What is a Pinch Hitter in Baseball?

NLCS - San Francisco Giants v St Louis Cardinals - Game Two

The date is August 8th, 1889. Mickey Welch steps to the plate as Major League Baseball’s first pinch hitter; he strikes out. While his at-bat ended in failure, from that point on the strategy of baseball has changed forever. The pinch hitter has become a commonly used feature of the game and pinch hit home runs can change the landscape of a baseball game; so what is a pinch hitter in baseball?

What is a pinch hitter?

A pinch hitter is a batter who comes in as a substitute for another baseball player. The name comes from the term “in a pinch” because they are usually needed in high leverage situations.

Pinch hitters can be used at any time as long as the substitute has not already entered the game. The pinch hitter will take the place of the batter they are replacing in the field.

However, some managers will replace the pinch hitter after he bats. This is different from a pinch runner who comes on after a player reaches base.

When is a pinch hitter normally used?

A pinch hitter is commonly used whenever a pitcher is being replaced after an inning. This is because the pitcher is usually the weakest batter in the lineup.

However, any batter can be replaced depending on the situation and the strengths and weaknesses of each batter.

Most of the time pinch hitters are used during the late innings of games. Pinch hitters are seldom used in the American league, where the designated hitter rule is used, due to the pitcher not batting. This means that most pinch hitters appear in the national league.

What players normally pinch hit?

Any player from any position can be used as a pinch hitter, but many managers tend to not use certain defensive positions. Most managers tend to draw from bench infielders and outfielders, usually the best hitter out of that group.

  • Catchers are seldom used because most rosters carry very few catchers.
  • Pitchers are also seldom used because most pitchers are not effective as replacement hitters.

What is a double switch?

A rare use of the pinch hitter rule comes in the form of a double switch. The double switch is when a relief pitcher takes the spot of a defensive player who is yet to bat and a defensive player comes in at the pitcher spot.

Note: To make a double switch, the manager has to go to the umpire ​before​ visiting the mound. If not, the new players stay in the same batting order of the prior positions.

The double switch swaps the batting order and moves the pitcher spot to a different part of the lineup. This is used when a manager wants to replace both a defensive player and pitcher while also using a pinch hitter.

The double switch is seldom used and has become rare due to the Universal DH, designated hitter, now instituted in the MLB.

Who are some notable pinch hitters?

  • Mickey Welch​: The first Pinch Hitter to appear in a MLB game
  • Tom Daly​: The first pinch hitter to hit a home run
  • Yogi Berra​: The first pinch hitter to hit a home run in a World Series game
  • Lenny Harris​: The record holder for most pinch hits in a MLB career