Home Blog Cressey Performance Internship Blog: Dissecting the Stolen Base

Cressey Performance Internship Blog: Dissecting the Stolen Base

Written on April 12, 2010 at 7:14 am, by Eric Cressey

This guest blog comes from current Cressey Performance Intern, Chris Pothier.

When Eric asked me to present on the topic of stealing second base, I thought “Easy, how hard could this be?”  Little did I know that I was entering the ultimate battle royal of baseball movement  techniques.  One side says the cross-over step is the ‘end all be all,” while the directional step folks insist that their style is far superior. Who is right and who is wrong?

With research and countless hours watching Grey’s Anatomy clips of guys stealing bases on YouTube…I came to one rather unusual conclusion. Now, I have not coached thousands, hundreds or even a hand full of players’ base stealing technique, or written an E-Book on the “how to.”  Rather, I was asked a question and I’ve researched and have placed my own opinion on the matter. You can agree or disagree with me; I won’t lose sleep either way.

Here is a run-down on both techniques; both share the same 3-points on set-up technique:

1. Feet slightly wider than shoulders, keeping a positive shin angle back to either base.

2. Knees flexed 110-120 degrees with shoulders over toes to keep weight on balls of feet.

3. Hands out in front of hips, creating a shorter distance the arms have to travel and a shot lever arm which allows for faster positioning of the arms.

Cross-Over Step

1.       Driving that left leg across your body, towards second base, landing slightly in front of your right.

2.       As you rotate your torso, you square up to second base with your hips at the same time driving that left leg to full extension, creating your power.       Left arm drives with cross-over step, followed by a quick right arm drive to initiate arm/leg synchronization.

3.       Left arm drives with cross-over step, followed by a quick right arm drive to initiate arm/leg synchronization.


Directional Step

1.       First step, initiate drive with left leg, to get hips and shoulders over right (power) foot.

2.       Then externally rotate and step back 6-8″ with right leg.

3.       At this point, left knee drive towards chest, right arm drive, positive angles on both shins, toes toward second base, ankles dorsiflexed and torso square to second base.

4.       Drive to full extension in right leg with left arm drive.


I’ve realized we could sit here and argue that the cross-over step doesn’t allow you to clear your right leg with your left foot since you don’t rotate first, or you waste time stepping backward with your right foot in the directional step. That’s not the purpose here. Research from Reed et al, showed over two steps, the directional step resulted in significantly greater distance traveled, however it took significantly more total time than the cross over step, which covered less distance but quicker in two steps. This shows nearly identical velocities and there is no advantage over the other. On the other hand, a study by Ostarello et al tested three start methods and at all six timing stations; set at different distances, the cross over step was quicker (note from EC: we teach the crossover step to all beginners, but never interfere with guys who have been doing the directional step for an extended period of time, especially if they have had good success with it).

In my opinion, and I like to look at the bigger picture, there are too many variables that play into base stealing to pin one way against the other. You have to consider everything that goes into base stealing: lead, reading the pitcher, pitcher’s deception, reaction time, individual speed/power, sliding technique , catcher’s pop time, etc.

Here are some stats;

Jacoby Ellsbury– Career 129 SB; 70 SB 2009; 3 full seasons; Directional Step

Ichiro Suzuki-Career 342 SB; high of 56; 9 full seasons; Cross-Over step

In conclusion, if you have been directional stepping for six years, don’t change.  If you are just learning a technique, try both, go with what feels more comfortable and what can be coached easily.  Base stealing is an art that takes mastering many small components to be successful.  It’s like saying who is better looking: Megan Fox or Jessica Alba………..exactly.

For more information or to contact Chris, check out his blog.

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11 Responses to “Cressey Performance Internship Blog: Dissecting the Stolen Base”

  1. Jon Says:

    Hey Chris,
    I was wondering if you had any video of Ichiro using the crossover step? I can’t seem to find any on youtube.

  2. Jon Says:

    I just found this video of Ichiro explaining some of his keys to stealing bases (in Japanese, with English subtitles). They only show a couple of his full speed takeoffs. One right in the beginning, and one near the end, but in both he seems to clearly utilize a directional step (right leg externally rotates). I don’t mean to start an argument, but am I seeing things differently than you’ve explained them?

  3. Jon Says:

    here is that link:

  4. Todd Says:

    When you look at Carl Crawford or Ichiro, they steal bases with pure speed and quickness. They can flat out run. Now, I’m an Orioles fan and with that comes watching Brian Roberts daily. He is considered one of the better most consistent best stealers in baseball year in and year out. However, he doesn’t have that pure speed such as Ichiro or Crawford.
    I eat and drink baseball and basestealing was a big part of my game as a player. I coach basestealing with my old high school team. The best thing about watching baseball live is that you get to see what guys are doing on the base paths which you often can’t do on the TV because it’s always focused on the mound and hitter. I always tell my high school guys to go watch the University of Delaware play and see what’s going on with everyone on the field.
    Now, Brian Roberts is one of the smartest base runners I’ve seen (not because I’m an O’s fan) and is one of the more active guys with his leads. He’s very deceptive and changes his approach between pitches. But what allows him to steal so many bases without Crawford or Ichiro’s speed are his instincts, anticipation, and baseball smarts.
    In a presentation Roberts gave on base stealing, Brian talked about how much faster Crawford is, period. They trained together at AP in Arizona in the off-season. Now, to say Brian Roberts is not fast is not what I’m saying, but we are talking about elite athletes. He’s absolutely fast, but compared to a Crawford or Ichiro, not even close. Giving these techniques to a cookie monster to try and help him steal bases would not be smart.

