I'm struggling to find a good answer as to why a player would not be credited with a stolen base under the official MLB rules. It seems to me that most indifference calls are made when the defending team is far ahead and is wanting to avoid errors more than record outs on attempted stolen bases. This seems like a pretty weak argument, so I'm looking to see if there are others.

Here is rule 10.07 talking about DI (and linked to above):

Rule 10.07(g) Comment: The scorer shall consider, in judging whether the defensive team has been indifferent to a runners advance, the totality of the circumstances, including the inning and score of the game, whether the defensive team had held the runner on base, whether the pitcher had made any pickoff attempts on that runner before the runners advance, whether the fielder ordinarily expected to cover the base to which the runner advanced made a move to cover such base, whether the defensive team had a legitimate strategic motive to not contest the runners advance or whether the defensive team might be trying impermissibly to deny the runner credit for a stolen base. For example, with runners on first and third bases, the official scorer should ordinarily credit a stolen base when the runner on first advances to second, if, in the scorers judgment, the defensive team had a legitimate strategic motivenamely, preventing the runner on third base from scoring on the throw to second basenot to contest the runners advance to second base. The official scorer may conclude that the defensive team is impermissibly trying to deny a runner credit for a stolen base if, for example, the defensive team fails to defend the advance of a runner approaching a league or career record or a league statistical title.

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    Could you quote the rule here. Sometimes links break and it would provide good context to the question – Chad Mar 23 '12 at 17:45
  • @Chad, drewbenn's answer contains a partial quote of the 10.07 comment. Good call on your suggestion though - it's a good practice. – JW8 Mar 23 '12 at 20:52
  • The MLB rulebook is copyrighted. I don't know how vigorously MLB pursues copyright violations, or how much of a rule we can quote while staying within copyright law ("Fair Use" and friends). Seems like the general issue has already been raised (meta.sports.stackexchange.com/questions/38/…), but I don't know how to apply the answer to Chad's suggestion (is it okay to quote a full rule in a question? In an answer? I imagine that with just one sentence per answer we could still end up with the entire rulebook quoted here). – drewbenn Mar 25 '12 at 7:51
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    @drewbenn - It is fair use to use a quote so long as it is attributed. I am suggesting just the rule not the whole section or chapter. – Chad Mar 26 '12 at 12:38
  • I've added in the part of 10.07 that relates to defensive indifference. – Will Cole Mar 27 '12 at 15:00

According to this 2009 NY Times article about defensive indifference:

Defensive indifference is exactly what it connotes: a situation when a team was unconcerned about preventing the runner from advancing. After official scorers consider the score and the inning, if the pitcher made pickoff attempts and if the first baseman was positioned behind the runner, they determine if the dash was a steal or defensive indifference.

“It’s an old rule and a very good rule,” said Bill Shannon, who has been a scorer for 31 seasons. “I’m loath to give away statistical achievements.”

But what about the runner who has successfully scooted the 90 feet? Some players contend they should be credited with a stolen base. If the team’s defensive strategy was to give away the base, should the runner be rewarded for taking what was available?

and also

Defensive indifference is a sleepy but established rule that has been in Major League Baseball for 89 years. Bob Waterman, a senior baseball staffer at Elias, said the addendum, “No stolen base shall be credited to a runner who is allowed to advance without an effort being made to stop him,” was placed in the 1920 rule book. The rule is typically enforced in the ninth inning of a lopsided game when the defense yawns as a runner grabs a meaningless base.

The article also notes:

Steve Hirdt, the executive vice president of Elias, noticed references to defensive indifference while researching play-by-play accounts of games from the 1920s. In an article about the imminent rule change in The Chicago Tribune on Jan. 30, 1920, there is a headline that reads, “Cut Out the Joke Steals.” Hirdt called it a good rule because it protects “the spirit of what a stolen base is.

It seems that baseball's rule makers had a very strict definition of what a stolen base was - they did not want meaningless stat padding. This rule helps to make an "earned" steal more valuable and keeps a lopsided game moving by discouraging teams from tacking on "steals" that won't impact the outcome of the game.


Defensive Indifference should be scored pretty rarely. If there's no reason to prevent the runner from advancing, the runner probably won't be trying to advance! You normally see it when you have a baserunner hoping to keep a late rally (or potential rally) alive despite a big score differential; since it can prevent a game-ending double play it's not a terrible idea to get to second base, but if you still need to string together several hits to get back into the game, stealing second base isn't really going to affect the outcome.

