When to use the delayed steal? That is a good question, and the answer might be that you don’t. It can be challenging to work on everything in youth baseball with the time restraints that a spring season has. For teams that allow leading off, it can be a great way to get kids who aren’t that fast a stolen base. Stealing a base is exciting and helpful to the team, but also for the player. The use of the delayed steal gives an opportunity for a player to steal a base that might not ever get that chance.

The advancement from high school to college exposes flaws in even the best base runners. Each higher level our players progress the arms are getting stronger, defenders are faster, and decisions need to be much quicker. We have heard from multiple coaches that baserunning ability can be the difference between getting in the game and riding the pine, especially your freshman year. We have also discovered that many incoming baseball players don’t have much time invested in base running. Since you are reading this, we know that’s not you!

I have always stated that speed is not something you teach, you are born with it. Even though you may be fast, there is no substitute for good base running. Simply put, you can improve your base running ability, and it can help you play at the next level!  In this article, I offer tips to improve your base running during plays that put the runner in motion.

Base Running Tip – Don’t Tip Your Hand

In any baserunning position where you will be in motion, skill and technique will not help if you are predictable or straightforward to read. Just like a pitcher can give-a-way his pitches to a hitter, base runners sometimes project a red flag, letting the defense recognize something is up. Base runners can do that by taking their eye off of the third base coach’s signs as soon as they get their signal. Base runners are getting a lead that looks unusual from a “normal” lead. You will give yourself away if you take your lead too fast, alter the timing of your lead for the first time, adjust the length of your lead, take a different stance when in your first lead, get antsy or jumpy, or use many other “tells.”

To avoid tipping your hand in a running situation, the first step to taking a base is making sure you follow your usual base-running process or protocol and maintain the same body language. Watch the signs from start to finish. Take your lead the way you always do it. Everything should be the same, every time. You may take your standard lead differently for every pitcher (lefty vs. righty, a guy whom quick picks vs. hold and pick guys, you understand), but within your team’s system and for each pitcher, you want each lead looking the same.

Reminiscing, But I Do Make a Point

I played first base back in my day, and I was pretty good at picking up the opposing signs and also reading the base runner when he just got the signal to run. It was easier for me to do these things as I even knew when it was a good count (ball and strikes) to run. I would generally say a few things to the runners to get a feel for their personality and watch their breathing. A lot of young players will take a deep breath when they get the steal sign or shake the shoulders to try and relax. Tells like these were easy to see from my point of view but to them, they didn’t have a clue they were tipping their hand. We picked off lots of runners.

What to Look for Before Calling a Delayed Steal

A delayed steal is taking advantage of an opportunity given to you by the opposing team. The benefit happens when the opposing players aren’t paying enough attention to the base runner. The catcher, pitcher, middle infielders or best of all a combination of those players.

When to Run the Delayed Steal

Some catchers like to frame every the pitch, bad habit by the way and will stare down their glove as they frame the ball. A catcher that worries more about the batter then paying attention to the whole game will start to get lazy with his focus on the runner and thus get caught flat-footed and not in a good secondary throwing position when receiving the ball from the pitcher.

A Catcher that Lobs the Ball Back to the Pitcher

Some catchers will receive the pitch and then slowly stand up and toss the ball back to the pitcher. An excellent base runner will watch every move the catcher makes and after each pitch, if the actions become a routine, then it might be a good time to call a delayed steal.

The catchers’ actions and the way he gets the ball back to the pitcher is a big part of how the opposing team may play. The catcher is considered the field general. One reason is that he is facing the other eight position players and the bases the cover A good opportunity would be that slow throwback to the pitcher. Combine that with middle infielders that aren’t backing up each pitch, and you may have an easy base to swipe.

A pitcher that doesn’t pay attentionistock_000019921568xsmall-1685717

Some pitchers live in their world and are unaware of what is going on around them. They may receive the ball back from the catcher and immediately start fixing the mound or walking around with their head down. Combine this with middle infielders who are not backing up, and you have another excellent opportunity to steal a base.

Infielder(s) that don’t Pay Attention when the Ball isn’t in Play

The less attentive infielders is also a right situation to take advantage. Middle infielders that do not back up the throw from the catcher is one mistake to document. Middle infielders that don’t pay attention after every pitch and don’t keep their eye on the ball, making sure the ball is returned to the pitcher correctly, is another mistake to document. If you can find these scenarios, especially late in the game, the result will be a delayed steal and credit the runner with a stolen base. Nobody on the opposing team will be able to recover from not paying attention and beat your runner to base they are attempting to steal.

The Third Baseman that is Too Close or Too Deep on a Bunt

Again you are looking for a player that isn’t paying attention after the ball is not put into play. Combine this with a catcher that is framing the pitch for example, and you may have an excellent opportunity to take third. With the shorter throw on this one, I may reserve this for players that are good baserunners and have some speed.

Execution of the Delayed Steal

So now we know some things that we’re looking for, how do we coach the kids to execute?

You want to teach kids to take their usual secondary lead which is usually two shuffle steps after the pitcher starts delivering the pitch. Then teach the players to take one more shuffle step before taking off at full speed for the next base. The idea is to make the secondary lead appear like a regular secondary lead and not a steal. The third shuffle step gains some distance and allows the players on the opposing team to do what we expect them to do by not being prepared. Then after the third shuffle, it’s an all-out sprint for the next base.

