How to Steal a Base
Base stealing is a technique that, when perfectly executed, is extremely effective for the team and very exciting for the fans. Finesse and accuracy are key and not all players are capable of it.
Base stealing is generally a planned strategy, with a few exceptions, of course. Once a runner has committed to the strategy, timing is of the essence. Run too soon and the pitcher may throw to the base rather than pitch to the batter. Run too late and odds are that the catcher will get the ball to the baseman for the out.
Like base runners contemplating a steal, pitchers ready for the pick off also give away clues that could be very useful if you can detect them. Be sure to start studying the opposing pitcher from the time he takes the mound. Pitchers often have two distinct motions; one for pitches and one for throws to the basemen to hold a runner in place. Watch their eyes. Many pitchers look to first base before every pitch. If the pitcher fails to look in your direction, he is likely to attempt a pick off.
Most often, we see a player steal second base since it is farthest from home plate and requires a longer throw from the catcher. Stealing third is a little more difficult since the distance from the catcher is less. Batters are often used in this situation as somewhat of an obstacle between the catcher and third baseman. Stealing home is quite possibly the most exciting base to steal, but this move requires aggressiveness and dedication. Once you're committed, follow through is mandatory. Stealing home is risky in most situations since the ball is likely to reach home plate before the runner does.
For effective base stealing, follow (and practice) these steps:
1. Check for signs: Keep an eye on the third base coach for signals that it's time to steal. Continue to watch for signs between pitches.
2. Lead off: The length of your lead should be long enough to take off if given the signal to steal, yet short enough to get back to your base if necessary.
3. Your stance: You want to be able to move in either direction. Keep feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Flex your knees and keep your weight on the balls of your feet. This will keep you ready for whatever action may arise. Do not rest your hands on your knees. Rather, keep your arms loose in front of your body.
4. Timing: Keep in mind that more successful stolen bases are done so off the pitcher not the catcher. Waiting until a pitch reaches home plate is almost a sure fire way to get thrown out. Get a good jump as the pitcher delivers the ball and there is little even the fastest catcher can do.
5. Studying the pitcher: Watch the pitcher throw to the plate; note what body parts he moves first. Note anything different in his movements when he throws to first base. These variations are not on accident and should be a warning that the ball is coming your way.
6. Right-handed pitchers: Watch the pitcher's stance as well. For right-handed pitchers, key in on the right foot, which will likely move off the rubber if he/she is attempting a pick-off. That's your cue to get back to your base quickly since his right foot must be touching the rubber for a pitch.
7. Lefty Pitchers: Watch the pitcher's lead leg. If it swings behind the rubber, the pitcher is likely to throw home. If the pitcher's back leg bends, this will limit his/her usefulness in throwing to first base, so a pitch is more likely. Tilting back his upper body signals that you should be ready for a pick off. Pitches are usually preceded with a turning of the shoulder. When he bends his rear leg, he is most likely preparing to push off toward home.
8. Acceleration: For the first four or five steps, keep your head and body low to maintain the proper lean needed for good acceleration. Gradually straighten out as you build speed.
9. Focus: Keep your focus on the base. Avoid getting distracted with the location of the ball; that will just slow you down.
10. Slide: A properly executed slide will help your body travel faster and is harder for the baseman to reach. Be sure to slide in a straight line. Hook slides are not as effective or as fast as the straight slide.
Hustle is mandatory! Now get out there and steal some bases!