Double Steal Defense [ARTICLE]

Double Steal Defense

excerpt from Baseball Playbook by Ron Polk


A very important aspect of defensive play in baseball is the ability to properly defense the opponent's double steal offense with baserunners at first and third base.

If a team possesses a catcher with a quick release time along with a strong accurate arm there should be very little for the defense to worry about on this play. However, if a club does not have a catcher with this type of arm and their shortstop and second baseman are not able to make strong accurate throws, then they can expect to be challenged occasionally by the double steal. This is especially true of those clubs that have outstanding speed but very little offensive punch at the plate.

In most cases if a defense executes this play well, then the other team shuts down this part of their offense' The team that shows that they can not handle the pressure in this type of play can expect the double steal on numerous occasions' one generally finds that the higher the caliber and level of baseball played, the fewer times a team will attempt a double steal.

As in team bunt defense, a coach never wants to burden his club with too many defenses to control the double steal' lf he does, he will find that the execution level on each separate play will go down with the number of plays added to the team's playbook.

It is the responsibility of the coach in the dugout to determine which one of the double steal plays will be in effect. He can communicate this information to the defense by flashing a sign from the dugout. As in the bunt defense plays, the type of play run can be changed from pitch to pitch so the defense needs to check with the coach after every pitch' The coach will take into consideration numerous items before selecting the type of play he wishes the defense to execute if the double steal occurs. These items would include:

  1. Number of outs-The best time for an offense to run a double steal type play is with two outs, hoping to draw some type of throw on the runner going to second base in hopes that they can score the run from third. since with no outs or one out, most teams will allow the batter the opportunity to score the runner from third base, the two out situation many times necessitates a different strategy both offensively and defensively.
  2. Inning-The likelihood of a double steal play generally increases later in the game when the offense hopes to score a run at the expense of an out at second base. Early in the game most teams will try to play for the big inning. Thus, early in the game the defense should make the play on the runner going to second base while later in the game, with an important runner at third base, the defensive play called might place more emphasis on not allowing the runner at third base to advance.
  3. Score of the Game-In almost all cases an opponent would not attempt a double steal if they are down by quite a few runs early in the game or down by more than one run in the last two innings. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Throwing the ball through to second base is always preferred in situations where the runner at third base is not of paramount importance at the time of the double steal. when ahead in the score the defense should always get an out, even at the expense of a possible run scoring from third base. lf the double steal defense is done properly a team should be able to make a play on the runner at second base, and at the same time, keep the runner at third base from scoring.

  4. Strength of Catcher's Arm-If the catcher's arm is such that he has proven he can throw to second base accurately with velocity, then the coach should have him throw through to second base in most cases. lf the catcher has a good arm: there is more likelihood that the offense will try to take advantage of the pitcher by a forced balk or forced pick-off play at first base. lf the catcher has a weak and inaccurate arm the coach should not allow a throw through to second base that might allow an important run to score from third base late in the game.
  5. Strength of Shortstop and Second Baseman's Arm-Along with the ability of the catcher to throw through to second base, the strength of the arms with the pivot men handling the throw to second base must also be taken into consideration. If neither the shortstop or second baseman possess the ability to throw well, then the coach might be hesitant to throw through to second base when an important run is at third base late in the game.
  6. Hitter at the Plate-Generally with a good hitter at the plate the offense will be hesitant to take the bat out of his hands by running any type of double steal play. A weak hitter will generally prompt the opposing coach to attempt some type of double steal play, especially with two strikes. This might even be the case knowing that if they are not successful then their weak hitter will have to lead off the next inning.
  7. Strength and Experience of Pitcher-The pitcher who has a difficult time getting hitters out does not have to worry too much about trick double steal plays, and in many cases, even the straight double steal. The opposing coach would probably just rely on the hitter's ability to drive the runner in from third base unless there are less than two outs and he is trying to keep them out of a double play situation by running the straight steal. lf the pitcher is dominating the opposing team's hitters, there would be more of a tendency on the opposing coach's part to try to get a run scored from third base, or advancing the runner to second base to get into scoring position without the batter swinging the bat. The defense can look for a possible trick double steal play at this time.
  8. Count on the Batter-The best time to run a double steal play would be when the batter has two strikes on him with two outs. This is especially true if there is a poor hitter at the plate. With less than two outs, the offense would have more of a tendency to run with no strikes on the batter so that he might protect the runner by swinging and missing or faking the bunt. The 3-2 count with one out is always an ideal time to start the runner at first base on the straight steal.
  9. Ability of the Runner at First Base-The better the baserunner at first base the more chance that the opposing coach will employ the straight steal. The weaker the runner at first base the more chance that there would be a variation from the straight steal by the offense. lf there is little chance of retiring the runner at second base on the steal, it is advisable to refrain from throwing through to second base. With a slow runner at first base the defense should throw the ball through to second base.
  10. Ability of the Runner at Third Base-The better the baserunner is at third base the greater the chance is that he will break for the plate on the throw through to second base. The weaker the runner is, the less of a chance. With an excellent runner at third base the defense should consider another defense other than the throw to second base. With a poor runner at third base the defense should throw to second base in most cases.
  11. Opposing Team's Double Steal Tendencies-When teams play each other numerous times during the season each coach will know a little more about the other coach's philosophy and tendencies in regard to the double steal play. This is also the case when teams play each other every year as long as the same coach is still employed. A baseball coach generally falls into certain patterns in regard to their offensive and defensive tendencies, and this holds true for the double steal plays as well. Of course, changes in personnel from year to year can change this philosophy quickly. By knowing what these tendencies might be in certain situations, the coach can make a better decision on the type of double steal defense to employ.

