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Random thoughts about stealing second base, HS-level and above

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  • Random thoughts about stealing second base, HS-level and above

    At the youth level, most of us teach the following regarding stealing off a RHP, courtesy of Roothog (in another thread):

    ".... once that front foot moves (before the back foot) then he has to go home (with the exception of the inside move to second). I have my kids watch the two heels together. Movement by the back heel on the rubber means get back. Once the rubber heel moves [I think Roothog meant non-rubber/free-foot heel] they should be off

    The bolded section is conventional wisdom. But is it realistic?

    I've videoed some MLB RHP "A" jump moves to first, and replayed them at 30 frames per second. As expected, the rear heal lifts first. But about 5 frames later (1/6 of a second) the front heel lifts. Can heel-watching R1's realistically distinguish which heel is moving first when it's happening within 1/6 second at game speed?

    Quick-footed HS and college RHP's are nearly as quick-footed as the MLB guys. Close enough, IMO, for my question to be valid regarding HS and college.

    In my experience, R1's who stare at the pitcher's heels are more likely to become transfixed/deer-in-the-headlights/dyslexic as to which foot moves first during the 1/6 second time-frame.
    Last edited by skipper5; 10-03-2012, 10:39 AM.
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  • #2
    Originally posted by skipper5 View Post
    At the youth level, most of us teach the following regarding stealing off a RHP, courtesy of Roothog (in another thread):

    ".... once that front foot moves (before the back foot) then he has to go home (with the exception of the inside move to second). I have my kids watch the two heels together. Movement by the back heel on the rubber means get back. Once the rubber heel moves [I think Roothog meant non-rubber/free-foot heel] they should be off

    The bolded section is conventional wisdom. But is it realistic?

    I've videoed some MLB RHP "A" jump moves to first, and replayed them at 30 frames per second. As expected, the rear heal lifts first. But about 5 frames later (1/6 of a second) the front heel lifts. Can heel-watching R1's realistically distinguish which heel is moving first when it's happening within 1/6 second at game speed?

    Quick-footed HS and college RHP's are nearly as quick-footed as the MLB guys. Close enough, IMO, for my question to be valid regarding HS and college.

    In my experience, R1's who stare at the pitcher's heels are more likely to become transfixed/deer-in-the-headlights/dyslexic as to which foot moves first.
    I always tried to watch the left shoulder. Very hard to spin to first without first turning the lead shoulder. Some pitchers will even slightly turn their left shoulder in before the pitch making it easier to get a good jump. If he steps off with the back foot before throwing to first its easy to see.

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    • #3
      In his autobiography, Cobb recommended looking at the front foot. When I get home tonight I'll post his remarks, which I think are the best thoughts ever penned on how to steal a base.
      The outcome of our children is infinitely more important than the outcome of any game they will ever play

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      • #4
        archived threads about basestealing:

        http://www.baseball-fever.com/archiv...p/t-96000.html

        http://www.baseball-fever.com/showth...ng-Second-Base


        Here's a technique from the second thread that I've been discussing with a select few of my R1s--essentially, pre-first-move stealing off a RHP.


        timing the pitcher, in high school, 95% of pitchers will just get in a rhythm and not change it. once i got on first, i would stay for 1 pitch. when the pitcher came set, id start saying in my head U - C - L - A - U(and so on) with a little pause in between. whatever he lifts or strides on, would be my steal letter. I would probably wait for 1 more pitch and see if he landed on the same letter. most high school kids will be either L or A. So when he comes set, just start saying UCLA in your head. i dont know if this is taught everywhere, but i heard it from a Junior Olympic coach of mine.
        Last edited by skipper5; 10-03-2012, 11:32 AM.
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        • #5
          Whatever works as each pitcher is different. I agree that for many focusing on the heels could lead to problems. Might be better to look at the pitcher, the whole pitcher, and keep it simple-when he goes home steal and when he throws to first get back. Maybe an intelligent, advanced player can focus on one body part.