    Now of course prior to any game,MLB players have video access and can watch the upcoming starter and relief pitchers to guage their timing and looks so heading into the game, players have a mind template to work from. Sometimes this is why guys can steal bases on the first pitch immedaitely after they get on base because that pitcher just did what they studied and planned for prior to the game. But Brian made some great and interesting points in his talk in terms of once being on base:

    1) He uses his left eye to look into the catcher’s for the sign to the pitcher during his lead. He does several glances and uses his peripheral vision to slide back to the base. It explains to me why on the occasion Brian will get picked off at first. But Brian says 95% of the time the signal to throw over comes from the dugout or catcher, but he said the sign is usually always obvious (thumb over, fist shake) and if he doesn’t see that at all, he is basically gearing up to take off.

    2) Pitchers are stupid – He says some guys are so predictable with their looks and timing. He says he will watch the pitcher closely and time him in his head between 2 or 3 pitches (All pitchers you must vary times!). Once he feels comfortable, the next pitch he will use his jump steps. This is where Brian makes up for a lack of Crawford speed. Once Brian feels like he has the pitcher timed out, he may only take a 2 step lead, counts in his head the pitcher count “1, 2, boom” – On 2, Brian will actually side/jump or powerfully shuffle moving toward 2nd base. If he times him perfectly, the pitcher will throw the ball and Brian is practically getting a running start to 2nd, and ends up looking like he is more than half way down the line before the ball crosses the plate. He draws alot of no throws. Is it because he is blazing fast? No. He varies his leads like pitchers vary their timing. He dances. He looks for signs of throw overs. He counts and antipicpates. Brian made it clear that this is something you have to practice over and over.

    3) Stealing 3rd base is easier than stealing 2nd base – It seems at times that Brian steals 3rd with ease. He reassured that by saying it’s very easy to take 3rd because the pitcher is either going to give you a no-look, a one look, or a two look. Once you know what he is constantly giving you, it’s goes back to the timing thing. If he is a two look pitcher, right as he turns his head back to the plate after the 2nd look, it’s big shuffle, big shuffle, pitcher lifts the leg, boom, stealing 3rd easy becasue all of his momemtum was moving. Brian says that when these big shuffles are timed perfectly, that he guarantees he beats Crawford to 2nd base. As the blog implies, you can crossover or use the directional step, but in my eyes, what’s going to make you a great base runner is what you are doing before you even use the cross step or directional step. Are you varying your leads? Are you trying to time the pitcher? What are his pitch tendencies in certain counts?

    All in all, I think these techniques are great for a kid who might not be blazing fast, but you can still be a great base stealer if you use your smarts a bit more. Roberts and Pedroia are great examples. But if you Boston guys are at Fenway when the Orioles are in town. Pay attention to Roberts if he gets on base. Hopefully he gets on more than one time because he’ll show you different things each time.

  5. Chris Pothier Says:

    That is one of the only video’s I saw as well, and if you forward to minute 4:15, he shows his take off a few times, explaining why he lines up a step behind 1st base in his lead. As you should see, his left leg, is his first movement, crossing his torso and planting before any movement in his lead leg.
    I am struggling to see a directional step in the video. However I may be misunderstanding. I hope the explanation helps!

    Thanks for your comment!

  6. Jon Says:

    I noticed that too Chris, but I didn’t feel like the full speed, game examples showed what he was explaining. I know it’s hard to determine if his lead foot actually moved backwards, but it seemed pretty clear that the foot turned out…it just picks up enough to get over a piece of paper essentially, and allows a much more powerful first step. It just seems like the more instinctive move when you see people attempt this in purely reactive, full-speed situations.

    Good topic!

  7. Todd Says:


    Go to the above link to watch 4 minutes of Brian Roberts stolen base attempts. Keep watching and there are 3 or 4 parts of the presentation of the ABCA presentation he gives on his techniques I outlined above. Once Video 1 is completed, look directly below the video to see the link to go to Video 2. Hope everyone enjoys it! – Todd

  8. TR Says:

    off topic guys and relating to a past post on throwing like a girl. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_N-ulbuGBPI

  9. Chris "CP Intern" Pothier Says:

    I agree with you on the subtle externally rotated right foot, this has to happen in order for Ichiro to get his hips square to second base. The directional step is a 6-8″ drop/external rotation of the right foot FIRST as the hips square up.

    If you look at Jacoby’s left knee to chest, that is an indication of directional step as he plants his right foot and extends to create his power. Ichiro, has his right knee to chest, indicating, after his cross-over step, that his left leg becomes his power step.

    Hope this helps!

  10. Coach Dan Says:

    Jon & Chris,

    I watched that Ichiro video as well and agree with both of you. During his “walk-thru” explanation he shows a straight crossover step, but he has always used a directional step in his full speed steals.

    Chances are that it simply comes so naturally to him that he doesn’t realize what he does. Kinda like Keith Hernandez talking about “squashing the bug” from the broadcast booth when all video of his hitting clearly shows his weight stacked against his front leg and rear foot off the ground at point of contact (but that’s another arguement for another day).

    Being the former performance director for a national speed training franchise I was forced to teach crossover step as opposed to directional step and it went 100% against my grain because all of the best base stealers in the game (except Roberts, who is a freak of nature in his ability to read pitchers ) use a directional step.

    One argument that I have with this articles point on the directional step is the 6-8″ “drop step” on the right leg. It may look like the foot is moving backward, but in most cases the backward movement is an inch or less. The illusion of the foot moving backward comes from the fact that the hips are quickly transferred in front of that lead leg.

    Here is a video that I shot (yes, it’s kinda rough using my web-cam to record my DVR, but it gets the point across) of direction step base stealing mechanics from a Mets game a year or so ago:

    Rock On!

  11. Jose Says:

    I can’t find Ichiro’s art of stealing base video anywhere. YouTube has stripped it from its archives. How can I get a copy?

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