If you’ve got a thing for bags but hate paying for them, we’ve got great news for you. We talked to Bobby Mitchell—the man who helped the Los Angeles Angels steal more bags in the past two seasons than any other team in the Bigs. Now manager of the Single A Ranchero Cucamonga Quakes, Mitchell led the Angels to 143 steals in 2004 and 161 in 2005.
He says, “If you want to be a base stealer, you have work on it; it has to be a priority. You can’t neglect that side of your game and expect to be successful—especially at the higher levels. We’ve got guys who steal bases like crazy in rookie ball, but when they get up to AA and AAA, catchers are better, pitchers are smarter. So, if you’re not improving with the competition, you’re not doing yourself any good.”
Mitchell offers some game-time tips to help you steal bags with the grace of an Angel.
Don’t be afraid to get off the bag. Your lead should be far enough from the bag that you have to dive back when the pitcher throws. If you get back feet-first, you’re not far enough away.
Each player takes a measured lead—a certain number of steps off the bag where he still feels comfortable getting back to first, no matter who’s on the mound.
Take your lead off the backside of the bag. When the pitcher throws over to first, dive to the back corner—the right field corner. That tag takes a little longer for the first baseman. If the throw is a little high, you can get under.
One of the first things I tell players about stealing bases is, ‘Have an aggressive mindset.’ When you’ve got a lead at first, you better be thinking about getting to second instead of going back to first—until you see the pitcher coming over.
You’ll get into stealing slumps where you go 0-3 or 0-4, but don’t lose confidence and quit. Keep the same positive, aggressive attitude at all times. You’ll be much more successful and break out of the slump a lot quicker.
Most young players point their toes toward home or the third base line. I teach my players to point toward the front of the pitcher’s mound so they can turn and square their shoulders to second quickly.
Open your right foot and stagger it toward right field. Don’t open it so much that you won’t be able to get back to first, and don’t place it too far forward that you won’t be able to cross over with your left.
Don’t get too low in your stance. If you’re too low, crossing over with your left foot and quickly squaring your shoulders to second are very difficult.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. This can change slightly depending on the athlete, but just past shoulder-width is standard.
Keep your center of balance slightly to the right. Your crossover step won’t be strong if your weight is too far back on your left foot.
Really dig the front cleats of your left foot for traction—almost like the blocks for a sprinter. Stand on the balls of your feet so your heels are just off the ground. If they’re too high, your weight will be too far forward and you’ll waste time dropping your left heel before you go.
A lot of athletes waste time by taking a small step back with their right foot, pivoting and then stepping with their left foot. We eliminate these steps by starting with the right foot back and then taking a crossover step with the left foot.
Remember, keep your weight slightly right of center. Then when you push off your left foot, your top half moves over your right leg, and you’ll square up to second base. Don’t drive, then square up. Drive as you square up to second.
Staying low at the start is very hard to learn. Some players stand straight up out of their stance, but that slows you down. Focus your eyes slightly beyond the bag when you take off to stay low.
Make sure your crossover step is directly toward second base. Otherwise, you’ll have to use your next step to straighten out, wasting time. By keeping the right foot slightly open, your crossover will be straight toward second.
Your hands should never be on your knees in your stance. They have to come off your knees when you start to run, so putting them there is a waste of time.
Relax your body. If you’re tense, you won’t get up to speed as fast as possible and you’ll restrict your movement, hurting your stride length and quickness.
Keep your arms relaxed and hanging comfortably in front of your body. Then, your left arm will drive first, followed by a quick pump of your right arm, which synchronizes your arms and legs.
Reading the pitcher
The easiest read on a right-handed pitcher is his left shoulder. If the pitcher throws to first after his shoulder moves toward third and closes, it’s a balk. As soon as you see his left shoulder close, go. But if you see it open toward you, you know he’s coming to the bag.
Focus on the pitcher’s chin. When a pitcher looks over to first, typically, his chin is down. Then, right before he lifts his leg to throw home, his chin comes up almost simultaneously, making the read easy.
Some pitchers are easy to read because they actually rock back toward second before they throw home; this adds some time to their delivery. The moment you see them rock, you can pretty much walk into second.
I never liked reading a pitcher’s lower body, because I liked knowing when he was looking at me. But some guys like to read the pitcher’s heels. The back heel that’s against the rubber has to pivot to throw to first, so you can read that.
Typically, pitchers move quickly when they come to first. Even if you don’t know exactly how a pitcher moves, a really quick movement indicates he’s coming over. No one moves like that when they throw home.
Facts of the game
- On average, a pitcher takes about 1.3 seconds to throw home.
- On average, a catcher takes 2 seconds to throw to second.
- If you can get from first to second in 3.3 seconds, you’ll be very successful. The catcher has to make a perfect throw to get you out.
- A pitcher can take a tenth off his delivery time by using a slide step. Don’t steal if you see him do this, because the catcher has more time to throw you out.
Don’t slide too late; you can hurt your knees and ankles going into the bag too hard. Don’t slide too early, either. You slow down during the slide.
You can slide head first or feet first. Feet-first slides decrease your chance of injury. Head-first slides can lead to jammed fingers, sprained wrists and separated shoulders.
When you slide feet first, slide toward the backside of the bag with your legs in a figure four. Tuck your right foot under your left leg, which turns your body away from home and prevents you from getting hit in the face or chest with the throw.