By: Todd Guilliams
Originally Published in: High-Scoring Baseball
Provided by: Human Kinetics
As Carl Crawford of the Boston Red Sox said, "Manufacturing runs is important...That's why stealing [third] is becoming a big thing, too." If a base runner can get to third base with none or one out, he has more ways to score than he did from second, primarily because a base hit is not needed.
The best time to steal third base is with one out in the inning. But the runner should attempt to steal third only if he has an extremely high probability of success. The base runner is already in scoring position at second base, so if he is tagged out while stealing third, he has squandered a good chance of scoring a run that inning.
Base stealers should be more aggressive against LHPs because, with their backs to the base runner, LHPs are usually slower to the plate than RHPs. Again, the base runner should study the pitcher before reaching second base so that he can answer three questions:
Answering these questions gives the base runner the knowledge necessary to steal third successfully. As with leads at first base, the base runner must run through the checklist. He must know the number of outs, get the sign from the third-base coach, and check the positioning of the outfielders and infielders. One difference in the checklist at second base is always to end by checking the shortstop a second time before proceeding. The shortstop will be behind the base runner and out of his line of sight after the lead is completed.
A steal lead at second base is also a measured lead of 21 feet (6.4 m) or seven steps (versus 13 to 15 feet [4.0 to 4.6 ml taken at first base). The runner should start by toeing the back of the second-base bag with his left foot and walking seven steps, beginning with his right foot. After the runner has completed a seven-step lead, he should make a mark with his right foot. This mark enables him to return to the lead position without having to mark the leadoff every time.
After the base runner gets his seven-step lead, he extends his lead an additional 3 feet (.9 m) while the catcher is putting down the signs by simply slide stepping his left foot to his right foot, resetting his feet. The base runner is then 24 feet (7.3 m) from second base, marking the minimum steal lead.
From the minimum steal lead, the base runner can take two steps and a dive on a pickoff attempt. He crosses over with his right foot, steps with his left foot, uses the spoke technique with his left hand, and dives to the back of the second-base bag. At all times, the base runner must keep his eyes on the pitcher and listen to the third-base coach. If the base runner hears nothing from the coach, he is free to steal third base. If the third-base coach says, "Back one," the base runner must retreat 3 feet (.9 m) back to the 21-foot (6.4 m) mark. Depending on what the middle infielders do, the third-base coach can say, "OK," meaning that the base runner can return to the 24-foot (7.3 m) mark, the minimum lead from which he can attempt a steal of third base.
After the pitcher has made his last look to second base and turns his head toward home, the base runner takes a short (3 feet [.9 m] ), quick sideways shuffle toward third base known as a vault (figure 8.14). When executing a vault, the hips and shoulders must remain square to the baseline and not open up prematurely. Maintaining the squared stance serves as a safety valve, allowing the base runner either to proceed to third or to return to second. The vault should be completed about a half second before the pitcher delivers the ball home. The key for the base runner is to vault when he cannot see one of the pitcher's eyes as the pitcher turns his head back to home the last time. If the pitcher's front leg moves, the runner should continue to third base with his head up and his eyes focused on the pitcher for a minimum of two steps. He does this because if the pitcher spins around toward second base after lifting his front leg, the base runner needs to stop and attempt to make it back to second base safely.
After vaulting, if the pitcher does not deliver the baseball home, the base runner simply vaults back to his original 24-foot (7.3 m) lead. The base runner is then in a position to dive back to second base on a pickoff attempt or try to time the pitcher's head look again and vault.
The vault accomplishes two things. First, it allows the base runner to create momentum toward third base before the pitcher delivers the baseball home. Second, the vault is a safety valve if the pitcher lifts his front leg and spins in an attempt to pick the runner off second base. The base runner must practice the vault regularly so that he knows when he has established his best jump. Runners who get their best jump can continue toward third. Runners not achieving their best jump need to choke off the steal attempt within two steps and pull up.
DRILL FOR STEALING THIRD BASE
When doing drills to steal third base, coaches should encourage base stealers to be aggressive and anticipate the pitcher's head look back to the plate. The number one problem that base stealers have is that they hesitate, which makes them conservative and results in an inability to steal third base. Coaches should fall into patterns when serving as the pitcher in these drills so that players can recognize patterns and develop the ability to anticipate and get better jumps.
Four Man (Stealing Third)
Line up three bases behind second base in a straight line with the first-base bag. Paint lines at 21, 24, and 28 feet (6.4, 7.3, and 8.5 m). These lines represent where the base runner needs to be at each stage of his steal attempt of third base. One coach is on the pitcher's mound, and another coach is behind the four runners, serving as the third-base coach.
Four players each take a lead off one of the second bases. After the base runners take their 21-foot (6.4 m) leads, the coach on the mound looks toward home as if he is getting the sign from the catcher. From here, the base runners extend their leads to 24 feet (7.3 m) by taking a slide step and resetting their feet, listening to the coach behind them, and trying to time the pitcher's head looks. The base stealer will reach the 28-foot mark at the completion of his vault.