The 10.07(g) Comment may be enlightening, and you may want to re-read it a couple times (it's pretty dense). Especially the parts about "consider...the totality of the circumstances, including the inning and score of the game," and "a legitimate strategic motive to not contest the runner's advance."

If the game is close and the catcher doesn't believe he can make the throw to second in time to challenge the runner, and a bad throw could allow the runner to get an extra base, that's not defensive indifference: it's a "legitimate strategic motive:" not making a risky, very-low-percentage play that is far more likely to severely hurt you than it is to help you.

On the other hand, if for example you have a 5 run lead and 1 out in the last inning, the runner on the basepaths is really irrelevant. Even if they score the opposing team is going to have to score 4* more batters just to tie, and you'll have plenty of chances to turn those batters into outs. In that case, the catcher that holds onto the ball after a pitch is truly indifferent: he doesn't care what the runner does, because the run can't hurt the team. So the scorer should not credit the runner with a stolen base, because there was no risk in attempting to advance to an undefended base.

*except of course the runners-on-the-corners case, in which case they still need 3 batters to score.

  • The example you cite with needing 4 runs is still "a legitimate strategic motive to not contest the runner's advance." – Chad Mar 23 '12 at 13:05
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    @chad it's up to the scorekeeper. But if the stolen base is unlikely to affect the outcome of the game (typically because it's very late in the game with a large score differential) and the defense isn't going to try to stop the runner because they feel that runner advancing and perhaps eventually scoring will have no effect on the outcome, the scorekeeper should score it an FC to prevent the baserunner from getting to pad their stats with a meaningless, uncontested move. – drewbenn Mar 23 '12 at 16:50
  • I've thought about this some more after reading the comments and answers and thought of a pretty good analogy. A hitter who intentionally gets himself out in order to advance or score a runner is not penalized in his batting average stat. That strategic rule is in place as to not sully one stat (Batting Average) because of circumstances of a game. I think the best thing to do for the MLB is to just make it more definitive (even if it is arbitrary). IE Defensive Indifference comes into effect in the 8th inning if score differential is 10 runs, 9th inning 5 runs etc... – Will Cole Mar 27 '12 at 16:35
  • @WillCole don't forget: scoring a sacrifice bunt is still up to the official scorer, "unless, in the judgment of the official scorer, the batter was bunting exclusively for a base hit" (10.08(a))! MLB expects the scorer to make decisions based on their experience with the game (sabermetrics hasn't penetrated this far into MLB yet ;)) and explicitly gives them "sole authority to make all decisions [scoring plays] that involve judgement" (10.01(a)). – drewbenn Mar 27 '12 at 17:12
  • I don't agree that DI is scored rarely... Just about every time the batting team is way behind and is down to their last out but has a runner on first, he goes to second on DI. – JoelFan May 3 '12 at 3:55

I would assume this is also so no stat padding is done on the behalf of a player looking to add additional steal totals to his statistics. I can see plenty of times when a game is out of reach and a player reaching first and taking 2nd for no reason just to add steals to his total. At the end of the season instead of the true 10 bases stolen +10 DI's it would appear the player stole 20 bases when his number should only be half of that.

it would be cool if there was a formula to compile an OPS. for a player for when it only counted towards the game and not garbage time. If a player hits 15 garbage time home runs to add on to his season total what good was his 35 home runs really other than proving he can dominate lesser late game pitching.

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    The modified OPS suggestion is a very interesting proposition, and one that could be quite useful to sabermetricians, especially if some major discrepancies were found. But I would think trying to calculate that would be very difficult and possibly somewhat subjective, (not unlike WAR, really). Definitely a good idea. – Andy Mar 26 '12 at 16:50
  • I'm no stat expert but I would suspect they could come up with something. If I had to guess it would be based off the run difference and the inning. So for example if your team is down 4 or less runs in the 9th inning those stats would count the most. 1 because your facing the other teams best pitcher(s) and 2 your team is down. If you team is down 6 in the 9th it would be considered garbage time. Same with if your team is up 1 in the 8th and you hit a 3 run home run that would be worth a lot more than a 3 run home run in a 10 run game in the 8th. – Gary R Feroz Mar 29 '12 at 2:26

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