How Many Fouls Can You Commit in Baseball?

Michael Claunch

How many fouls in baseball can you make without being eliminated from a game?

Fouls exist in almost every team sport, and they always represent a violation of the rules that typically results in some kind of penalty for the offending player. In basketball, players can foul out of the game if they collect enough personal fouls, while in soccer, two yellow cards will result in an instant send-off. However, the meaning of a foul in baseball is slightly different so if you are trying to make a full analogy with soccer or basketball you might come to a completely wrong conclusion. Instead of a personal foul, in baseball there is only a foul ball, and that carries a whole different set of implications that would make no sense in any other sport.

This situation warrants a closer explanation, since understanding what a foul is in baseball and how it affects the game is essential for any fan. The best way to start is to provide a definition and some examples, followed by answering some common questions.

What is a foul in baseball?

Any ball hit by a batter that lands outside of the fair territory (i.e. the field) is considered a foul ball. This territory is demarcated by the foul lines and four poles, making it very easy to track when a ball flies outside of this zone. Those lines are located along the first and third base, so any hits that veer too wide will land in foul territory. Another scenario is that a ball makes contact with a fielder who is standing in foul territory, in which case it is also considered a foul ball, and it doesn’t have to be caught. Thus, a foul in baseball can be described as an illegal hit that results from the inability of a batter to keep the ball on the playing field.

A difference between a legal hit (or even a home run) and a foul ball can be just a few inches, so determining when a ball is foul is very important and requires careful examination by the umpire. In fact, a ball that hits a pole is considered fair, so there are often dramatic moments where a batter just barely avoids a foul and the defense is left scrambling to field a tricky deflected ball.

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Interestingly, when a fan manages to catch a foul ball, he can keep it. So it is worth considering what are the best seats to watch a baseball game. You may be able to catch one.

What happens after a foul in baseball?

If a batter hits a foul ball, it will count as a strike since he did swing at the ball and attempted to make a play. The play is immediately stopped, the pitch count is adjusted, and the batter goes back to the plate to try again. Importantly, a foul ball can’t cause the decisive third strike so it’s not possible to strike out on a foul. If the ball goes outside of fair territory while the batter has two strikes, the pitcher will continue throwing until he retires the batter or the batter advances. This motivates the batters to be more aggressive with two strikes on the record and try hitting more difficult shots near the poles.

There is one exception to this rule, and it involves a foul tip. A foul tip is not exactly the same thing as a foul ball, as it pertains to a case where a ball is directly sent into the catcher’s hands off the bat. As per baseball foul ball rules, this can count as the third strike and complete the strikeout. It’s important to note that a catcher must legally catch the ball for the foul tip to be awarded.

How many fouls baseball players can make in a game?

Anyone still pondering whether “can you foul out in baseball?” should rest assured that a player can’t be eliminated from the game for hitting foul balls. As opposed to sports like basketball, in baseball, the number of fouls a player can have in a game is not limited, and there is no need to strategize how to avoid reaching it. However, since a foul ball counts as a strike, it’s more logical to examine how many fouls in baseball you can make during a single plate appearance.

Considering only the first two foul balls are counted as strikes, there is no obstacle to the player hitting quite a few fouls in a row before finally either scoring a run or striking out. The number can sometimes get ridiculously high, resulting in a very long at-bat. The MLB record for most foul balls in a single inning was set in 2018 by Brandon Belt of the San Francisco Giants. He had 16 fouls during a 13-minute plate appearance that included 21 total pitches. This is not an isolated occurrence, as the modern MLB frequently feature long battles between pitchers and batters that include a huge number of fouls.

How common are foul balls in baseball?

Foul balls can be seen in every baseball game, and almost every batter has one or more during each at-bat. More than a quarter of all strikes in MLB games come from fouls, with the percentage slowly rising from 26.5% in 1998 to the record level of 27.9% in 2017. This illustrates that fouls are a normal part of baseball and shouldn’t be avoided by young players or professionals. Since batters are not penalized any more severely for a foul than for a swing-and-miss, there is no real downside to fouling a lot.

However, the high frequency of foul balls slows down the action and makes baseball more painful to watch, especially for casual fans. One explanation for this trend has been the increasing velocity of the average pitch, which makes it more difficult to control where the ball goes. Of course, batters have a role in it too, since they are frequently attempting high-difficulty shots close to the edge of the field. Without a limit of foul balls in place, it’s nearly certain that a large portion of MLB batters will continue to blast a lot of pitches outside of the lines.

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