As you can see, there are numerous variables involved in making the decision as to what double steal defense to use. Listed on the following pages are four plays that can be included in a team's Playbook.

About the Author...

Legendary Mississippi State baseball coach Ron Polk, the winningest coach in any sport in the history of the Southeastern Conference, enters his third season as UAB's volunteer assistant coach in 2010. Polk came to UAB in the summer of 2008 after announcing his retirement from the Mississippi State program.

Polk has helped UAB to back-to-back winning seasons in his two years with the Blazers, including a 30-win campaign in 2009. He has helped the Blazers to victories in eight of 16 Conference USA series since his arrival, including 2009 series wins over both fourth-ranked Rice and eventual College World Series participant Southern Miss.

"It has been a personal highlight in life for me to be able to learn under Coach Polk in the 80's at Mississippi State and now work with him again at UAB," head coach Brian Shoop said. "I have more respect for Coach Polk than any coach in college baseball. No one has had more of an influence on our game and on countless young coaches, including myself. Our players love him and appreciate the sacrifices he makes to be involved with the UAB baseball program. We are better in so many ways because of Coach's decision to donate his time to Blazer baseball."

In July 2009, Polk was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 1995. In 1988, he was presented with the Lefty Gomez Award, the highest award given by the ABCA.

Polk retired from Mississippi State in 2008, following his 29th season at the school. He ranks seventh all-time in NCAA career head coaching victories.

Polk concluded his 35-year career as a head coach with a career record of 1,373-700-2 (.662). In his career, which also included stints at Georgia Southern (1972-75) and Georgia (2000-01), Polk led his teams to a total of eight College World Series appearances, five SEC championships and 23 Regional appearances. He is one of only three coaches in college baseball history to take three different programs to the College World Series.

Polk mentored current UAB head coach Brian Shoop when the Blazer skipper was on his staff at Mississippi State from 1983-89. The Bulldogs won three SEC championships and made one trip to the College World Series during that time.

At Mississippi State, Polk recruited and coached some of the game's all-time greats, including Major League standouts Jeff Brantley, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Thigpen and Jonathan Papelbon. Those are just a few of the 185 of his former players that have signed professional contracts and a few of the 23 that have played in the Major Leagues.

A three-time National Coach of the Year, Polk held the position of Assistant Athletics Director for Special Projects at Mississippi State following his team's College World Series run in 1997. While in that position, Polk spearheaded a successful campaign to expand Polk-DeMent Stadium in Starkville. He returned to coaching at Georgia in 2000, where he spent two years before making the move back to Mississippi State for his final seven seasons.

Perhaps Polk's most talented Mississippi State squad ever was the 1985 version. That club finished the year 50-15 and was SEC champion before going on to appear in the College World Series. The 1985 Bulldog club featured future major league stars Brantley, Clark, Palmeiro and Thigpen.

In his 35 years as a college baseball coach, Polk produced 35 All-Americans and more than 75 All-SEC performers.

In addition to Polk's work in the collegiate ranks, the Boston, Mass., native has completed seven tours as a member of the coaching staff for the USA National Baseball Team, twice serving as head coach. Two of the teams he coached represented the United States in the Olympics.

Polk has also impacted the college baseball world through his literary work. He has authored "The Baseball Playbook," the nation's leading college textbook for baseball, and is featured in the book, "6 Psychological Factors for Success: America's Most Successful Coaches Reveal the Path to Competitive Excellence."


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23 Aug 2016

By Ron Polk - Baseball Playbook
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