Stolen base

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The all-time stolen base leader, Rickey Henderson, steals third base in 1988. Baseball steal.jpg
The all-time stolen base leader, Rickey Henderson, steals third base in 1988.

In baseball, a stolen base occurs when a runner advances to a base to which he is not entitled and the official scorer rules that the advance should be credited to the action of the runner. The umpires determine whether the runner is safe or out at the next base, but the official scorer rules on the question of credit or blame for the advance under Rule 10 (Rules of Scoring) of the MLB's Official Rules. [1]

Contents

A stolen base most often occurs when a base runner advances to the next base while the pitcher is pitching the ball to home plate.

Successful base stealers are not only fast but have good baserunning instincts and timing.

Background

Ned Cuthbert, playing for the Philadelphia Keystones in either 1863 or 1865, was the first player to steal a base in a baseball game, although the term stolen base was not used until 1870. [2] For a time in the 19th century, stolen bases were credited when a baserunner reached an extra base on a base hit from another player. [3] For example, if a runner on first base reached third base on a single, it counted as a steal. In 1887, Hugh Nicol set a still-standing Major League record with 138 stolen bases, [4] many of which would not have counted under modern rules. [3] Modern steal rules were fully implemented in 1898. [5]

Graph depicting the yearly number of home runs (blue line) and stolen bases (pink line) per MLB game. The two primary periods in which the stolen base was popular were before 1920 and again in the 1970s and 1980s. MLB HR and SB rates.png
Graph depicting the yearly number of home runs (blue line) and stolen bases (pink line) per MLB game. The two primary periods in which the stolen base was popular were before 1920 and again in the 1970s and 1980s.

Base stealing was popular in the game's early decades, with speedsters such as Ty Cobb and Clyde Milan stealing nearly 100 bases in a season. But the tactic fell into relative disuse after Babe Ruth introduced the era of the home run in 1955, for example, no one in baseball stole more than 25 bases, and Dom DiMaggio won the AL stolen base title in 1950 with just 15. However, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, base-stealing was brought back to prominence primarily by Luis Aparicio and Maury Wills, who broke Cobb's modern single-season record by stealing 104 bases in 1962. Wills's record was broken in turn by Lou Brock in 1974 and Rickey Henderson in 1982. The stolen base remained a popular tactic through the 1980s, perhaps best exemplified by Vince Coleman and the St. Louis Cardinals, but began to decline again in the 1990s as the frequency of home runs reached record heights and the steal-friendly artificial turf ballparks began to disappear.

Base stealing is an important characteristic of the "small ball" managing style (or "manufacturing runs"). Such managers emphasize "doing the little things" (including risky running plays like base-stealing) to advance runners and score runs, often relying on pitching and defense to keep games close. The Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1960s, led by pitcher Sandy Koufax and speedy shortstop Maury Wills, were a successful example of this style. The antithesis of this is reliance on power hitting, exemplified by the Baltimore Orioles of the 1970s, which aspired to score most of its runs via home runs. Often the "small ball" model is associated with the National League, while power hitting is associated with the American League. However, some successful recent American League teams, including the 2002 Anaheim Angels, the 2001 Seattle Mariners and the 2005 Chicago White Sox have excelled at "small ball." The Kansas City Royals have embodied this style recently, leading the league in stolen bases but finishing last in home runs in 2013 and 2014. Successful teams often combine both styles, with speedy runners complementing power hitters—such as the 2005 White Sox, who hit 200 home runs, which was fifth most in the majors, and had 137 stolen bases, which was fourth. [6]

Base-stealing technique

Baseball's Rule 8 (The Pitcher) specifies the pitching procedure in detail. For example, in the Set Position, the pitcher must "com[e] to a complete stop"; thereafter, "any natural motion associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without alteration or interruption." [7] A runner intending to "steal on the pitcher" breaks for the next base the moment the pitcher commits to pitch to home plate. The pitcher cannot abort the pitch and try to put the runner out; this is a balk under Rule 8.

If the runner breaks too soon (before the pitcher is obliged to complete a pitch), the pitcher may throw to a base rather than pitch, and the runner is usually picked off by being tagged out between the bases. Past this moment, any delay in the runner's break makes it more likely that the catcher, after receiving the pitch, will be able to throw the runner out at the destination base.

Before the pitch, the runner takes a lead-off, walking several steps away from the base as a head start toward the next base. Even a runner who does not intend to steal takes a secondary lead of a few more steps, once the pitcher has legally committed to complete the pitch.

