One of the most sought after skills in baseball is stealing bases. Few players work on base stealing, because it's difficult to recreate the scenarios in practice. This article, which is intended for baseball players 12 and older, outlines four steps for successful base stealing.
1. Take a Lead
A base runner can take any one of several types of leads. The normal lead is 3-1/2 large steps off the bag. If you count 3-1/2 steps off the bag, you should be approximately one step back. With your body length and your arm outstretched, you should be able to touch the bag.
The second lead is a one-way lead. It is typically used when you are facing a left-handed pitcher and your team needs to see what kind of pickoff move he has. The one-way lead is larger, maybe 4 to 4-1/2 steps off the bag. As soon as the pitcher moves, you take a big step back toward the bag, expecting the pitcher to try to pick you off. This is a cat-and-mouse game with the pitcher. The players who gain information on every pitch will have the knowledge necessary to excel later in the game.
2. Set Your Feet
Feet placement is vital to allow the base runner to either steal a base or get back to the bag if the pitcher picks. An athletic stance with your weight centered is the ideal position to produce a powerful first step, whether to take off or dive back to the bag. Eric Cressey demonstrates this in the above video.
3. Anticipate the Pitch
We encourage base stealers to guess when to take off. We time pitchers and use that against them if they use consistent timing—i.e., from when they establish their set position to when they begin their movement to throw the ball toward home plate. Many pitchers get into a rhythm, and they begin their movement to throw home between 1 and 2 seconds after setting up.
Left-handed pitchers are tougher to read and run against, because they have up to a 45-degree angle in which to step toward first base for a pickoff attempt. We teach our base runners to take off on the first movement from a left-handed pitcher. If the pitcher goes to first, we hope our base runners can beat the throws from the pitcher to first, then from first to second.
When we steal against a right-handed pitcher, we teach our players to trust their instincts. They sometimes leave a little early. The key to learning typically comes from failing a few times at first.
4. Time Your Sprint
After he sees the pitcher and catcher throw the ball, every great base runner knows instinctively whether he can steal against them. He combines this with the knowledge of exactly how long it takes him to get from his lead position to the next base. Use a stopwatch to determine how long it takes the pitcher to throw home from his set position. Add the time it takes for the catcher to rise up and throw to the next base. If your sprinting time is less than their total time, you should be safe.
When we conduct training camps, we are often surprised that so many high school baseball players have no idea how long it takes them to go from base to base. The average time for good collegiate players to steal second base is 3-1/2 seconds. The average college pitcher takes 1.4 seconds to throw the ball home, and the average college catcher takes approximately 2 seconds to catch the ball, rise up and and throw to second.
The delay steal is a great way for slower runners to steal a base. Every base runner on the team takes a quality secondary lead, meaning they take two shuffles toward the next bag to gain momentum when the ball is hit, the pitch is in the dirt, or another opportunity presents itself to move up on the base path. If the middle infielders do not move toward second base after every pitch, the base runner can take advantage by taking off to steal after the second shuffle. The delay steal is designed to take the opposition by surprise. My teams try two or three delay steals per weekend in addition to five to seven straight steals. This is a great equalizer when we play against teams that have high quality pitching.
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