The delayed steal is a play intended to catch the defense off guard and advance a slower runner to second base. (Although fast runners can make this play that much more successful.) It is also used against teams with great catchers, pitchers with good pick off moves and/or middle infielders who lose concentration and don’t ‘pinch in’ on every throw from the catcher to the pitcher. The idea is to take advantage of defensive lapses by the middle infielders and the catcher. This tactic can also be effective if the catcher has a habit of dropping to his knees after he receives the ball.
The delayed steal is not an every-game type of play. It’s a play a team should use when they absolutely have to have a run. Use this play only four or five times a season.
During an ordinary steal, the base runner takes his primary lead and then sprints to second base on the pitchers first movement (LH) or when he commits to the plate (RH). During the delayed steal the runner takes his primary lead, a 3 shuffle step secondary lead, and then sprints to second base. (No crossover steps and keeps the shoulders squared to the plate during the secondary lead.) The third shuffle step in his secondary lead should take place just as the ball is hitting the catcher’s glove. That is when he makes his steal attempt; with a crossover step and good momentum to the bag.
The secondary lead disguises the steal. By the time the catcher gets the ball the defense notices the stealing runner and it becomes a foot race to second base between the runner and middle infielders. They often arrive at the bag at the same time, forcing the middle infielder to catch and apply a tag on the run. The runner should slide into second base (hands down) making the tag more difficult. (Note: your league may not allow the head-first slide.)
Baseball Excellence teaches base runners to always take their leads off first base the same way every time. (Primary Lead: Pitcher toes the rubber- three steps, beginning with the right foot. Pitcher comes set- two slide steps, beginning with the right foot. Secondary lead: Pitcher goes to the plate- three shuffle steps.) Not only is this the best way to get a maximum-safe lead but with all runners executing these maneuvers exactly the same way every time, it disguises plays and steal attempts.
It is best to cover delayed steals with your players during a teaching session, early in the season while covering primary leads, secondary leads, and straight steals. You can set up a pitcher, catcher, short stop and second baseman (edge of the grass), first baseman and everyone else becomes a base runner at first base. (Helmets on).
The runners should repetitively take their primary leads as the pitcher toes the rubber. Then they take their three-shuffle hop secondary lead as the pitcher releases the ball to the plate. They should use their momentum to sprint to second base and slide. During these drills the defense should yell “Runner!” just after the catcher receives the ball.
This allows your pitchers to get in a short bullpen and gives your catchers reps throwing to second base.
WHEN: Best times to attempt a delayed steal are:
1. When the pitcher has a quick move to the plate, making it difficult to execute a straight steal.
2. A left-handed hitter at the plate can help hide you from the catcher until you have made your break.
3. When there are two outs. With less than two outs the middle infielders will be at double play depth, closer to the bag, making it easier for them to get there in time.
4. When the opposing catcher is not alert.
5. The later stages of a game.*
We know the delayed steal concept is hard for a 12U player/coach/parent to understand because kids can often steal second base without a throw, but on the big field it becomes more uncertain to steal a base. At that level teams have few (if any) players that can steal second base on their own. This is why coaches rely on things such as bunts, hit and runs, delayed steals, etc.; in order to advance runners. Teaching the delayed steal early means it’s one less skill your players will need to learn later. Players that can routinely execute these will show their high school coaches that they are “coachable” or have “athletic intelligence”. Likewise, Youth teams that routinely execute these tell prospective players (and parents) that they are knowledgeable and can teach their kids the things they need to get to the next level.
In leagues where a runner cannot lead off it is common to try to steal just as the catcher is throwing the ball back to the pitcher. This is not a true delayed steal but it can be effective if a defense is not paying attention to the “little things.”
*Those of you who have coached in tournament play understand how much fatigue plays a part in your teams’ performance. Two games on a hot summer day can take a lot of energy and attentiveness out of your team. (That is part of a coach’s job – to help his kids develop inner toughness and to keep them mentally in the game.)
Why bring that up in conjunction with the delayed steal? Because the late innings is the best time to execute it. Pay attention to your opponent’s defensive play, look for small mistakes and breakdowns in concentration and take this little strategy out of your bag of tricks at a key moment in a game.
How do you defense the delayed steal? An alert team that communicates, stays mentally in the game and routinely makes the correct defensive moves will stop this play. (With a LH batter the catcher should come out prepared to throw on every pitch.)
Indeed, if the opposing coach sees that you have no “chinks in your defensive armor” he probably won’t even attempt it.
Once again, the delayed steal is not a play you use “just because you can” and it is not a play designed to ‘bury’ opponents. It is a special play to use only at times when you desperately need a run.