Copyright John T. Reed

It only takes about ten minutes to teach your players how to do a delayed steal. But it will almost certainly pay dividends as soon as your next game.

In a normal steal, you go when the pitch reaches the strike zone (e.g., Little League) or whenever you want, typically when the pitcher's body starts to move and you are convinced he is throwing home. In one form of the delayed steal, you go when the ball leaves the catcher's hand on its way back to the pitcher.

This works best when the catcher is lobbing the ball back. It is also good if the pitcher stays on the mound and the catcher in the catcher's box. Some batteries (catcher and pitcher) walk toward each other after every pitch. I sometimes complain about that as delay of the game and I will not let my own batteries do it because it puts the fielders to sleep. Batteries who walk toward each other after every pitch make it harder to do the delayed steal.

Another situation that makes the delayed steal good is a pitcher who is in the habit of taking a stroll around the mound or turning away from the runner every time he catches the throw back from the catcher.

But you can successfully run the delayed steal almost any time you have the element of surprise. After the pitch reaches the plate, the runner takes an unusually long secondary (post-pitch) lead. But he must do so without attracting attention to himself. I told my players to be nonchalant, but they said, "What's that mean?" Try to get a walking secondary lead. That is, as the catcher comes up to throw back to the pitcher, the runner is walking casually toward the next base.

As soon as he sees daylight between the ball and the catcher's hand, the runner explodes to the next base. Usually, the surprise is so total that there is not even a throw or they may be no one covering the base to whom to throw. Typically, when the runner takes off, everyone on the opposing team, players and coaches, start screaming at the pitcher. His first reaction is, "What!?" By the time he and the baseman figure out what they need to do, it's too late.

Even your slowest runners can steal successfully using the delayed steal. This is not a no brainer. They must pick their spots. In most cases, it's best to lengthen your secondary lead each pitch to test the waters before you go. It generally would not work against my teams because we were so aware of it from having practiced it as runners.

You can use the delayed steal between first and second or second and third. It is not so hot between third and home because the base is covered and the pitcher is looking that way when the ball is thrown to him. However, the delayed steal of home will work when home is not covered. That happens when the catcher chases a ball that gets away from him and the pitcher either does not cover home or returns to the pitcher's mound prematurely. It can also work after the catcher catches a pop foul or if the catcher chases the runner back up the base line toward third, then throws to the mound before he goes back to home. If the catcher throws back to the pitcher's mound from any location not near home plate, the delayed steal of home will work. I call that the "Dayo" play. "Daylight come (between ball and catcher's hand) and me wanna go home".

At the Little League level, we found we generally did not need the delayed steal when going from first to second because of the long throw from home to second. So we used it mainly to get to third. It will work to second though and might be a good way to go for your slowest runners. At the levels where you can take a pre-pitch lead, the delayed steal may even be better for stealing second than third because you can take a longer primary (pre-pitch) lead at second and may not need the delayed steal to get to third.

One of my players, Will Sykes, who was tailback on my youth football team, was so fast that he was able to steal from first to home on three consecutive delayed steals.

There are many more such baserunning tricks in my book Youth Baseball Coaching.

Good luck,

John T. Reed