Friday, April 3, 2009

Steal the base if PD + POP > ST

We previously established the undeniable fact that scoring from 2nd base is more likely than scoring from 1st base. In case you forgot, I have noted the probabilities below:

  • Probability of scoring from 2nd with no outs is 40% higher than scoring from 1st with no outs.
  • Probability of scoring from 2nd with one out is 55% higher than scoring from 1st with one out.
  • Probability of scoring from 2nd with two outs is 85% higher than scoring from 1st with two outs.
Given this general understanding, it is important for teams to secure 2nd base early and often. The first option considered by coaches should be to steal the base. This requires the player to be skilled in taking leads, reading pitchers, getting a good jump, possessing good speed, and executing proper sliding mechanics. None of which are the subject of this blog. As a precurser to attempting a steal, the coach must evaluate the risk of a failed attempt.

The risk associated with an attempted steal of a base should be understood as a part of managing the game. How many outs are there, what inning are you in, who is the hitter at the plate, what is the score, etc. are variables to consider when determining if a steal attempt is worth the risk. In addition, a method to evaluate the risk of your players successfully stealing a base is PD + POP > ST.

ST= your players speed time from first to second base
PD= pitchers delivery time to the plate
POP= the catchers "POP" time to second base

For example,

ST: 3.75 s
PD: 1.85 s
POP: 2.2 s

In this situation, 1.85 + 2.2 > 3.75, the player has a high success probability of stealing the base- all other variables considered.

ST: 4.12 s
PD: 1.85 s
POP: 2.2 s

In this situation, 1.85 + 2.2 > 4.12, the player has a marginal success probability of stealing this base- all other variables considered. If the players speed time is anything over 4.12 s in this situation, it may not be worth the risk of stealing the base and other methods (bunting, hit-and-run, etc.) may become a better option.

So, how do we collect the data and what does it tell us?

ST= set up an orange cone on first base that is equal to the general lead a player should take on first base. Have the player position is right foot even with the cone at the start. When the player is ready, have him make a steal attempt. You will have a stop watch and start the timer when he makes his first move toward 2nd base. The times should be recorded in a notebook and be available at all games as reference. Anything 3.75 s or less at the high school level is good and will likely result in a successful steal attempt of 2nd base on most pitchers/catchers. Times of 3.3-3.4s should have the open steal option as few catchers/pitchers can beat this time. Instead pitchers will vary their looks and throws to first to slow this runner down.

As with your players, it is a good idea to chart the same times for your opponents during the game. Attempt to get data on the opponents runners as it will be valuable in your own defensive strategy.

PD= this data is collected when the pitcher is in the stretch position. After his hands come set, he will make a move toward home plate to deliver the ball. As soon as he starts the move toward home plate, you start the stop watch. When the ball reaches the catchers glove, you stop the stop watch. The time is charted during a game to evaluate delivery times of different pitches i.e. fastball, curve ball, change up, etc. This is done during the game and communicated to the players and coaches. Anything 1.65s or slower is a prime candidate to steal on. Most pitchers don't understand their own delivery speed and thus may aid your steal attempt by being slow to the plate. When you begin to advance bases, the pitcher will likely respond by hurrying his move to the plate, thus disrupting his rhythm. This will give the offensive team the advantage.

Don't forget to acquire this data for your pitchers. Having an understanding of your pitchers delivery times and subsequent vulnerability to the steal will be valuable in your own defensive strategy.

POP= the catchers ability to throw runners out is a valuable defensive tool. The POP time for catchers communicates the ability of a catcher to receive the throw from the pitcher and transition his body into throwing position, as well as the strength of his throwing arm. The POP time is collected by starting the stop watch when the ball hits the catchers glove and is stopped when the ball hits the glove of the player receiving the throw at 2nd base. A good high school and college POP time is 2.2s or less to 2nd base.

Gather the same POP data on your teams catcher as it will be valuable to your own defensive strategy.

When you get a complete picture on the pitchers delivery time to the plate combined with the catchers POP time to second, and compare this information to your individual players steal time you are in a good position to evaluate the risk of having a successful steal attempt.

Coaches, carry a stop watch to every game and practice. Charting this information for your offense and defense will improve your ability to make decisions that can impact the games outcome.


  1. This formula is very easy to use in a game situation because it's simple addition. I'm not sure why it's not more widely practiced. The only thing a coach needs to do is get his players' Steal Times (ST). That can be done at a practice in five minutes.

    After that, the coach needs to carry a stopwatch and use it.

    The formula makes coaching decisions much easier and more successful.

    Great stuff as always Michael!

  2. First off, 1.85+2.2 is SMALLER than 4.12, not larger.
    So your second example is wrong.
    It should be 1.85+2.2 < 4.12
    In this case, you have a LESS than marginal chance of stealing the base.
    All things being equal, if you can't steal a base at least 65-70 percent of the time, you're better off not trying to steal at all.
    Of course, there are certain rare situations where a 50/50 shot might be worth taking, but they are rare.
    Secondly, to get a truly accurate picture of a players steal time to second, you will NOT want to simply start the timer on the runner's first move.
    Stealing a base isn't all about footspeed.
    It's also about being able to get a good jump, which can be timed this way:
    Have your runner take his leadoff with a real pitcher on the mound and a guy holding him on at first base.
    Have the pitcher make an occasional throw to first to keep him honest.
    Then, start the timer on the PITCHER's first move and end it when the runner touches second base.
    This will give you a truer picture of how fast each player is getting to second in a real game situation.
    You may want to take several times with several different pitchers on the mound, as different pitcher's are better or worse at holding guys on.
    Just remember, there are plenty of guys who have plus speed but are zero-sum base stealers because they get picked off to much or don't get good jumps.