The pitcher may, without limit, throw the ball to the runner's base. The runner must return to that base or risk being tagged out; but the underlying strategy is thereby to dissuade the runner from too big a lead-off; that is, to hold the runner on his original base.

The more adept base stealers are proficient at reading the pickoff, meaning that they can detect certain tells (tell-tale signs) in a pitcher's pre-pitch movements or mannerisms that indicate the pickoff attempt is or is not imminent. For example, one experienced base stealer noted that careless pitchers dig the toes on their back foot into the ground when they are about to pitch in order to get a better push off, but when they intend to turn and throw a pickoff, they do not. [8]

If a batted ball is caught on the fly, the runner must return to his original base. In this case, a runner trying to steal is more likely to be caught off his original base, resulting in a double play. This is a minor risk of a steal attempt. It is offset by the fact that a ground ball double play is less likely.

Plays involving baserunning

In the hit-and-run play , coaches coordinate the actions of runner and batter. The runner tries to steal and the batter swings at almost any pitch, if only to distract the catcher. If the batter makes contact, the runner has a greater chance of reaching the next base; if the batter gets a base hit, the runner will likely be able to take an extra base. If the batter fails to hit the ball, the hit-and-run becomes a pure steal attempt.

The less common cousin to the hit and run is the “run and hit” play. In the run and hit, the base runner attempts to advance when the pitcher commits the pitch to home plate, but the batter is instead directed to exercise his judgement as to whether or not to swing at the pitch. If the batter feels it is not advantageous to swing, AND he believes the base runner is very likely to succeed in the steal attempt, he does not swing. This play is typically utilized with elite base stealers and skilled batters only, wherein a highly experienced batsman is trusted to decide whether or not to “protect” the base runner. If the batter chooses not to swing, it becomes a pure steal attempt.

In the delayed steal, the runner does not take advantage of the pitcher's duty to complete a pitch, but relies on surprise and takes advantage of any complacency by the fielders. The runner gives the impression he is not trying to steal, and does not break for the next base until the ball crosses the plate. It is rare for Major League defenses to be fooled, but the play is used effectively at the college level. The first delayed steal on record was performed by Miller Huggins in 1903. [9] The delayed steal was famously practiced by Eddie Stanky of the Brooklyn Dodgers. [10]

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Evan Simonitsch 02.jpg
Evan Simonitsch 03.jpg
A Loyola Marymount baserunner attempts to steal home during a 2011 college baseball game in Los Angeles.

Second base is the base most often stolen, because once a runner is on second base he is considered to be in scoring position, meaning that he is expected to be able to run home and score on most routine singles hit into the outfield. [8] Second base is also the easiest to steal, as it is farthest from home plate and thus a longer throw from the catcher is required to prevent it. Third base is a shorter throw for the catcher, but the runner is able to take a longer lead off second base and can leave for third base earlier against a left-handed pitcher. A steal of home plate is the riskiest, as the catcher only needs to tag out the runner after receiving the ball from the pitcher. It is difficult for the runner to cover the distance between the bases before the ball arrives home. Ty Cobb holds the records for most steals of home in a single season (8) as well as for a career (54). [11] Steals of home are not officially recorded statistics, and must be researched through individual game accounts. Thus Cobb's totals may be even greater than is recorded. [11] Jackie Robinson famously stole home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series. Thirty-five games have ended with a runner stealing home, but only two have occurred since 1980. [12] In a variation on the steal of home, the batter is signaled to simultaneously execute a sacrifice bunt, which results in the squeeze play. The suicide squeeze is a squeeze in which the runner on third begins to steal home without seeing the outcome of the bunt; it is so named because if the batter fails to bunt, the runner will surely be out. In contrast, when the runner on third does not commit until seeing that the ball is bunted advantageously, it is called a safety squeeze.

In more recent years, most steals of home involve a delayed double steal, in which a runner on first attempts to steal second, while the runner on third breaks for home as soon as the catcher throws to second base. If it is important to prevent the run from scoring, the catcher may hold on to the ball (conceding the steal of second) or may throw to the pitcher; this may deceive the runner at third and the pitcher may throw back to the catcher for the out.

Statistics

Tim Locastro steals second base for the Oklahoma City Dodgers during a 2017 game An out at 2nd (36554976006).jpg
Tim Locastro steals second base for the Oklahoma City Dodgers during a 2017 game

In baseball statistics, stolen bases are denoted by SB. Attempts to steal that result in the baserunner being out are caught stealing (CS). The sum of these statistics is steal attempts. Successful steals as a percentage of total steal attempts is called the success rate.

