Understanding the complex terminology of baseball is the first condition for fully appreciating this sport. New fans sometimes struggle to differentiate between different events in the game, and learning the names of each is a good place to start. One commonly mentioned term that relates to a type of hit is ‘fly ball’, but it may not be entirely apparent which hits should be counted as such. Fly ball shouldn’t present a problem, as it refers to a simple concept and can be seen many times during each game,
To help baseball enthusiasts understand what a fly ball in baseball is, why is it such an integral part of the game, and what to anticipate when it occurs, we outlined the most relevant facts about this type of hit.
Definition of a fly ball in baseball
The term ‘fly ball’ refers to a batted ball that is sent into the field in a high-arching trajectory. Such a ball is the result of a powerful hit by a batter and is defined both by its path and the location where it ends up. Fly ball is considered as one of four types of hits in baseball, along with line drive, pop-up, and grounder. Like all other batted balls, a fly ball can be either a fair or foul ball depending on whether it stays inside the foul lines or not. Those that are considered fair need to be caught by fielders, preferably while still in the air.
It’s important to keep in mind that fly ball is just a statistical description and that for practical purposes it is treated the same way as all other types of batted balls. The fly ball rules are mostly identical to those governing other hits, with one notable exception, the so-called in-field fly. This rule only comes into force when at least two bases are occupied but there are less than two outs in the inning, and it prevents the defense from intentionally letting the ball hit the ground in the hopes of initiating a force play and eliminating multiple runners.
What can be the outcome of a fly ball?
Several things could happen depending on whether the ball lands on the ground and where that occurs. As previously mentioned, a fly ball that is aimed into the fair territory is live and can be acted upon, while foul balls can be ignored and result in an automatic strike for the batter. If the ball is fair and flies out of the ballpark, it results in a home run, and the batting team scores one or more runs on the play. However, a more interesting case is what happens when a fly ball in baseball falls into the field.
If the ball is caught without ever touching the ground, the batter will be immediately ruled out and it can be the third and final out. On the other hand, if it hits the ground it must be picked up and quickly thrown to the base being attacked by a runner. This is why fielders must train how to catch a fly ball as the potential reward for a successful catch is very valuable. On the other hand, the batter and other baserunners will start moving out as soon as the ball comes off the bat, so any mistake by the defense can result in a lost base or a scored run.
What is the difference between fly ball and pop fly?
While it would be tempting to describe any high-arching shot as a fly ball, technically this wouldn’t be 100% correct. Only balls that reach the outfield should be counted as true fly balls, while shorter hits are regarded as a separate category. A batted ball that flies high up before descending into the infield is more accurately defined as a pop fly, a similar but slightly different case from a classic fly ball. Since a pop fly spends less time traveling through the air, the reaction time for fielders is shorter and the impact of any errors is magnified.
The sharp trajectory of a pop fly can make the ball even more difficult to locate in the air and catch cleanly, so positioning and anticipation mean even more. Hence, tactical reaction to a fly ball or a pop fly in baseball should be carefully calibrated. On the other hand, from the official standpoint those hits are treated similarly and both carry a risk of the batter being eliminated upon catch. The umpire can decide whether to declare a pop fly to be an infield fly, with the implications on the game as presented above.
How frequently do baseball hitters use the fly ball in the modern game?
Anyone who watches baseball at least casually can tell you that a fly ball is a very common occurrence. In the present era which is so focused on power-hitting and chasing home runs, fly balls are far more frequent than they used to be in the early days. On average, approximately 35% of all hits in the MLB today are fly balls, compared to around 45% for grounders and only 20% for line drives. However, the mix is different for every individual player and may also change depending on the type of pitching and the number of runners on the bases.
Obviously, the fly ball is a major weapon in modern baseball that puts fielders into a difficult position if used skillfully, and its relevance can only increase in the near future. That’s why batters have to master the technique of hitting the baseball high into the air while controlling the direction and angle. Poorly placed fly balls are either foul or easily caught, so precision matters just as much as power. This is especially evident in youth baseball, where home runs are not as prevalent and control of every hit means much more. Only the most skilled hitters can confidently swing for the fences with a high-flying blast that suddenly drops from the sky.