A hit-and-run is a strategy used on offense. With a runner on first base, the strategy calls for the runner to break towards second base with the pitch and for the batter to swing at the pitch, no matter where it is, in order to put the ball in play. The strategy can be attempted with more than one runner on base, as long as first base is occupied.
The strategy has a number of objectives:
- the runner's break for second base, as on a stolen base attempt, means that one of the infielders has to cover the bag. This opens a hole on either the right or left side of the infield, increasing the gap for a ground ball to break through to the outfield.
- if the batter hits a ground ball at a fielder, the chance of turning a double play is much reduced because the runner will already be part way to second base when the ball is hit.
- if the ball is hit safely, the runner will likely advance an extra base because he is already running.
The downsides of the strategy are as follows:
- if the batter swings and misses, or if the pitch is a ball, the runner is likely to be caught stealing; because a hit-and-run is not a "straight" steal attempt, the runner usually does not take as much of a jump as if he were trying to steal, and therefore is much more likely to get caught if there is a throw to second base.
- if the batter lines out, the runner will likely be caught off his base for an easy double play.
- because the batter has to protect the runner by swinging at the pitch no matter where it is, he is more likely to make poor contact, resulting in an out (although the runner is likely to advance to second), even though a man-on-base situation usually increases batting average. The result is thus equivalent to a sacrifice hit.
As a result, the hit-and-run is considered to be a "one-run strategy", like the sacrifice bunt or the stolen base, meaning that it increases to a certain extent a team's chance of scoring exactly one run in an inning, but decreases its chance of scoring more than one run. Therefore, it is often decried by adherents of sabermetrics and extolled by proponents of "small ball". Beyond the controversy, it is certain that the hit-and-run is more likely to succeed with a contact hitter at the plate and a runner that is not too slow.
The hit-and-run is a very old strategy, dating back at least to the 1890's. Like many of the strategies dating back to that era, former Brooklyn Dodgers Manager Wilbert Robinson would later claim that it was invented by his teammates on the old Baltimore Orioles. In fact, its exact origin is unknown.
A variant of the hit-and-run is the "run-and-hit" in which the runner breaks as if for a stolen base and the batter has the option to swing or not, depending on the runner's jump and the quality of the pitch (any time there are 3 balls, the play is correctly referred to as a "run-and-hit" as the batter can take without need to protect the runner). The "run-and-hit requires a good base-stealer and a disciplined hitter to execute properly and is not really any more advantageous than a straight stolen base attempt. The term run-and-hit is sometimes argued to be the correct description of a hit-and-run, since the runner runs first, and then the batter hits.