How to Steal Second Base – My Major League Secrets
- Updated: September 2, 2010
The one area of baseball that I had confidence while playing major league baseball was with base running, especially in the area of base stealing. I had good speed but not great speed for a major leaguer. I did possess a very good first step, which is extremely necessary to steal bases. That good first step, good major league speed and the ability to read pitchers allowed me to steal 60 bases out of 66 tries in the 1984 and 1985 seasons. I must add that I had the privilege of learning how to steal second base from one of the best base stealers of all time, the great Los Angeles Dodger, Maury Wills.
There is a common baseball saying that says, “You steal on the pitcher, not the catcher,” and that is so true at the higher levels of baseball. In the lower levels of baseball – pre-high school – that is not always the case and fast runners can often “outrun the ball.” When the bases become 90 foot in length and advanced catchers are playing, being able to get a good jump and read the pitcher is vital to stealing bases.
Another thing to understand is that base runners do not have to be the fastest to steal bases, but must have good base running instincts. I have played with many players who had great speed but never gained the ability to steal bases that matched their speed.
With that in mind following are some tips I used to steal second base.
1. Getting a good leadoff is necessary. However, it is important to note that the lead should not be the maximum lead. Any base runner can take a maximum lead (also called a one way lead) and not get picked off but they have to apply most of their focus on getting back to first on an often-thrown pick-off attempt with this type lead. Having to worry about not being picked off, which is the case with a maximum leadoff, is detrimental to stealing second base. Because of that, getting a good lead, usually about a 3 and a ½ step leadoff is good and sufficient. Good base stealers focus on breaking towards second base at the most opportune time and not on heading back towards first.
2. After taking this leadoff, the potential base stealer should be in the ultimate balanced position. This position is pretty universal with all great base stealers. Their feet are the ideal distance apart with weight is on the balls of the feet, knees bent and hands relaxed and centered while hanging down in the middle of the body.
3. The key here is to have great focus on the pitcher while keeping the body relaxed and ready. The ability to relax the body in this ultimate ready position is the key to the first step explosion necessary to steal second base.
* I am not putting myself in the category of great base stealers but I believe they thought like I did and were only concerned with their first step break towards second base (see step 1) and relied on their athletic quickness and great instincts to get back to first on an attempted pick off. I also believe that until base stealers get the confidence to think only of their break towards second, and rely on their quickness to get back to first on pick off throws, they will not become consistent base stealers at the major league level.
4. With the pitcher’s first move towards home, the potential base stealer crosses over (left over right) with the a slight opening movement of the right foot. It is important that it is not a step with the right foot first, just a pivot.
5. After that, it is the ability to get to full running speed as quickly as possible as well as the ability to slide at the correct moment, which is as late as possible.
It sounds so easy but when you factor in catchers at the higher levels are extremely quick and have great arms, it becomes very challenging. Additionally, pitchers are trying to be as quick to home with their delivery as possible and they still have the option of throwing to first for the pick-off attempt.
To help steal second base, there are some tricks that good base stealers use to help them. I say tricks but, in reality, it is years of study, great technique and concentration needed to steal second base. Following are some of those tricks that helped me when stealing.
1. Most coaches teach base runners to watch the pitchers lower half for which foot moves first in order to get the jump. I watched the pitcher’s whole body for any clue to the pitchers intention. The instant a pitcher bent their front knee or turned the front shoulder away from me, I was off. With any turn of the front shoulder towards me, I dove back to first.
* I cannot emphasize enough the great concentration that is needed to break at the exact, correct moment. Just being a fraction late is the difference between failure and success.
* Pitchers that open their shoulder a little towards first to see the base runner better or those that have a higher leg kick on their delivery are the easiest to steal on.
2. Anticipating when pitchers will throw an off speed pitch can be very helpful for stealing second base, as well as watching the catcher set-up for the pitch. If catchers set up early and on the third base side of home plate or set their target very low, there is a good chance that if the pitcher misses their target, the ball will be further away form the catcher’s throwing side. These instances can give the runner that little edge for stealing.
3. Of course, stealing second base on a left-handed pitcher is more difficult and requires a little more patience on the part of the runner. Study of the lefthander to find any little tip as to where they are going to throw the ball is required. If the left-handed pitcher has a good move to first and doesn’t have any tell-tale signs giving away their intention, the base stealer has to wait longer than on a right hander, which of course makes stealing on the lefty more difficult.
Finally, with additional study, base stealers can often find little tendencies that pitchers’ provide, in rhythm or technique, that can give them the edge to steal second base.
Former major league baseball player, Jack Perconte gives baseball hitting tips and batting practice advice for ballplayers of all ages. His baseball playing lessons, books and advice can be found at http://www.baseballhittinglessons.com/baseball
Jack is the author of two books, The Making of a Hitter and Raising an Athlete – his positive parenting advice and books can be found at http://positiveparentinginsports.com
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