batter who arrived safely on base.
Any time a pinch runner is used, they are “replacing” the batter on the scorecard which means they, or another person, must also take the place of the replaced player in the next defensive opportunity.
Designated Hitter (DH): In certain baseball leagues the rules allow for a designated hitter. The DH is allowed to take the place of a player in the offensive rotation without that player loosing their spot in the defensive rotation. The most common use of the DH is to replace the pitcher at bat because many pitchers have difficulty facing the ball from the other side.
Another way the DH is used is in the late innings when substitutions are about to be made, or when the team simply needs a better chance to score. Designated hitters are very good batters but may have weaker fielding skills due to age or injury. They are often times long distance hitters so their speed does not come into play as they round the bases.