          The big thing I see is runners taking too big of of a lead. Yes, in theory they are closer to second base and more distracting to the pitcher. Often the hs guy still has that youth league mentality of "double daring" the pitcher to throw over. Problem is, guys with big leads get very crappy jumps and I can see it from the 3b coaches box. Why draw attention to yourself with a big lead? The runner is just pickoff conscious and gets a bad jump. Better to get a good jump with a shorter lead.
          Major Figure

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          • #6
            I remember Rickey Henderson in an interview saying he watched the pitcher's elbows.
            The writer of the segment below advocates watching the whole pitcher's body.
            My point is, conventional wisdom is to watch the pitcher's heels, but that's not the end of the conversation.

            Let’s start with a Righty (you are a runner on first base). When you are younger, most coaches will tell you to watch his legs (feet). That is fine for young players, however as you progress, you really have to watch the pitcher’s whole body. Sure the basic move to first will involve the pitcher moving his feet. But in order to get GREAT jumps, other factors come into play. For example, the first guy to get on base should try to get a big enough lead in order to make the pitcher throw over. This will allow the coaches and players to pick up on his move. Many times a guy will use a slow-footed (B) move, then come back over with his main (A) move (the better one). When you’re on first base, watch how the pitcher delivers the ball to the plate. Some pitchers will have a big space between their legs (like K-Rod) when they set-up, causing them to really have to lift that front leg in order to get any velocity. So when you see this type of guy, as soon as he lifts his front leg, you go. The next type of righty pitcher is called a “Leaner”. This guy usually uses a slide step, but if you watch closely, his body (shoulder) leans towards the plate first. His set up will be very straight up (almost standing directly up- legs very close). So as soon as you see him lean towards home, you’re off to steal second. The last type of righty pitcher uses a “turn” when he throws home. This means in his set position, he is slightly ‘opened’ up on an angle between home and first base. So in order for him to pitch, he must turn his front shoulder back towards home and then deliver. When you see his shoulder turn in, you go. All pitchers have keys and indicators, some just hide it better than others.
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            • #7
              Here are the words of Ty Cobb, certainly one of the great base stealers in history. This is taken from his autobiography "My Life in Baseball". I highly recommend the book as it overall is extremely interesting and has applicability in today's game, especially his many insights into the mental game. Extraordinary talent. His chapter on basestealing is actually quite encompassing, about how to run the bases, how to pick on pitcher's tendencies, etc. This is a small excerpt from this chapter.

              "The secret of base stealing is to watch the pitcher's feet, knees, and hips - for it's against him, not the catcher that you'll fail or succeed. Under the balk rule, if the pitcher moves any part of his body - feet, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows or arms - towards first, he must throw to first, except in the case of left handed pitchers, who must position their body towards first naturally and extend their arms in the direction as they deliver. If the pitchers moves any portion of his body to the plate, he must throw to the plate.

              My cardinal rule was: Watch the pitcher's legs from the hips down. Especially the feet. To throw to first on a pick-off, or to the plate, the moundsman must take a step or he balks. Consequently, I watched the front foot and when I saw that foot move toward first, I leaped back to the bag. When the foot began to move to the plate, I lit out for second.

              Occasionally, a sharp pitcher will use a move that calls for lifting the back foot off the rubber, spinning and stepping with the front foot simultaneously. But my eyes were fixed on both feet, and I could always get back in time with that warning. No matter how tricky his motion, no pitcher should outsmart a baserunner- if the latter is focusing every instant on the feet.

              Urban Shocker and Big Ed Walsh, two of the greatest, had very quick, clever moves, yet their feet always consituted a clue. Shocker had a peculiar head motion that used to dazzle base runners. He'd stand out there and shake his head towards first base - as a boxer feints. This entranced many a runner, who kept watching Shocker's head. His purpose was to hold the his man near the base - but not to pick him off. When the steal attempt came, Shocker's catcher had a much better chance to nail the runner at second.