What about the Catcher

Most will claim that an observant catcher will see the runner and I for one agree with this claim. Nevertheless, this is where the middle infielder’s absence of doing their job comes into play. Even if the catcher throws with normal timing, the middle infielders will not be at second base when they should and nine times out of 10 the ball ends up in the outfield.

In most cases, the defensive players on the field will have no idea what just happened and often will yell at the first baseman for not making them aware that the base stealer is running by yelling “he’s going.”

Delayed Steal to Second Base – Slide Head First

Another relevant note is the runner will have increased success if he slides headfirst. Some of you might understand this logic, and for others it’s okay, I will explain. Is not sliding headfirst into second base a big issue? No, but every second count.

Most of the time when a delayed steal has been called it will usually be the runner going from first to second base. This explanation we will assume that is the scenario. The reason why it’s better by having the base stealer slide headfirst into second base is that, in theory, the middle infielder will be late getting to be to the bag. Understanding the situation, it is better for the highest part,(head and shoulders) of the base runner’s body to be closest to second base.

A second baseman who is tardy to second is more likely to be tagging the back part of the runner’s body, which in this case, the situation we would like to see, is the feet, which are now close to the ground and almost impossible to tag.


Courtesy of New York Times

Base Running Tip and Important To Note: Since the base stealer is not looking for a big jump he must NEVER get picked off while attempting a delayed steal.

When to Put on the Delay – Base Running Tip

As stated above, the most important issue is that the middle infielders are not paying attention. In most games, a coach will recognize right away that the delay will not be in the game plan for that present day. Nonetheless, if the middle infielders are not paying regard to the baserunners, then there are a few times to call the delay.

First, base running tip, speed is not a significant issue when running a delayed steal. In truth, it is customarily the slower guys on the team that you will do it with most often. As a result, these non-base stealers seem to take pride in their delay technique and do it well.

Keep in thought, and this is obvious, you would not have your fastest players delay steal because they can steal second with the conventional technique. Furthermore, a fast runner usually gets more attention than the “sloth”; thus the middle infielders are more likely to check their base or back up the pitcher on throwbacks from the catcher.

Runners at First and Third

Other than the delay possibility of actually being “the right situation” there is one great opportunity—having runners on first and third.

In the first and third situation, most defenses will insert some defensive counter.

Like I mentioned above. Oftentimes, the team in the field will put on a play where the shortstop runs to the middle of the infield to cut off a throw from the catcher. With a delay, the shortstop will be too late to come to the center, thus allowing the ball to go all the way through, and the runner from third will easily score.

A significant note is a runner on third must watch for two things: First, he must observe the catcher’s shoulders. When a catcher is throwing to third, his left shoulder will open up towards third base. In this situation, the runner must return to third right away.

Second, the base stealer must read the elevation of the throw to second; he must make sure the ball is not going to the pitcher. Once he correctly reads the height of the ball he can take off for home.

Base Running Drills Setup

  • Purpose: Develop base runners ability to master the timing required to perform a delayed steal.
  • Setup: Have an entire infield including a couple of catchers in gear. Coach or any pitcher can pitch. Have the rest of the players with helmets on ready to run the bases. Batters are not needed to run this drill.
  • Execution: In this drill have two or three lines at first base with the first runner at the bag and the other two lines spaced out slightly behind as if they were in the original baseline leading off from the bag.

Base Running Drills

Runners will take their usual lead off first base. As the pitcher begins their delivery, the runner will take their typical secondary lead. Base Running Tip – The goal here is to make the runners routine look like a regular secondary lead. Often players will alert the opposing team by being much more aggressive than normal on the secondary lead. It should look the same. The delayed steal is a timing play with a little bit of acting that you’ll call based on watching the opposing team. So you don’t want the player to alert the team that they are running by being more aggressive than usual.

After the pitch crosses the plate, the base runner will take one more shuffle step away from the base he is leading off from and then take off for second base or third base if he is leading off from second base. Base Running Tip – So the timing is to give the catcher and other players a split second to start doing what they usually do (not paying attention) before taking off.

Having the two or three lines of players all go at the same time is good reinforcement for both players and coaches that the timing is correct. They should be finishing their secondary lead at the same time and sprinting all out to the next base at the same time.

After the players run to second, have them stay there and when the entire team is there perform the same drill from second base.

Base Running Drills for Little Leaguebaserunning_faceplant-6378128

For Little League, this drill needs to be modified as you don’t want it to look like a straight steal. Typically there is something the team is doing after the catcher catches the ball and that is what you’re taking advantage. Taking off towards the next base too soon will take away that advantage.

Try setting up the scenarios, for example, if a catcher drops to his knees to toss the ball back to the pitcher, the timing should be when he starts falling to his knees. Alternatively, if he frames the pitch and stares at his glove, the timing would be to take off right when he starts framing the ball.

If the infielders are the key, then it may take a second or two before the runner should go. In this way, the delayed steal in Little League is more difficult than at other levels, but it can still be useful based on the situation. For this reason, you may not want to try this until they get a little older.