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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 April, 2004, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Baseball jargonbuster

Don't know your RBI from your ERA? Not sure what making a triple play or hitting a sacrifice fly involves?

Baseball is a simple game complicated by jargon, so here is BBC Sport Interactive's guide to the key terms that might cause confusion during the Olympics.


Anybody who played rounders or softball at school should have a rudimentary grasp of the rules of baseball. Here are the fielding positions used in the game, and a link to a simple guide to its basic rules.


AT BATS (AB): Turns at batting. Normally four or five per game for a starting outfield player.

HITS (H): Any time a player connects with the ball and gets to at least first base. This is the most important statistic for a non-pitcher.

You don't get a hit if a fielder makes a mistake, known as an error, or decides to throw to another base to get somebody else out, a fielder's choice.

Getting to first is called a single, second a double, third a triple (quite rare), and all the way around is a home run. But they all count as one hit.

BATTING AVERAGE (AVG): As in cricket, this is the key measure of a player's worth. In short, this is hits divided by at bats.

The average is calculated as a fraction of one, ie. 0.300 (the benchmark of a good player) means the batter gets a hit in 30% of his at bats. Hence, you may see references to a player's average being .300.

Batting averages do not include getting on base via a walk - when the pitcher throws four pitches, or balls outside the strike zone.

Also not counted are sacrifice flies (when a batter hits the ball far enough for a player to advance a base after the catch has been made), being hit by the pitch (which gives you first base), and fielder's choices or errors.

A good batting average is anything over .300; a decent one is about .260; anything below .240 is poor.

Pitchers, like bowlers in cricket, tend to bat at the end of the nine-man order, although towards the end of a close game they, and other bad batters, are often substituted so that pinch hitters can take their at bat.

ON BASE PERCENTAGE (OBP): Like the above but includes all those other bits too. A good OBP is .400 - anything below .300 is bad.

STOLEN BASE (SB): Once on base, fast-running players will try to steal a base - normally from first to second, as second base is the furthest throw for the catcher to make from behind home plate.

The player on base starts running as soon as the pitcher begins his action. If the pitcher attempts to break his action by throwing to first base instead of the plate it is called a balk, which gives the batter first base and advances the man on base to second.

The player attempts to beat the catcher's throw to the second baseman or shortstop (the two fielders who defend the middle of the infield).

SBs are important because if a player gets to second base he can normally get home for a run on a base hit.

A pitcher can try to stop people stealing bases by keeping them close to first base.

The runner will try to get a good head start by going as far from first base as he dares.

But if a pitcher can throw the ball to the first baseman before the runner gets back to the bag, the fielder can tag the him out. This is called a pick off.

RUNS BATTED IN (RBI): After batting averages, this is the most important batting stat. You get an RBI every time you enable someone to score.

So, if you hit a home run you get one because you have scored. If you get hit by the pitch when the bases are loaded (players on first, second and third), you get an RBI as everyone has to move around one base. If you hit a home run with the bases loaded (a grand slam) you get four RBIs.


EARNED RUN AVERAGE (ERA): After their win-loss record, this is the key stat for pitchers (akin to bowling averages in cricket).

An ERA is how many runs a pitcher gives up per nine innings. Runs scored by players who got on base due to an error are not his fault and therefore unearned - a bit like byes on a bowling average.

A good ERA is anything below 4.00 (ie four runs per nine innings), a bad one is 6.00+.

SAVES (SV): Not every pitcher is a starter - most teams have a rotation of four or five starters. The rest of the pitching staff or bull pen (usually 10-12 players) are known as relievers.

When the starting pitcher gets tired or is having an off day, a team manager calls in a reliever.

If the team was still leading when the starter retired, you are attempting to complete the win and earn a save.

The best relievers will normally only pitch the last innings. If the reliever lets the opposition win, that is a blown save. Relievers that bail out starters by pitching for two or more innings are called middle relievers.

A starter going all the way to the end pitches a complete game. If he does this without giving up a hit that is a no-hitter, which is very rare. Even rarer is a perfect game - no hits or walks, just 27 straight outs.

STRIKEOUTS: Three strikes and you're out. The only complicating factor is foul balls. If the batter hits the ball behind the tramlines that extend into the stands from the lines marking first and third base this is called a foul.

This counts as a strike against the batter, but only up to two strikes. You cannot foul out.

Balls are pitches outside the strike zone (over the plate between the batter's knees and chest) - four of those and you get a walk.

A hit batsman speaks for itself - the result is the same as a walk. A wild pitch is when the catcher misses it - if a man is on base he can easily steal a base, maybe two.

DOUBLE PLAY (DP): In a bases loaded situation, if you're on first and the batter hits the ball, you have to start running.

If the ball fails to get past the infield (the innermost four fielders) there is a good chance that they can get the man on base out and still have time to throw to first to get you out. A triple play is very rare.

Links to more Baseball stories



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