              Cobb goes on to describe how to lead off, including his incredible suggestion of getting a 15-20 foot lead. It really is an amazing chapter, and again for me personally one of the best descriptions of baserunning ever penned. Highly suggested reading, if for nothing but the entertainment value alone.

              -JJA
              The outcome of our children is infinitely more important than the outcome of any game they will ever play

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              • #8
                "Occasionally, a sharp pitcher will use a move that calls for lifting the back foot off the rubber, spinning and stepping with the front foot simultaneously. But my eyes were fixed on both feet,"

                JJA,
                I take Cobb's quote to mean that it was rare for a pitcher to perform the jump/jab turn that every RHP uses nowadays; and which, IMO, makes it difficult for most players (but not Cobb) to heel watch at upper levels of the modern game.

                The fact that Cobb is recommending a 15-20 foot lead suggests that the pickoff moves of RHPs in Cobb's era must have been so horrible compared to nowadays that it wasn't critical what keys/cues a basestealer used to get his jumps.

                BTW, I too read Cobb's book (a long while ago) and agree that it's fascinating.
                Last edited by skipper5; 10-04-2012, 09:47 AM.
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                • #9
                  Originally posted by skipper5 View Post
                  "Occasionally, a sharp pitcher will use a move that calls for lifting the back foot off the rubber, spinning and stepping with the front foot simultaneously. But my eyes were fixed on both feet,"

                  JJA,
                  I take Cobb's quote to mean that it was rare for a pitcher to perform the jump/jab turn that every RHP uses nowadays; and which, IMO, makes it difficult for most players (but not Cobb) to heel watch at upper levels of the modern game.

                  The fact that Cobb is recommending a 15-20 foot lead suggests that the pickoff moves of RHPs in Cobb's era must have been so horrible compared to nowadays that it wasn't critical what keys/cues a basestealer used to get his jumps.
                  Not so hard. The jab step requires moving the rubber foot first. The feet are the safest. However, often, you can find other body movements that a particular pitcher might make that preceed any movement by the feet and, when you do, you've got a good indicator. However, you can use feet on any rh pitcher, but many can adequately restrict movement of the shoulder, elbows, etc. In fact, I teach a jab step with a tight compact throw where the elbows would give nothing away. Someone mentioned timing. Great tool. I find several pitchers who almost never vary their timing in going to the plate. I even have a sign from the third base coaches box when I discover such timing. I then give R1 the info on what the timing is.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by skipper5 View Post
                    "The fact that Cobb is recommending a 15-20 foot lead suggests that the pickoff moves of RHPs in Cobb's era must have been so horrible compared to nowadays that it wasn't critical what keys/cues a basestealer used to get his jumps.
                    I don't know skip. If there was only one player in history I could go back and see, Cobb would be the guy, Cobb of 1911. The duels he describes in his book suggest guys with excellent pick off moves, so maybe he's exaggerating, or maybe he was just that skilled. Maybe guys are more cautious today. Certainly very few coaches these days teach the aggressive baserunning that was commonplace in Cobb's day. He is on record as having scored from first on a bunt without an error on the play, stole home 54 times (when's the last time you saw that?), regularly went from first to third on a bunt, scored from second on infield hits, etc. That part of the game appears to have receded with so much emphasis on the long ball. I wish at least one team still practiced that style. It would be really fun to watch.

                    -JJA
                    The outcome of our children is infinitely more important than the outcome of any game they will ever play

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                    • #11
                      The best base stealers don't just watch fundamental pitcher cues. They study individual pitchers for tendencies. I've coached kids from rec through college prospect travel and watched kids into college. The best draw a response from the crowd, "How does he not get picked off leaving that early?" The reason is these kids know what each pitcher is going to do based on every move they make regardless of which way they could still go with the throw.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by tg643 View Post
                        The best base stealers don't just watch fundamental pitcher cues. They study individual pitchers for tendencies. I've coached kids from rec through college prospect travel and watched kids into college. The best draw a response from the crowd, "How does he not get picked off leaving that early?" The reason is these kids know what each pitcher is going to do based on every move they make regardless of which way they could still go with the throw.
                        Agree, studying individual pitchers for tendencies is valuable--IMO more valuable than just watching fundamental pitcher cues-- and that the jumps that gifted basestealers get (from studying tendencies) are a sight to behold.

