Baseball Magazine

On Your Own (Part 1)

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard

On your own (Part 1)

There are a lot of advantages to the runner deciding 
for himself when to steal and when not to.
(Photo by Josh Geer)

I was watching the Phillies the other night and the two announcers discussed something that is not well known at the lower levels of baseball.  They were talking about how the straight steal sign is rarely given at the major league level and that most runners who steal just go when they want to.  This may seem strange to players and coaches at the lower levels because every coach at those levels has a steal sign and wouldn’t allow any runner to just steal whenever they want to.  However, it is true at the major league level.   By then, the runners know what they can and can’t do so there is little danger in a slow runner just deciding to steal on their own and getting thrown out.  Although this concept may be foreign to many, even players at the high school level can have that responsibility if used wisely.  The key word being “wisely.”  Some of my best base stealers (in terms of percentage of the time being safe) were not my fastest runners.  They were just very good at picking the right time to go.  Below are some reasons why it can be useful to let players steal on their own.  Part 2 (tomorrow) will list and explain some specifics on what players should look for in deciding when to go as well as tips for coaches.
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. 

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