Long ago, my baseball career ended the way that most do – in Little League. However, years later I still remember one of the great joys of the sport: getting a good pitch to hit and lining the ball over the head of the infielders.
So, what is a hit in baseball?
A hit (or base hit) is when a batter strikes the baseball into fair territory and reaches base safely without a fielder committing an error, or a baserunner ahead of you being forced out on a fielder’s choice. At most levels of baseball, hits are the most common way for a batter to reach base.
The base hit is arguably the most pivotal play to creating action in baseball, as more hits mean more baserunners, and therefore more runs being scored.
Hits come in four varieties: singles, doubles, triples, and home runs. We’ll go down the line one-by-one on what they are, but we have one distinction to sort out first.
Hits vs Errors: The Difference Explained
The definition of a base hit can mostly be boiled down to “when the batter puts the ball in play, reaches base, but not because a fielder messed up.”
While that’s true to some extent, in many cases, there’s not a cut and dry answer, so it’s left up to the best judgment of the official scorer.
On most hits, there is no debate because the fielder had little to no chance to make a play on a ball, so it is referred to as a “clean” base hit. On plays where there is reasonable doubt, the scorer is left to determine whether the fielder should have retired the batter with “ordinary effort.”
The term “ordinary effort” is ambiguous because what may be ordinary for a Gold-Glove shortstop is much more difficult for a below-average first baseman, so the scorer is left to use his best judgment, also factoring in how hard the ball was hit and how fast the batter is as well.
The rules also leave some leeway in the instance of a fielder losing a fly ball in the sun, the lights, or misjudging its trajectory with the ball landing untouched.
Technically, a ball can drop untouched and a fielder can be given an error, though this is a rare circumstance. Likewise, a ball can be touched by a fielder, but the batter can still be given a base hit.
Additionally, there are instances where a base hit and fielding error can be given on the same play.
Perhaps this would be most common in the case of a slow infield ground ball where an infielder has a difficult throw to first with little chance of success, but throws it away, allowing a runner to advance another base.
In this case, the batter is awarded a single (known as “infield hits”), but advances to second on the fielding error.
Additionally, if an outfielder mishandles a clean base hit to the outfield, it is possible for the so-called “little league home run,” where the batter circles the bases due to a defensive blunder(s).
With that said, it’s time to go down the line at what kind of hits we see in baseball.
What Is a Single in Baseball?
First on our list is the single. This is the most common of all hits, as there are a lot of places on the field where a batter can reach on a single, making it the easiest base hit to earn.
A single is when a batter hits a ball into fair territory and reaches first base without the aid of an error. In most cases, a batter stops at first base on a single, but some exceptions can result in the batter advancing to a further base or being put out on the play.
Singles are far and away the most common form of base hit in baseball.
Despite the overall number of singles declining in baseball in recent years, in 2019 there were 25,947 singles hit in Major League Baseball out of 42,039 total hits—nearly 62 percent of all hits that season.
Now, on all of those hits, it wasn’t as simple as the batter reaching first. Many of those singles (11,426 of them, to be exact) came with runners already on base, so those singles advanced the runners, resulting in a grand total of 5,583 runs scored on those plays.
Because there are other moving parts besides the batter, the batter who hits the single doesn’t always end up standing on first base.
Oftentimes, when a single is hit with a runner on base, an outfielder may attempt to throw out a runner at another base (usually home plate), in which case the batter may advance to second as the throw is being made to another base.
In that case, the batter is credited with a single and is said to have advanced based on the fielder’s throw, not as the direct result of his base hit.
In other instances, the batter may try to reach base either on the throw, or try to stretch the single into a double, but is instead thrown out attempting to reach second base.
In those cases, the batter is credited with a single, except that there is an out attached as well. Occasionally, other runners will be thrown out attempting to reach further bases, but in either situation, the batter is still credited with a single.
Because a single requires the batter to traverse the least amount of distance around the bases, it doesn’t require the batted ball to be hit as far, and more often not as hard, either.
Therefore, singles are much easier to earn than other hits and as a result, come in many forms.
According to MLB’s Statcast information, of the 25 hardest-hit balls in 2019, ten of them were singles, including a 117.3 MPH rocket hit by Giancarlo Stanton of the New York Yankees.
On the other hand, later that year, Delino Deshields Jr. of the Cleveland Indians laid down a bunt that left the bat at 11.8 MPH, the ninth-softest batted ball of the year and wound up with the same result as Stanton—a lousy single.
A batter could rip a sharp line drive that reaches an outfielder on one hop, hit a three-hopper back up the middle, drop a softly hit fly ball in between two outfielders, or beat out a slow dribbler down the third baseline and end up with the same result.
That’s the beauty of singles: they truly come in all shapes and sizes.
What Is a Double in Baseball?
Considering that when a batter hits a single, he winds up on first base, you can probably guess the result of a double. If your guessed that the batter reaches second base, then you were correct!
