What Is Defensive Indifference in Baseball? A Complete Guide

A runner attempts to steal 2nd base.

There are so many rules in baseball that fans have to keep up with that doing so can seem daunting. One of these lesser-known rules is “defensive indifference”.

So, what is defensive indifference in baseball?

Defensive indifference is when the defense makes no attempt to throw out a baserunner that is attempting to steal a base. A stolen base is not awarded on defensive indifference. Defensive indifference most commonly occurs when the pitcher and catcher are not worried about runners advancing a base.

While that’s a quick overview of defensive indifference, we’ll go into much greater detail throughout the rest of this article. So, stick around!

What Is Defensive Indifference?

Although you might think that defensive indifference is a new rule, it is not. In fact, the rule has been around since 1920 added it under MLB Rule 10.07. The rule states that if a runner advances a base and no attempts are made to throw them out, then no stolen base is awarded and the player remains at the advanced base.

When Did Defensive Indifference Become a Rule?

In the Jan. 30, 1920 issue of The Chicago Tribune, there was an article that discussed the impending rule changes regarding defensive indifference. The headline of this article reads, “Cut Out the Joke Steals.”

For example, players prior to the 1920 season would steal bases like crazy during a lopsided blowout or late in the game when there were two outs and they trailed by enough runs that it would not matter if they advanced or not.

It was a loophole that needed fixing so Major League Baseball decided to make a rule that would allow the official scorer a chance to make that determination on a game-by-game basis. And since the stolen base is a rule that is very clearly defined in baseball.

How Is Defensive Indifference Scored?

When the official scorer makes the decision to rule a stolen base attempt as defensive indifference, no stolen base is awarded. The runner is still allowed to remain on whatever base he advanced to but will not be rewarded a stolen base.

The base taken during a defensive indifference actually goes into the scorebook as a fielder’s choice since the catcher made the decision to ignore the runner and make no attempt to throw him out on the steal attempt.

Because it is a fielder’s choice, if the runner were to score, unless he scores because of a direct error, it will also remain an earned run against the pitcher.

Does Defensive Indifference Count as a Steal?

The answer is no. Defensive indifference eliminates the stolen base and the stolen base attempt from the scorebook. Any player that tries to steal a base in a situation where defensive indifference can be ruled, will end up getting no steal awarded.

Defensive Indifference vs Stolen Base

A runner slides into 2nd base on a steal attempt.

When comparing defensive indifference to stolen bases, you need to first understand what a stolen base is officially. A stolen base is whenever a runner advances to another base that he was not entitled to and the defense makes a valid attempt to throw him out. This normally happens when a pitcher begins to throw the ball towards home plate.

During the pitcher’s windup, the runner takes off and attempts to advance to the next base. It becomes an official stolen base once the scorer makes the ruling.

The thing that separates a stolen base from being called defensive indifference is if the defense makes an attempt to throw him out. Even if the catcher drops the ball when trying to make the throw, it is still an attempt and therefore makes it a stolen base.


What Are Wild Pitches and Passed Balls?

When it comes to scorekeeping in baseball, there are a lot of times when the rules are not simply black and white. Sometimes, a scorer has to make an educated decision based on a number of factors involving certain plays.

Two times in which a scorer has to make a tough choice is when deciding between a wild pitch or a passed ball.

A wild pitch (WP) is defined by Major League Baseball as a pitch that is so errant that the catcher was unable to control it and at least one baserunner advances because of the wild pitch. If there are no baserunners, and the errant pitch is not a third strike then a wild pitch cannot be ruled against the pitcher.

A passed ball is the same as a wild pitch but instead of the pitcher being at fault, it is the catcher who causes the baseball to get passed him. The official scorer must make the decision of whether or not the catcher should have made the play or not. Once again, this can only happen with baserunners on base.

The simplest way to understand the difference between the two rules is that the wild pitch is the pitcher’s fault while the passed ball is the catcher’s fault.

What Is Catcher’s Interference?

The official rule is actually called “defensive interference” because it refers to a fielder and not just the catcher. However, in just about every single case, the only player that can interfere when a batter is trying to hit a pitch is the catcher. So the rule has been called catcher’s interference instead.

The rule states that if a fielder interferes, hinders, or prevents a batter from hitting a pitch, then it is interference and the hitter is given first base. The umpire will allow the play to continue in case the final outcome benefits the hitting team more than just awarding him one base.

In other words, if the interference happens but the hitter still manages to hit the ball, the umpire will let the play go on and wait until it is over before making the final decision.

Does a Steal Count if the Catcher Doesn’t Throw the Ball?

If a runner attempts to steal a base and the catcher does not attempt to throw the ball, the official scorer has to determine if it should be a stolen base or defensive indifference.

In order for the scorer to do that, they have to put themselves in that situation and think like the catcher. The scorer has to quickly ask themselves a set of questions to help make the right call.

Did he not make a throw because once he got up, the runner was so far ahead, it would be pointless? Was the catcher more worried about the baserunner on 3rd base and did not make a throw to prevent that runner on 3rd base from scoring?

Or did the catcher simply not care to make a throw because the runner advancing to the next base meant nothing in terms of the game’s final outcome?

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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