Outs are the clock in softball
“Outs are the clock in softball.” This is a phrase I heard or read earlier in the week. Can’t remember who said it — perhaps my friend and fellow coach Rich — but I think this is a great way to think of outs and what you want to do with them, especially late in the game.
To put it into perspective, let’s think about a different sport that does have a clock. I love football, so let’s look at that.
Let’s say you’re losing by 10 points and you have 2:30 left to play. To tie the game you will need to score twice — at least a touchdown and a field goal. To win you will need a two-point conversion as well.
Two minutes and 30 seconds is not a lot of time, but it’s doable. What it means is you need to score quickly, using as little time as possible, then get the ball back and try again. Ideally you’ll score the touchdown first, which takes some of the pressure off.
There are all kinds of plays you could run to try to advance the ball and score. The smart play is to pass, because generally speaking you can move the ball farther and move it closer to the sidelines to get out of bounds and stop the clock. Also, if you’re unsuccessful the clock stops, giving you more time to plan the next play.
You could also run the ball. But it’s tougher to get the ball out of bounds that way, and a good running play generally goes for about four to five yards. If you have a lot of ground to cover you’re expending a lot of time to try to get that score.
It’s all about clock management. Being able to stop the clock without expending timeouts will give you a better chance of scoring. The clock is your enemy at this point, so you need to conserve as much time as you can.
Now let’s bring it back to softball. Unless you’re playing in a tournament with a time limit, your “clock” is the number of outs. The more of them you use, the fewer you have left to try to score. If you’re in a close game, say down by one run, it may be a good move to trade an out for a run. But if you’re behind by two or more, it may not be such a good idea.
Let’s say it’s the top of the sixth, your team is behind by three runs, and you are the visitors. You now have six outs to try to score a minimum of three runs to tie or four to win. (You also may want a couple more to give yourself some insurance.)
In any case, that’s a lot of runs in two innings. You’re probably going to need every out you can get. What that means is you don’t want to be throwing them away by sacrifice bunting, attempting steals (unless you’re positive you can beat the throw) or using other such strategies. You don’t want to send a runner around third on an iffy play either. You’re going to have to trust your hitters to put the ball in play. It still may not work out, but it’s your best bet. You want to extend the inning as long as you can. That means not using up your outs on purpose.
Of course, one other factor that can have an effect is what the actual score is. There’s a huge difference in offensive potential between being behind 16-13 or 4-1.
In a seven-inning game, both teams start with 21 outs. How you use them from there often determines your fate. If you purposely expend one per inning, and your opponent doesn’t, you’ve just cut your allotted number of outs to 14. That’s a pretty big advantage to hand your opponent for no reason other than you don’t know what else to do, or you’re stuck on a single strategy.
If you were told that the local rules dictated that your team gets two outs per inning while your opponents get three, there’s little doubt you’d either protest or leave the contest entirely. But that’s exactly what you’re doing to yourself when you don’t use your outs more intelligently.
Before you just start giving them away, keep that idea in mind. Outs are the clock in our game of fastpitch softball. Don’t run the time needlessly off of yours.