A double is a base hit where the batter safely reaches second base, and like a single, is not aided in doing so by a fielder committing an error. A batter may simply beat the throw from the outfield on a base hit or may also earn a ground-rule double by hitting a fair ball that bounces over an outfield wall.
A double is the first in line in what is considered an “extra-base hit,” which also encompasses triples and home runs. Likewise, these hits require a batter to hit a ball farther, and usually harder than what is required for a single.
Because a batter must run 180ft on a double instead of just 90ft for a single, the batted ball must naturally be hit farther away from home plate and/or farther away from fielders who could potentially catch the ball, narrowing the range of locations on the field where a double can normally be hit.
Consequently, doubles are usually hit directly down the foul lines (often reaching the outfield corners), in the gaps between outfielders, or directly over the head of an outfielder.
Occasionally, a shallow fly ball may result in a double as a result of defenders colliding, or the ball landing far enough from multiple defenders to allow a faster batter to reach second base.
Naturally, doubles tend to be hit quite a bit harder than singles.
In 2019, the second-and-third hardest-hit balls of the season were both doubles, with the hardest being a shot from Pete Alonso of the New York Mets that was clocked in 118.4 MPH.
On the other end, the softest double of 2019 clocked in at 49 MPH off the bat of the Miami Marlins’ Jonathan Villar. That’s not a hard base hit, by any means, but a lot harder hit than 11.8 MPH.
For greater comparison, in 2019 there were just nine doubles with an exit velocity below 60 MPH, compared to 367 singles that fell below that threshold.
Nonetheless, with 8,531 doubles hit in the 2019 season (just over 20% of all hits), there is bound to be some variation in where the ball goes off the bat (and how fast it gets there).
In the end, regardless of how, the batter winds up at second base and is halfway home.
What Is a Triple in Baseball?
By this point, you probably can sense the theme: a single gets you to first base and a double to second base. Likewise, the theme continues with a triple.
A triple is a base hit where the batter reached third base without the aid of an error or as the direct result of an outfielder throwing home to make a play on another baserunner. Triples are the rarest base hit in baseball due to the distance the runner has to cover without being thrown out.
Triples are nicknamed “the most exciting play in baseball” because they are often hit by fast players, and because of their rare nature, often result in a close play at third base.
Additionally, triples instantly put more pressure on a pitcher and the defense, as the runner at third base all of a sudden is one mistake away (by any party) from scoring.
While they may be one of the most exciting plays in baseball, triples are also one of the rarer plays, as 785 were hit in 2019, or just over 26 per team throughout an entire 162-game season.
Put another way, the average Major League Baseball team hits about one triple a week throughout the season.
In the earlier days of baseball, triples were much more common, with teams averaging as many as 76 triples per year (done in 1921) and frequently hitting more triples than homers leaguewide until the late 1920s.
However, as strategies changed and in particular, the popularity of Babe Ruth emphasized hitting home runs, owners looked to cash in by moving in the fences of expansive outfields.
This was a drastic move as many early parks stretched more than 500ft from home plate.
Today, most major league parks have a center field that is a little over 400ft from home plate, with foul lines that typically range from 320-340 feet from home plate.
As a result, for many hitters, there simply isn’t much room in modern-day outfields to hit a triple, unless an outfielder misplays a ball, or there is an unexpected carom off a wall.
Simply put, most triples travel to or near the outfield wall, and most commonly go to right field because the throw to third base is longer.
A spray chart of two years of triples shows that trend, while also showing some stragglers that were hit much shorter distances, and usually occurred because of a misplay or an ill-fated dive.
Because of their rarity, and the fact that they usually wind up very far from home plate, triples usually have to be hit rather hard, except for misplays and ill-fated diving attempts like the examples above.
In 2019, the hardest-hit triple left the bat of the Kansas City Royals’ Hunter Dozier at 111.9 MPH, while the softest base hit one was a 67.7 MPH triple by Chris Taylor of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which required an unsuccessful diving attempt.
Regardless of how they happen, triples are rare enough that when they do happen, it’s likely that fans will be on their feet cheering as the batter flies around the bases.
What Is a Home Run in Baseball?
We’ve reached the pinnacle of all hits. There are few events in baseball that fire up a stadium full of screaming fans like a home run.
A home run (or homer) is a fair ball that clears an outfield fence on the fly, scoring the batter and any other baserunners. A batter can also hit an inside-the-park home run, which doesn’t clear the outfield wall if the batter can circle the bases without the aid of an error.
It can be argued that the home run is one of the most significant talking points in the past century of baseball.
Ever since Babe Ruth burst onto the scene in the early 1920s and hit home runs farther and in much larger quantities than ever previously imagined, fans have been captivated by the spectacle of a burly slugger blasting baseballs over faraway fences.
In addition to being the most talked about, home runs also probably have the most nicknames: homers, long balls, dingers, taters, four-baggers, blasts, big flies, round-trippers, and many others.
In recent years, home runs have been more prevalent than ever, as 2019 saw Major League Baseball players belt a record 6,776 home runs, an average of 226 per team. In the process, the two-year-old record of 6,105 long balls was shattered by more than 10 percent.
