What Is A Sacrifice Fly In Baseball? Everything You Need To Know

A sacrifice fly in baseball occurs when a batter hits a fly ball that is caught by a fielder, allowing a runner to tag up and score a run. Unlike a sacrifice bunt, where the batter bunts the ball to advance a runner, a sacrifice fly requires the batter to hit a deep fly ball that allows the runner on third base enough time to tag up and cross home plate after the ball is caught for an out.

The key elements of a sacrifice fly are:

  • There must be fewer than two outs when the ball is hit.
  • The ball must be caught by a fielder for an out.
  • The runner on third base tags up and scores after the catch.

A sacrifice fly differs from a sacrifice bunt in that it does not require intentionally bunting the ball. The batter is aiming to hit a deep fly ball rather than laying down a bunt. However, both strategies allow a runner to advance at the cost of an out for the batter.

When a Sacrifice Fly Can Happen

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A sacrifice fly can only happen when there is a runner on 3rd base with less than 2 outs. The batter then needs to hit a fly ball deep enough for the runner to tag up from 3rd base and score after the ball is caught by a fieldman.

For a play to be considered a sacrifice fly, the runner must tag up and score after the catch. The batter is credited with a sacrifice fly and an RBI, but the at-bat does not count against their batting average. However, the out from the caught ball does count against the batter.

The sacrifice fly is considered a productive out, as it allows the runner on 3rd to score. It represents a strategic choice by the batter – trading an out for a run scored. The batter deliberately hits the ball in the air deep enough to score the run instead of aiming for a base hit.

Scoring and Statistics

A sacrifice fly is not counted as an official at-bat for the batter, so it does not negatively impact the batter’s batting average. However, it does count as a plate appearance.

Additionally, a sacrifice fly does not count as an RBI for the batter. The run is attributed to the runner who scored, not the batter.

The main statistical impact of a sacrifice fly is that the batter is credited with a sacrifice in the box score. This counts toward their seasonal and career sacrifice totals. However, despite not being charged with an official at-bat, the sacrifice fly does negatively impact the batter’s on-base percentage.

Strategy Behind Sacrifice Flies

A sacrifice fly is a strategic play in baseball where the batter hits a fly ball deep enough for a runner on third base to tag up and score a run after the ball is caught, while the batter is out. The intent is to trade an out for a run scored.

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The main strategic purpose behind a sacrifice fly is to advance a baserunner from third base and score a run with less than two outs. Even though the batter makes an out, the run counts and gives the team the lead. The batter does not record an at-bat or RBI, though some leagues do credit the RBI.

Sacrifice flies demonstrate situational hitting – batters aim to hit the ball in the air instead of on the ground to allow the runner on third to tag up. Batters may alter their swing plane and approach at the plate during a sacrifice fly opportunity. The runner on third will take a larger lead and be ready to sprint home on contact.

Managers may call for a sacrifice fly through signs to the batter. Batters try to lift the ball to the outfield, though not so high that it’s an easy catch. The defense hopes to prevent the run by catching the ball quickly and throwing home to get the runner out.

Famous Sacrifice Flies

Baseball Player

Some of the most memorable sacrifice flies in baseball history have occurred during crucial postseason moments or as game-winning plays. In the 2015 American League Division Series, Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the 7th inning of Game 5 against the Texas Rangers, sparking an epic bat flip celebration. During Game 7 of the 1991 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins, Gene Larkin hit a walk-off sac fly in the 10th inning to clinch the championship for Minnesota.

Other famous sacrifice flies include Francisco Cabrera’s walk-off in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS to send the Braves to the World Series, and Kirk Gibson’s sac fly in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series just after his legendary pinch-hit home run. Some of the most memorable sac flies have happened in do-or-die postseason elimination games.

Sacrifice Flies vs Other Strategies

A sacrifice fly is just one of several offensive strategies in baseball aimed at advancing runners into scoring position.

It differs from other common strategies in key ways:

  • Compared to bunting – A sacrifice bunt is executed by a batter squaring up and intentionally tapping the ball to advance runners, usually by bunting toward first or third base. This allows the runner(s) to advance while the batter is thrown out at first. A sacrifice fly does not require the batter to purposely tap the ball, but simply hit a fly ball deep enough to score a runner from third base after the catch.
  • Compared to stealing – A stolen base occurs when a runner attempts to advance to the next base during a pitch to the batter. A sacrifice fly involves the batter hitting the ball in a way to advance a runner. While both aim to move runners up bases, a stolen base is initiated by the runner, while a sacrifice fly depends on the batter’s hit.
  • Compared to a hit and run – A hit and run play involves a runner breaking for the next base just as the pitcher starts his delivery. The batter then attempts to make contact to allow the runner to advance safely. While both strategies aim to advance runners, a hit and run does not require the runner to score like a sacrifice fly. A sacrifice fly is focused solely on bringing home a runner from third base.