                        However, in amateur ball, pitchers are often new to you--never seen them pitch before.
                        Or, understandably, you can't remember their tendencies from when you faced them last year.
                        Which means you can't glean any tendencies until you get a baserunner....who sees a bunch of pitches.
                        If your leadoff reaches in the first inning, he's flying blind.
                        Sometimes, of course, by the time you've got a decent sample size of their tendencies w/runners on, it's middle innings, you're behind in the score, and disinclined to steal.
                        Not trying to be negative, tg, just realistic. Unlike the pros, amateurs lack multiple experience vs. the same pitcher, and lack access to a video library.

                        TG, I think you'd agree that the "best" amateur basestealers you refer to--the gifted ones--are special not only because they can read a pitcher's tendencies, but also because they can do it on the basis of seeing a limited sample size of pitches....so that they can steal earlier in the game, when the situation still allows for it... when they can use it to help their team get a lead....so the team can use it to steal more, to add to the lead.

                        BTW, Tg, apologies for verbosity--if I could write as economically as you do, I woulda been a contenda.
                        Last edited by skipper5; 10-06-2012, 06:51 AM.
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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by skipper5 View Post
                          Agree, studying individual pitchers for tendencies is valuable--IMO more valuable than just watching fundamental pitcher cues-- and that the jumps that gifted basestealers get (from studying tendencies) are a sight to behold.

                          However, in amateur ball, pitchers are often new to you--never seen them pitch before.
                          Or, understandably, you can't remember their tendencies from when you faced them last year.
                          Which means you can't glean any tendencies until you get a baserunner....who sees a bunch of pitches.
                          If your leadoff reaches in the first inning, he's flying blind.
                          Sometimes, of course, by the time you've got a decent sample size of their tendencies w/runners on, it's middle innings, you're behind in the score, and disinclined to steal.
                          Not trying to be negative, tg, just realistic. Unlike the pros, amateurs lack multiple experience vs. the same pitcher, and lack access to a video library.

                          TG, I think you'd agree that the "best" amateur basestealers you refer to--the gifted ones--are special not only because they can read a pitcher's tendencies, but also because they can do it on the basis of seeing a limited sample size of pitches....so that they can steal earlier in the game, when the situation still allows for it... when they can use it to help their team get a lead....so the team can use it to steal more, to add to the lead.

                          BTW, Tg, apologies for verbosity--if I could write as economically as you do, I woulda been a contenda.
                          It's better to say more and make the point than say too little and make an incomplete point.

                          I was a good base stealer through college. My son (now in college) is a great base stealer. He gets a better jump than anyone I've ever seen at the levels he's played. This is the concensus of people who have watched him play, not just me. A LL dad who played to AAA said my son had high school base running instincts in LL and 12U travel. As the level of ball and the skill level increases, base stealing also takes some arrogance on behalf of the base runner. He has to believe he's a lot better than the pitcher. I used to ask my son how in the hell he didn't think the pitcher would just step off and run at him. He said he only needed to watch a pitcher face two or three base runners to them figured out. He doesn't jerk around on the bench. He studies pitchers. Before games he'll break down pitchers moves for his teammates.

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                          • #14
                            I'll add one thing. Most excellent baserunners are naturally aggressive, which isn't doesn't come easily to all kids. My son, for example, is always afraid of getting thrown out or picked off, so he is a serviceable runner, but not as good as he could be with his speed, taking cautious leads for the most part, only stealing on guys who are easy to steal on (his caught stealing percentage is really low). Others who lack speed but have burglar like instincts can steal a lot more bases because of their aggression. But some kids have it and some don't, and it can only be partially taught in my experience.
                            The outcome of our children is infinitely more important than the outcome of any game they will ever play

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