The rule on stolen bases [13] states that:

Relative skill at stealing bases can be judged by evaluating either a player's total number of steals or the success rate. Noted statistician Bill James has argued that unless a player has a high success rate (67-70% or better), attempting to steal a base is detrimental to a team. [15]

Comparing skill against players from other eras is problematic, because the definition has not been constant. Caught stealing was not recorded regularly until the middle of the 20th century. Ty Cobb, for example, was known as a great base-stealer, with 892 steals and a success rate of over 83%. However, the data on Cobb's caught stealing is missing from 12 seasons, strongly suggesting he was unsuccessful many more times than his stats indicate. [16] Carlos Beltrán, with 286 steals, has the highest career success rate of all players with over 300 stolen base attempts, at 88.3%.

Evolution of rules and scoring

"Abbot Nailing the First Steal Attempted on Swayne Field" 1909 Abbot Nailing the First Steal Attempted on Swayne Field, Attendance 12,000, Toledo O. - DPLA - ba2394a7f96a698bd750c95a6530012a (page 1).jpg
"Abbot Nailing the First Steal Attempted on Swayne Field" 1909
Lastings Milledge steals a base. Lastings Milledge and Luis Castillo.jpg
Lastings Milledge steals a base.

The first mention of the stolen base as a statistic was in the 1877 scoring rules adopted by the National League, which noted credit toward a player's total bases when a base is stolen. [17] It was not until 1886 that the stolen base appeared as something to be tracked, but was only to "appear in the summary of the game". [18]

In 1887, the stolen base was given its own individual statistical column in the box score, and was defined for purposes of scoring: "...every base made after first base has been reached by a base runner, except for those made by reason of or with the aid of a battery error (wild pitch or passed ball), or by batting, balks or by being forced off. In short, shall include all bases made by a clean steal, or through a wild throw or muff of the ball by a fielder who is directly trying to put the base runner out while attempting to steal." [19] The next year, it was clarified that any attempt to steal must be credited to the runner, and that fielders committing errors during this play must also be charged with an error. This rule also clarified that advancement of another base(s) beyond the one being stolen is not credited as a stolen base on the same play, and that an error is charged to the fielder who permitted the extra advancement. There was clarification that a runner is credited with a steal if the attempt began before a battery error. Finally, batters were credited with a stolen base if they were tagged out after over running the base. [19]

In 1892, a rule credited runners with stolen bases if a base runner advanced on a fly out, or if they advanced more than one base on any safe hit or attempted out, providing an attempt was made by the defense to put the runner out. [19] The rule was rescinded in 1897. [19]

In 1898, stolen base scoring was narrowed to no longer include advancement in the event of a fielding error, or advancement caused by a hit batsman. [20]

1904 saw an attempt to reduce the already wordy slew of rules governing stolen bases, with the stolen base now credited when "the baserunner[ sic ] advances a base unaided by a base hit, a put out, (or) a fielding or batter error." [21]

1910 saw the first addressing of the double and triple steal attempts. Under the new rule, when any runner is thrown out, and the other(s) are successful, the successful runners will not be credited with a stolen base. [21]

Without using the term, 1920 saw the first rule that would be referred to today as defensive indifference, as stolen bases would not be credited, unless an effort was made to stop the runner by the defense. [14] This is usually called if such is attempted in the ninth inning while that player's team is trailing, unless the runner represents the potential tying run. [22]

1931 saw a further narrowing of the criteria for awarding a stolen base. Power was given to the official scorer, in the event of a muff by the catcher in throwing, that in the judgment of the scorer the runner would have been out, to credit the catcher with an error, and not credit the runner with a stolen base. [23] Further, any successful steal on a play resulting in a wild pitch, passed ball, or balk would no longer be credited as a steal, even if the runner had started to steal before the play. [23]

One of the largest rewrites to the rules in history came in 1950. [24] The stolen base was specifically to be credited "to a runner whenever he advances one base unaided by a base hit, a putout, a forceout, a fielder's choice, a passed ball, a wild pitch, or a balk." [25]

