Cressey Performance Internship Blog: Dissecting the Stolen Base

About the Author: 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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