There are a lot of advantages to the runner deciding
for himself when to steal and when not to.
(Photo by Josh Geer)
Why let a player steal on his own?He can see more. A runner at first can almost always see the catcher’s signs to the pitcher when he takes his lead. The coaches cannot. A runner “on his own” can tap into that knowing that off-speed pitches are easier to steal on.Confidence. There is a big difference between a runner who “wants” to steal as opposed to a runner who is “told” to steal. If given the choice, I’d rather have a runner who has confidence in their ability to steal than have a runner who is hesitant and doesn’t think they’ll ever make it. Leads. A runner should always get their full lead off first base but in reality, sometimes they don’t for a variety of reasons. A player on his own takes into account how good his lead is before going.Jumps. Sometimes a runner will “spin his wheels” in loose dirt around first base or maybe just not time the pitcher correctly. If the runner is on his own, he has the freedom to not go when these things happen.Slide steps. There are times when a pitcher will slide step or quick-pitch unexpectedly. If a player can steal when he wants, he can decide to stop and return to first base if he sees this. If the coach told him to steal, the runner will continue towards second regardless of what the pitcher does for fear of getting into trouble for disobeying the coach. Of course, the downside to this is that the runner is out by 10 feet. Pitchouts. There are some mistakes pitchers and catchers will make that can tip-off to a runner that a pitchout is coming. If an observant runner picks up on these things, he can choose another pitch in which to steal.
In summary, a runner, if he is paying attention to the right things, can see more “real-time” variables that can impact whether he is safe or out on the steal and can therefore adjust on the fly. A lot of new information can be collected between the time the runner gets the steal sign and when he has his full lead. If a coach notices something bad after the sign is given, there is not much he can do at that point. If the runner is on his own, he can do something about it because he is the one in control. Obviously, at all levels, there may be runners who are just so fast that they can steal easily regardless of the variables above. As all runners get older though, the game gets faster and their ability to steal becomes tougher. This is where having a greater awareness of what’s happening around him can help a runner be more successful. Even runners without great speed. Of course, this requires a coach who is willing to give some runners the freedom to learn (as well as occasionally screw up!) and teach them how to be on their own.