There were noted exceptions, such as denying a stolen base to an otherwise successful steal as a part of a double or triple steal, if one other runner was thrown out in the process. [25] A stolen base would be awarded to runners who successfully stole second base as a part of a double steal with a man on third, if the other runner failed to steal home, but instead was able to return safely to third base. [25] Runners who are tagged out oversliding the base after an otherwise successful steal would not be credited with a stolen base. [25] Indifference was also credited as an exception. [25] Runners would now be credited with stolen bases if they had begun the act of stealing, and the resulting pitch was wild, or a passed ball. [25] Finally, for 1950 only, runners would be credited with a stolen base if they were "well advanced" toward the base they were attempting to steal, and the pitcher is charged with a balk, with the further exception of a player attempting to steal, who would otherwise have been forced to advance on the balk by a runner behind them. [25] This rule was removed in 1951. [25]

A clarification came in 1955 that awarded a stolen base to a runner even if he became involved in a rundown, provided he evaded the rundown and advanced to the base he intended to steal. [26]

The criteria for "caught stealing" were fine-tuned in 1979, with a runner being charged with being caught if he is put out while trying to steal, overslides a base (otherwise successfully stolen), or is picked off a base and tries to advance to the next base. [27] It is explicitly not caught stealing to be put out after a wild pitch or passed ball. [27]

"Stealing first"

While not recorded as a stolen base, the same dynamic between batter/runner and defense is on display in the case of an uncaught third strike. The batter/runner can avoid an out and become a baserunner by reaching first base ahead of the throw. This case is a strikeout that is not an out; the batter/runner's acquisition of first base is scored as a passed ball, a wild pitch, or an error. [28]

In baseball's earlier decades, a runner on second base could "steal" first base, perhaps with the intention of drawing a throw that might allow a runner on third to score (a tactic famously employed by Germany Schaefer). However, such a tactic was not recorded as a stolen base. MLB rules now forbid running clockwise on the basepaths to "confuse the defense or make a travesty of the game". [29] Further, after the pitcher assumes the pitching position, runners cannot return to any previous base. [30]

In a game on April 19, 2013, [31] Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jean Segura stole second base in the bottom of the eighth inning. After the batter up, Ryan Braun, walked, Segura broke early for third base and the pitcher, Shawn Camp of the Chicago Cubs, threw ahead of him. As Segura was chased back to second base, Braun advanced to second as well and was tagged out. Segura, thinking he was out, began to return to the home dugout behind first base, but first base coach Garth Iorg directed him to stand at first. Segura had not intentionally run the bases backwards as a deception or mockery, but no fielder tried to tag him out. Later in the inning, he attempted to steal second for the second time, but was thrown out by catcher Welington Castillo. [32]

The expression "You can't steal first base" is sometimes used in reference to a player who is fast but not very good at getting on base in the first place. [33] Former Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is jokingly referred to as having "stolen first" in a June 26, 2001 game as the manager of the Pirates: after being ejected for disputing a call at first base, he yanked the base out of the ground and left the field with it, delaying the game. [34]

The independent Atlantic League instituted a new rule for the second half of the 2019 season, allowing batters to become runners on any pitch not "caught in flight" by the catcher, as they can throughout baseball after most uncaught third strikes. [35] On July 13, 2019, outfielder Tony Thomas of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs became the first player to reach first base under this rule. The press described this as "stealing first base", [36] though it is scored as described above.

See also

Related Research Articles

Baseball statistics play an important role in evaluating the progress of a player or team.

Hit (baseball) In baseball, hitting the ball into fair territory and safely reaching base without the benefit of an error or fielders choice

In baseball statistics, a hit, also called a base hit, is credited to a batter when the batter safely reaches or passes first base after hitting the ball into fair territory, without the benefit of an error or a fielder's choice.

In baseball, fielder's choice refers to a variety of plays involving an offensive player reaching a base due to the defense's attempt to put out another baserunner, or the defensive team's indifference to his advance. Fielder's choice is not called by the umpires on the field of play; rather, it is recorded by the official scorer to account for the offensive player's advance without crediting him with an offensive statistic such as a hit or stolen base.

Caught stealing

In baseball, a runner is charged, and the fielders involved are credited, with a time caught stealing when the runner attempts to advance or lead off from one base to another without the ball being batted and then is tagged out by a fielder while making the attempt. A time caught stealing cannot be charged to a batter-runner, a runner who is still advancing as the direct result of reaching base. In baseball statistics, caught stealing is denoted by CS. MLB began tracking caught stealing in 1951.

Error (baseball) Baseball statistic

In baseball statistics, an error is an act, in the judgment of the official scorer, of a fielder misplaying a ball in a manner that allows a batter or baserunner to advance one or more bases or allows a plate appearance to continue after the batter should have been put out. The term error is sometimes used to refer to the play during which an error was committed.

