The Delayed Steal: What is it and When Do You Use it?


The Delayed Steal

One of the most fun things a baseball player can do is steal bases. Even though stealing the next base is fun, it can also be a challenging task, especially if the base runner is slow or the catcher has a good arm. The good news for base runners is that there is more than one way to steal a base. One of those unconventional, but effective ways to steal is by performing a delayed steal. What is a delayed steal?

In baseball, a delayed steal is when a runner attempts to advance to the next base after taking their secondary lead. Baserunners use the delayed steal when they believe the defense is not paying attention after a pitch.

Even though the most common method of a delayed steal occurs after the base runner takes a secondary lead, there are also other methods a base runner can use for a delayed steal.

Types of Delayed Steals

There are a handful of variations of a delayed steal in baseball and base runners who are alert are able to utilize all of these at some point in their baseball career.

In general, stolen bases do not happen very often in a baseball game. On top of that, the delayed steal is not a very common way for a base runner to earn a stolen base.

So even though it’s fairly rare to see a delayed steal in baseball, good base runners are still aware of all the ways they could potentially earn a delayed steal. How do you do a delayed steal in baseball?

As a general rule, base runners perform a delayed steal when they believe the defense is not paying attention. This includes stealing after taking a secondary lead, as the catcher is throwing the ball back to the pitcher, or after the pitcher has received the ball from the catcher.

Let’s cover each of those types of delayed steals in more depth.

Stealing After Taking a Secondary Lead

The most common, and most taught, way of performing a delayed steal is by advancing to the next base after taking a secondary lead. Visit my previous article to learn more about what is a secondary lead in baseball.

To begin the delayed steal, base runners need to take their primary lead. As the pitcher begins their delivery, the base runner will move as though they are taking their normal secondary lead. Because the base runner knows they will be stealing, they should also try to cover a lot more ground on this secondary lead so they have less distance to travel to the next base.

Base runners will also need to be discreet about their intentions when taking their secondary lead. If they move in such a way that alerts the defense they are stealing, the defense will call it out and be prepared for the steal. 

As the ball reaches the strike zone, the base runner should have taken a good secondary lead. And once the pitch reaches the strike zone, the runner should be advancing towards the next base.

To see a great example of the delayed steal in action, watch the video below from an MLB game. You can also see a better view of the delayed steal about 23 seconds into this video.

Stealing as the Catcher Throws the Ball Back to the Pitcher

Another common way to perform a delayed steal is when the base runner waits for the catcher to throw the ball back to the pitcher. This strategy involves the runner being very aware of how the defense is reacting after a pitch.

On occasion, the defense can get lazy after a pitch has been delivered. This can be in the form of the catcher lobbing a ball back to the pitcher, the pitcher never looking at the base runner, or the defense not paying attention to the base runner after a pitch.

In either scenario, the goal of the base runner is to take advantage by catching the defense off-guard with a delayed steal when they are least expecting it.

To perform this delayed steal, the runner will go through the motions of taking their primary lead and their secondary lead. After their secondary lead, base runners should stand still and wait for the catcher to throw the ball back to the pitcher.

Just as the catcher releases the ball to throw it back to the pitcher, the runner should take off for the next base. If performed correctly, the defense will be completely unprepared for the steal and the runner will safely advance towards the next base.

To see a great example of this, watch the video below of Billy Hamilton catching everyone off-guard with a delayed steal.

Delayed Steal of Home

One scenario where it benefits the runner to wait until the catcher throws the ball back to the catcher is when that runner wants to steal home. In fact, this is the exact version of the delayed steal that I’ve used to steal home.

This scenario works best when the base runner has observed that neither the pitcher, catcher, or third baseman has been paying attention to what the runner on third has been doing.

To perform a delayed steal of home, the runner on third base must get a good secondary lead and then take off for home as soon as they see the catcher begin the throwback to the pitcher.

For the runner to be safe, they have to not take off too early and not take off too late. If the pitcher throws the ball back to the catcher to get the out, the play at the plate will be close. So the runner needs to time it perfectly so they have the best chance of being safe.

Below is a video where a runner perfectly times the catcher and successfully executes a delayed steal of home.

Stealing After the Pitcher has Received the Ball From the Catcher

A less utilized version of the delayed steal is stealing after the pitcher has received the ball from the catcher. This type of delayed steal is less common because it requires the runner to take off while the pitcher is holding the ball.

Stealing while the pitcher is holding the ball is a strategy that works best when the runner knows the pitcher is oblivious to base runners. Sometimes a pitcher has a few bad pitches or has a few bad batters and starts to get in his own head.

In these scenarios, base runners may notice that the pitcher and the defense not paying attention to anything except the next pitch. In these scenarios, a base runner can take advantage of an open base by stealing while the pitcher is holding the ball.

Delayed Steal With Runners of First and Third Base

One tactic coaches may use to get a runner home safely is by performing a delayed steal while runners are on first and third base.

To perform this move, the runner on first base will perform a delayed steal by attempting a stolen base after their secondary lead.

The idea behind this strategy is that the catcher will see a potentially easy out at second base and throw the ball to second. While the catcher throws the ball to second, the runner on third will advance home for a run.

This is best performed with one out or no outs in the inning. Hopefully, the runner stealing second base will safely make it, but the goal with this strategy is to score a run.

What is the Point of a Delayed Steal?

The delayed steal is not something that you see too often in baseball because it can be more difficult to perform than a straight steal. This leads a lot of people to wonder what is the point of a delayed steal?

In general, the point of a delayed steal is to earn a stolen base by surprising the defense. When the defense is not expecting a stolen base, the runner is more likely to earn a stolen base.

Typically, the defense looks for a traditional stolen base where the runner takes off as soon as the pitcher begins their wind-up. A base runner can catch a defense off-guard by stealing a base during a scenario where most runners will never try to steal a base.

Delayed Steals in Little League

Stealing bases in Little League is a little different than stealing bases in other leagues. To steal a base in Little League, a runner is not allowed to leave their base until the pitch crosses the batter. And according to the Little League rules, base runners are not allowed to steal when a pitcher is touching the rubber and the catcher is ready to receive the pitch.

With these base stealing rules in mind, Little Leaguers sometimes find they have a better chance of stealing a base by performing a delayed steal and catching their opponents off-guard. What is a delayed steal in Little League?

In Little League, a delayed steal is when a runner advances to the next base at some point after the catcher has caught the ball and before the pitcher is ready to deliver the next pitch.

Typically, the delayed steal in Little League will happen while the catcher is throwing the ball back to the pitcher. It’s also common for the delayed steal to happen after the runner has taken their secondary lead.

How to Defend Against a Delayed Steal?

We’ve spent a lot of time discussing how to perform a delayed steal, but let’s take a look at the other side. When you’re on defense, how do you stop a delayed steal in baseball?

As a general rule, the best way to defend against a delayed steal is to always be aware of the base runner and to not have a consistent routine after each pitch.

Good base runners look for patterns in the way pitchers, catchers, and the defense react after each pitch. If they notice a pattern, they have a better chance of it to their advantage by performing a delayed steal.

A good tactic to use on defense is to have the pitcher look at the runner after each pitch or have the catcher pop up and look at the runner after each pitch. It may seem like a lot of work, but it helps deter good base runners from taking an easy base.

Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball on two different adult baseball teams in the surrounding area.

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