Stealing a base in baseball is definitely an art. It is a maneuver that can give a team a great advantage when trying to score points. Of course, speed has a lot to do with being a good base stealer, but there are many more fundamentals that need to be learned in order to become a great base runner.
When it comes to becoming a great base stealer, there are three aspects of your game that you really need to develop: speed, awareness and patience. Speed is developed simply by running. It is best to include both long and short runs into your training regime. Long runs will build stamina and increase your muscle strength. Short runs and sprints will develop your burst, which is what you need to make your first step off the base a quick one and give you the initial jump on the ball that you need to successfully get to the next base before the ball gets there.
The mental part of stealing a base demands that you increase your awareness of the game.
You need to be able to anticipate what will happen with the pitcher and the batter. This comes with time and a lot of study and game film. Picking and choosing the right time to run is another very important part of being a good base stealer. No matter how fast you are, your base stealing percentage won’t be that high if you don’t pick your opportunities wisely. The entire point of stealing a base is to give your team an advantage. If you are attempting steals regularly and getting caught most of the time, you are not doing your team any favors.
Now let’s take a more in-depth look into the entire process.
How to read the pitcher
To become a good base stealer, you need to be able to anticipate what the pitcher is going to do. If you start running once the ball has already passed the plate, you will almost always get thrown out. Reading the pitcher and his delivery is what will allow you to get to the next base safely.
Every pitcher has two very distinct motions when either throwing to the catcher or throwing to a base in order to try and pick the runner off or keep him from running. You really need to take a good look at these different motions and be able to identify them. Look at every part of the pitchers body for signs. Identify the pitcher’s motions that give away what he’s doing and where he is going with the ball.
When looking at the pitchers legs, keep your eye on the mound. If his foot is not planted into the mound, there is a good chance that he is going to be throwing to the base. The pitcher’s eyes can say a lot as well. Many will give a quick glance to the runner before they throw a pitch. If the pitcher does not give you a look, there is a good chance that he is going to try and pick you off. The hips and shoulders are most important to the pitcher. They need to be closed in on the plate in order to throw a good pitch. If the shoulders or hips are open while he is winding up, he’s probably going to throw it your way.
If you are on first base, reading a left-handed pitcher is easier, because he is facing you. But at the same time, it is a lot easier for him to throw at you, because he does not have his back turned to the base.
Reading the pitcher takes a lot of time to perfect. This mental part of base stealing is what gives you a big advantage once you get good at it, and it enables you to be a great base runner even if you are not the fastest runner.
Taking your lead
Generally, there are two types of leads that you can take off the base: a stationary lead and a walking lead. A stationary lead is what you will see most of the fastest base runners take. They take a few strides off of the base, with their eyes on the pitcher the entire time, and crouch down a bit. These base runners usually have a very quick first step, which not only enables them to take off towards the next base faster, but also jump back to their original base if the pitcher tries to pick them off.
A walking lead is generally taken by slower runners, or taller players that have long legs that take a while to get going. This type of base runner stays on the base while the pitcher is winding up and then takes a couple strides off of the base during the pitcher’s windup.
The most important thing to do when choosing a lead is to find the right one for you and to stick to it. When you are using the same technique all of the time, you are not giving anything away to the pitcher. If you are using a stationary lead when you want to run and a walking lead when you are aren’t going, you are telegraphing your plan to the pitcher. Pick the one the suits you best and stick to it so that you aren’t giving the pitcher an advantage unnecessarily.
Running is actually the easiest part of base stealing. Once you have committed yourself to the run, take off and don’t look back. There is nothing more detrimental to stealing bases than second-guessing yourself. Commit and go for it. Don’t look back at the ball, focus on the next base and run as fast as you can.
There are two types of slides that you can use when coming into the base you are stealing. You can slide feet first or head first. Feet first is easier to learn and safer. However, you might want to learn sliding head first as well, because many believe that it is a faster way to reach the base. However, it is harder to do and you are more prone to injury when sliding head first.
When sliding feet or head first, it’s most important to know when to slide. Sliding in too early or too late can hurt your chances of successfully stealing the base. If you slide too early you might not make it to the base, and if you slide too late, you might overshoot the base and get tagged out while you are off the base. Generally, look to slide three to five feet before the base.
When sliding feet first, tuck your feet under you so that one foot rests underneath the other leg. Find out which foot you want to lead with through trial and error in order to find out what feels most natural. Keep your core firm and upright and put your hands up. Do not allow your body or arms to fall back behind you, make sure that you are upright with only your legs stretched out in front.
When doing it head first, you should be landing on your stomach with your head and chest up. If your head and chest are not up, you will most likely bury yourself in the dirt, possibly embarrass yourself, and run a greater risk of injury.
Once you have stolen the base successfully, make sure to find the umpire and call for a time out before getting off the base. Call a time out, get up, wipe yourself clean, and get back on the base. Now you are ready to focus on stealing the next base.
Kevin Kerekes is a New Jersey resident and former Division I Rutgers baseball player. His popular NJ blog serves the Florham Park area, while his twitter and LinkedIn profiles interact with thousands more in the social world. For more about Kevin Kerekes, see his About.me profile.