Catcher Defensive position in baseball and softball played behind home plate, facing the field

Catcher is a position for a baseball or softball player. When a batter takes their turn to hit, the catcher crouches behind home plate, in front of the (home) umpire, and receives the ball from the pitcher. In addition to this primary duty, the catcher is also called upon to master many other skills in order to field the position well. The role of the catcher is similar to that of the wicket-keeper in cricket, but in cricket, wicketkeepers are increasingly known for their batting abilities.

Official scorer Person who records the official record of events in a baseball game

In the game of baseball, the official scorer is a person appointed by the league to record the events on the field, and to send the official scoring record of the game back to the league offices. In addition to recording the events on the field such as the outcome of each plate appearance and the circumstances of any baserunner's advance around the bases, the official scorer is also charged with making judgment calls that do not affect the progress or outcome of the game. Judgment calls are primarily made about errors, unearned runs, fielder's choice, the value of hits in certain situations, and wild pitches, all of which are included in the record compiled. This record is used to compile statistics for each player and team. A box score is a summary of the official scorer's game record.

Intentional base on balls Walk issued by a pitcher to avoid the potential for the batter to get a hit

In baseball, an intentional base on balls, usually referred to as an intentional walk and denoted in baseball scorekeeping by IBB, is a walk issued to a batter by a pitcher with the intent of removing the batter's opportunity to swing at the pitched ball. A pitch that is intentionally thrown far outside the strike zone for this purpose is referred to as an intentional ball.

Pitchout

In baseball or softball, a pitchout is a ball that is intentionally thrown high and outside the strike zone with the purpose of preventing a stolen base, thwarting a hit and run, or to prevent a run-scoring play on a suicide squeeze play. The pitcher delivers the ball in such a manner for it to be unhittable and in a position where the catcher can quickly leap to their feet to catch it. A well-thrown pitchout will allow the catcher to receive the ball standing up as opposed to their usual squat, giving them a better line to throw to a base without the pitcher or the batter obstructing their vision or aim. Moreover, it is easier to throw a ball with more force from a standing position than it is from a squat, which is why most catchers leap to their feet when attempting to throw out a base stealer. A pitchout is a type of intentional ball, but differs in that a pitchout is thrown harder to give the catcher the most time to throw out the base runner.

Out (baseball)

In baseball, an out occurs when the umpire rules a batter or baserunner out. When a batter or runner is out, they return to the dugout until their next turn at bat. When three outs are recorded in a half inning, the batting team's turn expires.

Baseball rules overview about the rules of baseball at different levels and in different countries

The rules of baseball differ slightly from league to league, but in general share the same basic game play.

In baseball, interference occurs in situations in which a person illegally changes the course of play from what is expected. Interference might be committed by players on the offense, players not currently in the game, catchers, umpires, or spectators. Each type of interference is covered differently by the rules.

Balk Illegal action in baseball

In baseball, a pitcher can commit a number of illegal motions or actions that constitute a balk. Most of these violations involve a pitcher pretending to pitch when he has no intention of doing so. In games played under the Official Baseball Rules that govern professional play in the United States and Canada, a balk results in a dead ball or delayed dead ball. In certain other circumstances, a balk may be wholly or partially disregarded. Under other rule sets, notably in the United States under the National Federation of High Schools Baseball Rules, a balk results in an immediate dead ball. In the event a balk is enforced, the pitch is generally nullified, each runner is awarded one base, and the batter (generally) remains at bat, and with the previous count. The balk rule in Major League Baseball was introduced in 1898.

Pickoff

In baseball, a pickoff is an act by a pitcher, throwing a live ball to a fielder so that the fielder can tag out a baserunner who is either leading off or about to begin stealing the next base.

Uncaught third strike

In baseball and softball, an uncaught third strike occurs when the catcher fails to cleanly catch a pitch for the third strike of a plate appearance. In Major League Baseball (MLB), the specific rules concerning the uncaught third strike are addressed in Rules 5.05 and 5.09 of the Official Baseball Rules: This is one of the oldest rules in modern baseball, dating at least to the Knickerbocker Rules of 1845: "Three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught, is a hand-out."

Glossary of baseball terms List of definitions of terms and concepts used in baseball

This is an alphabetical list of selected unofficial and specialized terms, phrases, and other jargon used in baseball, along with their definitions, including illustrative examples for many entries.

Base running In baseball, the act of running from base to base, performed by a member of the team at bat

In baseball, base running is the act of running from base to base, performed by members of the team at bat.

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