Even with the spike in the past few years, home runs still are in the minority of total batter hits, with just over 16% of all batter hits in 2019 leaving the ballpark.
Virtually all of these were the result of a batter cranking a ball over the outfield wall, with a smattering of inside-the-park homers mixed in as well. Now, when I say a smattering, I mean it.
Of those 6,776 homers hit in 2019, exactly 13 of them were of the inside-the-park variety. It’s such a rare play, that you can fit a whole season of them into one six-minute video.
Needless to say, with most home runs clearing the wall, a batter will usually need to hit a ball awfully hard to hit a home run.
Excluding inside-the-park homers, the softest home run hit since 2016 (courtesy of Eugenio Suarez of the Cincinnati Reds) still left the bat at a respectable 86.7 MPH.
On the other end of the spectrum, many of the hardest (and farthest) hit balls are home runs, with the afore-mentioned Giancarlo Stanton leading the way, belting a 449-foot rocket in 2018 that left his bat at a staggering 121.7 MPH.
Perhaps the reason why fans are enamored with home runs is because of the strength and difficulty required to hit one in the major leagues.
When a batter really gets a hold of one, the results can be jaw-dropping.
What Is a Pinch-Hit in Baseball?
There is one more form of base hit to cover, though in some ways it’s covered by the other four types we’ve already gone through, and that would be the pinch-hit.
We’ll touch on it because you may hear the term and think, “well, what’s the difference between a hit and a pinch-hit?”
A pinch-hit is a situation when a batter hits in place of another player and collects a base hit. The term originates because substitute hitters (known as pinch hitters) are often used in tight, late-game situations, or as it referred to in the early days of baseball, “in a pinch.”
In modern-day baseball, pinch hitters are used primarily in the National League, where weak-hitting pitchers still are part of lineups, so naturally, the need exists in critical situations to put a bona fide hitter at the plate in place of a pitcher.
Naturally, in 2019, more than 75% of all pinch-hit plate appearances were from National League teams.
Across baseball, 1,097 hits were collected by pinch-hitters in 2019, or roughly 2.6% of all hits in baseball that year.
That said, using a so-called “leverage index,” which gauges how important a certain situation is in the game, pinch hitters were used, on average, in situations that had 30% more leverage than the average situation, showing that they are still truly used “in a pinch.”
Do Walks Count as Hits?
Walks don’t count as a base hit in modern baseball, but they did in 1887. In 1968, the Special Baseball Records Committee decided to no longer count the walks batters received in 1887. Major League Baseball reversed this decision in 2000.
Historical Numbers for Hitters in Baseball
- In 2019, the average team collected 8.65 hits per game or just under one per inning. The modern-era record (since 1901) is 10.37 hits per game, set in 1930. The lowest figure is 7.75 hits per game, set in 1908.
- The most hits by one batter in a season is 262, set by Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners in 2004. Ichiro also set the record for most singles in a season that year, with 225. The career record for hits is held by Pete Rose, with 4,256 hits between 1963-86.
- The record for most doubles in a season is 67, set by Earl Webb of the Boston Red Sox in 1931. The career record belongs to Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, who accumulated 792 career doubles from 1907-28.
- The single-season record for triples is held by Owen “Chief” Wilson of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who legged out 36 of them in 1912. The career record is held by Sam Crawford, who legged out 309 three-baggers from 1899-1917.
- The single-season and career records for most home runs are both held by Barry Bonds. Bonds swatted 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001, punctuating a career in which he crushed 762 home runs from 1986-2007.
- The most home runs by a team in a season is 307, set by the 2019 Minnesota Twins. The top four figures were all set during the 2019 campaign. The fewest was by the 1908 Chicago White Sox, who hit a total of three round-trippers in 156 games that season.
- The 1930 Philadelphia Phillies collected the most team hits in a season, swatting a staggering 1,783 hits (11.4 per game) and batting .315 as a team (third-highest of the modern era). However, they also sported the worst pitching staff in baseball history, so they finished in last place with a record of 52-102.
- The most hits by one team in a game is 33, done by the Cleveland Indians on July 10, 1931. Cleveland’s Johnny Burnett also set a record with nine hits (in 11 at-bats) that day. However, Cleveland managed to lose 18-17 in 18 innings to the Philadelphia Athletics.
- Just two days later, on July 12, 1931, the St. Louis Cardinals set a record by lining 13 doubles in a 17-13 win over the Chicago Cubs in the second game of a doubleheader.
- In the second game of a May 30, 1925 doubleheader, the Pittsburgh Pirates bashed a record eight triples in a 15-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
- The Toronto Blue Jays hold the major league record for most homers in a baseball game, crushing 10 of them in an 18-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles on September 14, 1987. On June 10, 2019, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies set another record by combining to hit 13 home runs in a baseball game. Arizona launched eight homers in a 13-8 win, while Philadelphia contributed five long balls of their own.