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Rules and ExceptionsThe basic purpose or strategy behind stealing 2nd base is simply this; Get your runner into "scoring position". This means that a base-hit will typically score a runner on 2nd base. Conversely, a base-hit with a runner on 1st will advance to 3rd base (If you're lucky). Also, but no less important, it takes the double-play out of the equation. A runner on 1st with the reputation as a "threat" to steal can serve the offense in many ways. First, it can disrupt the defensive positioning. The middle infielders will "cheat" towards 2nd base while the 1st baseman holds the runner close to the bag, thus opening a larger hole for the hitter to hit safely. Also, it may hinder the pitcher's rhythm & focus, and it allows the hitter up to bat to see more fastballs (as a pitcher will want to cut down on time it takes for ball to travel to home, and minimize balls in the dirt).
The steal of 2nd base is more effective & less risky when a team has the lead, or if game is tied, or down by no more than 1 or 2 runs. The reasoning behind this is that if you're down 5 runs, a stolen base that eventually scores only gets you 1 run with 4 more to go. And if the runner is caught stealing, now you lose more momentum that can be difficult to rebound from. You know, risk vs. reward thing.. Exceptions to this would be if an outstanding runner is on base, if the catcher has a weak arm, or if it's early in the game and you think a stolen base would be a good momentum shift for the dugout. The strategy that a batter should swing at the pitch in order to "protect" the runner may seem unnecessary, as it doesn't have a direct effect on the catcher's throw. However, it can break the catcher's concentration and lead to a less accurate throw to second base (especially if the hitter intentionally swings late when the ball is caught). Of course, don't do this with 2 strikes.
The ideal lead for the runner at 1st is "one and a half" his own body length. This allows enough time for runner to reach the bag on a pickoff attempt with one full step and a dive back. I teach my players to stride off the bag starting with their right foot, then another large stride with left foot, then another with right foot pivoting on their left (at this point, the runner should be facing the pitcher in a slight crouch about a body length from the bag), then small shuffle steps as the pitcher comes set. So it's "Right, Left, Right, shuffle, shuffle". NEVER take your eye off the pitcher! As soon as you do, you'll likely find that the ball is already on it's way to 1st base, in an attempt to pick you off, when you look back on the pitcher. When watching the pitcher for signs of a pickoff, the baserunner should focus on the right heel and/or left knee for a righthanded pitcher, and the right knee or left thigh for a lefthanded pitcher. Beware of the "balk move" though, this is a quick lift of the left heel just prior to a spin/pivot move over to 1st base. This can cause any good and experienced runner to get caught leaning the wrong way thinking that the pitcher was moving toward a pitch delivery. At this point, the runner should dive back head-first to the bag with right hand extended and touching the outside (right field) corner. A runner wants to be literally behind or outside the base with his reach. The reason behind this is to get yourself as far away as possible from the sweeping tag of the 1st baseman.
One defensive strategy on the stolen base is the pitch out. This is where the pitcher intentionally throws a pitch outside and high of the strike zone giving the catcher a "one step toward 2nd" advantage in their attempt to throw out the runner. Another strategy is for the pitcher to change up their rhythm in delivery to home. For example, pitcher waits for a 3-count before delivery, then on next pitch, pitcher makes his delivery to home immediately after coming set with no hesitation. The purpose of this is to get a "head start" against the runner with a late start, or "bad jump". Even another strategy would be for the pitcher to perform 2 pick moves. First move would come set, wait for a 1-count, and pick move to 1st base with their slower, "not-so-good" move. Now the runner figures to get a larger lead based on this pick move & the time it took for pitcher to get the ball to 1st base. Then, on the 2nd move, the pitcher would come set, wait for a 3-count (allowing the runner time to confidently shuffle further off the base), then come quickly with his best "balk-move" (see paragraph 3). This may only work once or twice a game, so save it for when it counts.
Stealing bases is an essential part of success and winning. The threshold at which your stolen-base percentage must be to make a positive contribution actually goes down as the game progresses. What this means is that in the later innings of a game (aspecially if it's close), the benefit of a go-ahead run will outweigh the cost of an out. Not to mention the inning killing double-play if the runner is still on 1st when a ground ball is hit.
A coach/manager must know his runners. In order to minimize risk, any coach should know who his fastest runners are and exactly how long it takes them to get to 2nd on a steal. Also, it should be known how long it takes for the opposing catcher to get the ball down to 2nd base on their throw.
One great example of a team knowing when to steal late would be...
Notable Steals of Second
Oct. 17, 2004 - Game 4, 2004 ALCS. Mariano Rivera walks Kevin Millar. Dave Roberts pinch runs for the slow-footed first baseman. Mariano Rivera knows Roberts is going to attempt a steal. Jorge Posada knows. Joe Torre knows. Every fan in Fenway knows. Ruben Sierra may have been confused. Rivera throws over to first once, twice, three times - whoa, that one almost got Roberts leaning. Mariano finally goes to the plate and Dave's off. Posada stands and fires to Jeter covering second. The throw is a little high to the third base side of the bag, but Jeter slaps down a quick tag. But no, it wasn't enough. Dave Roberts grabs a piece of the bag a split second before Jeter can swipe his elbow. Second base has been stolen: The Swipe Heard 'Round the Nation, or perhaps more simply, just "The Steal."