Who Bats First in Baseball and Why? Explained

Michael Claunch

A baseball inning consists of two clearly separate parts, with each team pitching in its respective half of the inning. If you ever paid attention to who bats first in baseball, you might have noticed that the visiting team is always slated to appear on the plate before the home team. The same order is maintained through all 9 innings, so the home team has the last chance to impact the game. It is debatable how much of an advantage can be created by the batting order, but at the very least, this is an interesting topic worth exploring from an impartial standpoint.

Who Bats First in Baseball?

Let’s take a look at the specifics of baseball batting and examine which team bats firms – home or visiting, and why this arrangement has become a part of a worldwide tradition in baseball.

Which team bats first in a regular season or playoff game?

There is a nearly universal convention that the visiting team will bat at the top of each inning, while the host will pitch to open the game and every other period of play. The teams then reverse roles at the bottom of each inning. This rule is applied in all MLB games, regardless of whether they happen during the season or in the playoffs, as well as in professional leagues around the world. While this was originally just a tradition, it eventually became a rule and is enforced automatically today. The idea was to give the home time a slight advantage since by closing each inning they know how many runs they need to score to catch up.

In tournaments and neutral site games there is no natural home and away team, so it’s common to flip a coin and assign who bats first in a baseball game based on the result. Even in such games, the team that was designated ‘home team’ will always bat at the bottom of each inning, maintaining the convention. It’s fair to say that visiting team batting first is a widely accepted tradition in baseball that adds to the charm of this unique sport and gives fans a nice talking point.

What happens after the first batter is finished at the plate?

The visiting team is given the entire half-inning to bat, so when the lead-off hitter either reaches base or is out, the next player in the batting order of the same team comes next. The progression will continue until the pitching team records three outs, and only then will batters from that team have an opportunity to get on the plate. The batting order for each team is set at the start of the game and remains the same unless there is a substitution. While it may take several innings for the entire lineup to rotate, the entire lineup will eventually take a turn.

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This gives the home team pitcher who starts each inning a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of batters and their tendencies. Since in an average game the starting pitcher could see the same batters two or three times, this can represent a tactical advantage. However, batters will also become more accustomed to the pitcher, so some balance will be preserved. Ultimately, the home team will have the last chance to bat and potentially end the game on a run, which is believed to be more important than batting first at the start of the game.

When did the tradition of visitors batting before the home team start?

During the earliest days of baseball, it was an open question does the home team bat first in a particular game. This situation arose because the manager of the home team was given a choice, and quite often they wanted the chance to put the first points on the scoreboard. Over the next few decades, there was a realization that batting last could be a better option, and managers started deferring the first chance at batting to the opponents. Around the beginning of the 20th century, it was established that the home team will bat last almost by default as practically every manager chose to start the game by pitching.

MLB teams still had at least a theoretic possibility to choose batting first at home until 1950, when a new rule requiring the visiting team to bat first was created. Thus the process of formalization of a traditional element of baseball was completed and the question of who bats first in a baseball game was answered for good. While the idea was to give the home team a small advantage, it’s not entirely clear if this was successfully done. Is it possible that the rule change simply encoded a long-maintained bias that doesn’t match the reality?

Is there an advantage or disadvantage in batting first?

Baseball is essentially a sport in which both teams are given equal opportunities to score, so which team bats first has only a minor impact on the outcome, at best. To examine whether this is true, we can look at the numbers describing how well home teams in MLB perform during the regular season as well as in playoffs, as a part of the difference can be explained by the order of batting. At first glance, it appears that home field advantage is significantly smaller than in other major sports and may be diminishing even further in recent years.

Historically speaking, home teams have won 54% of all MLB games, compared to around 60% for NBA basketball and 56% for NFL football. The difference is even less pronounced in the playoffs, despite the fact that better-seeded teams are awarded home field advantage in one additional game. Considering that factors such as rest and crowd support also work in the home team’s favor, it appears that batting first affects the winning percentage in a barely perceptible way. Still, visiting teams will continue to open every baseball game since by now the rule is accepted without questioning, and statistical indicators will do little to change it.

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