So while bunting, stealing, and the hit and run all aim to advance runners, the sacrifice fly is unique in its sole focus on scoring a runner from third base via a fly ball out by the batter. Executed properly, it represents a strategic way to produce a run.

Notable Sacrifice Fly Records

Eddie Murray has the most career sacrifice flies with 128 over his 21-year MLB career. Cal Ripken Jr. ranks second all-time with 127 career sacrifice flies.

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The single-season record for sacrifice flies is 19 by Jim Rice of the Boston Red Sox in 1983. Other notable single-season totals include 18 sacrifice flies by Reggie Jackson in 1969 and 17 by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

Some batters have managed to go full seasons without recording a single sacrifice fly. Pete Rose and Frank Taveras each had 680 at-bats without a sacrifice fly in 1973 and 1977 respectively. This speaks to their lack of power and run-producing ability in those seasons.

Debate About the Sacrifice Fly Rule

Jose Altuve Bat

There has been ongoing debate about the sacrifice fly rule in baseball. Some argue that sacrifice flies should count as at-bats against a hitter’s batting average, while others support keeping the current rule.

Those in favor of counting sacrifice flies as at-bats make the case that a batter is still attempting to get a hit in that scenario. The fact that they hit a deep enough fly ball for a runner to tag and score shows they made decent contact. Counting sac flies as at-bats would lower batting averages and better reflect a hitter’s true performance.

On the other side, supporters of the current rule argue that sac flies are a strategic choice that helps the team. The batter is intentionally hitting the ball in the air to drive in a run rather than focusing solely on getting a hit. Not counting sac flies as at-bats rewards batters for making the strategic decision to sacrifice personal stats for the team.

Looking at the stats, counting sac flies as at-bats would lower batting averages. In recent MLB seasons, batting averages would decrease by approximately 2-3 points if sac flies were counted as at-bats. For individual players, the impact can be more significant. For example, in 2012 Melky Cabrera won the NL batting title with a .346 average, but it would have dropped to .342 if sac flies were counted.

The debate continues between tradition and strategy vs. statistical purity. For now, the sac fly rule remains in place as a strategic element of baseball. But some still argue batter stats should reflect all at-bats, including fly outs that score runs.

Sacrifice Flies in Youth Baseball

Sacrifice flies are less common in youth baseball compared to the major leagues. While sacrifice flies are an important strategic play in MLB, they are less emphasized in coaching younger players who are still developing fundamental hitting skills.

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Many youth baseball leagues use modified rules that don’t reward sacrifice flies in the same way as MLB. For example, Little League rules don’t credit a batter with an RBI for a sacrifice fly. The focus is more on making contact and advancing runners through walks, wild pitches and passed balls.

Some experts argue sacrifice flies should not be taught to younger hitters. At early ages, the priority is learning proper swing mechanics and making solid contact. Situational hitting strategies can wait until skills are more advanced. There is also debate about whether sacrifice flies negatively impact a hitter’s aggressiveness and power-hitting mentality.

However, other coaches believe introducing sacrifice fly situations can help young hitters learn productive outs, advancing runners, and game strategy. Youth players can gain experience in simulations or practice while still focusing on contact hitting in games. With guidance, sacrifice flies provide a way to teach key concepts like hitting to the right side and hitting the ball deep.

Origins and History

The sacrifice fly has an interesting history in Major League Baseball. It was first introduced as an official rule in 1894 by the National League, allowing batters credit for an RBI when a runner scored after a fly out. However, the rule was abolished in 1901. Sacrifice flies were not counted again until 1908 when they were reintroduced along with the sacrifice hit.

From 1908 to 1930, sacrifice flies and sacrifice hits were grouped together statistically. Then in 1931, MLB split them into two separate categories. The sacrifice fly rule was again abolished in 1939 but brought back later that same year. It has remained an official part of baseball ever since.

Over this evolving history, the criteria for crediting a batter with a sacrifice fly has remained largely consistent – a runner must tag up and score on a fly ball out for the batter to avoid a time at bat while still getting credited with an RBI. The multiple periods of introduction, removal, and reintroduction of the sacrifice fly highlight how baseball statistics have been fluid and debated over time. While an integral part of strategy today, the sacrifice fly has not always been consistently counted.

Adrian Cook
Adrian Cook

Hello, I'm Adrian Cook, and I am the author of BaseballMatchDay.com. I have a deep-rooted connection to baseball as I was once an avid player of the sport. Baseball has always held a special place in my heart, and my personal experiences as a player have shaped my understanding and love for the game. Having been on the field, I intimately understand the intricacies, challenges, and joys that come with playing baseball. It is this firsthand experience that allows me to bring a unique perspective to the content I create.

Baseball Basics, Rules, Strategies, and Legends
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