Have you heard of the vault steal? It’s the easiest way to steal a base, and it’s only been around for a few years. You don’t have to be particularly fast to vault steal, because it’s all about timing. All it requires is that you pay attention to the pitcher's rhythm and properly execute. If the pitcher falls into a predictable pattern (for example, he’s pitching every third second), you have a perfect opportunity to vault steal. Here’s how it works.
1. Before You’re on Base
Before you even come up to the plate, I highly recommend you use the U-C-L-A method to chart pitcher tendencies (if you aren't familiar, I'll make a post about that soon). Count how many seconds it takes for him to lift his leg when pitching from the stretch. You can have someone with a pen, and piece of paper, writing down how many seconds until leg lift on every pitch. Even if the pitcher mixes up his timing, it’s possible that he will do it in a predictable pattern you can track. For example, he may alternate between one second holds and three second holds. Once you find a tendency or a pattern, you are good to go.
2. Once You’re on Base
Typically when stealing a base, we maximize our primary lead so we can start as close as possible to second base. With the vault steal, we don’t want to get a big lead. Take a short primary lead, and don’t get off any further when the pitcher comes set. You don't want to tip off the pitcher or defenders that you are a threat to steal.
Here’s where the timing comes in. One second before the pitcher leg lifts, start going into a low to the ground shuffle. You are trying to time this shuffle with when the pitcher lifts his leg. If that happens, you can turn your shuffle into a stolen base. The beauty of the vault steal is that you will still be in a good position even if the pitcher picks off. Because your lead is so short, the shuffle step is only taking you out to our normal lead distance.
As long as you stay low to the ground with the shuffle, you should be able to redirect back to first base if he picks off. You want to create momentum to second base, but not the kind of momentum that prevents you from being able to stop and redirect back to first. If the pitcher does a fast slide step towards home plate, you can always shut down your steal. If the pitcher does his normal leg kick and you nail the timing, the stolen base should be yours.
Why it Works
A properly executed vault steal protects the runner from a back pick because the runner will never exceed the length of a normal lead. At the same time, if the vault steal is timed properly, the runner will already have momentum to second base when the pitcher lifts his leg, which will shave off a few tenths of a second in their time to second base. These tenths of a second are the difference between an elite runner and an average to slow runner. This works!
I learned the vault steal before my senior year in college at Biola University. Before learning the vault steal, I never had more than a few stolen bases in a season. Yet in my senior year, I was eight for eight in stolen bases, and virtually all of them were on the vault steal. I was never a fast runner, yet with the vault steal, my time from first to second base was right there with the best of them.
The vault steal has made its way to the big leagues and is being used more this year than ever before. Try it out yourself.