A stolen base occurs when a baserunner advances by taking a base to which he isn't entitled. This generally occurs when a pitcher is throwing a pitch, but it can also occur while the pitcher still has the ball or is attempting a pickoff, or as the catcher is throwing the ball back to the pitcher.
A stolen base is not automatically credited when a runner advances during one of the aforementioned scenarios; the official scorer must also determine that the runner had been in attempt of a steal. For example, if a runner takes an extra base on a wild pitch or a passed ball, he is not awarded a stolen base. However, if he was attempting to steal as a wild pitch/passed ball was thrown, he is generally given credit for it.
A baserunner is not given credit for a steal if he takes the extra base as the result of an error by the opposing defense. He is not given credit for a steal if he safely advances but another runner also attempting to steal on the same play is thrown out. (This maneuver is called a "double steal.") He is also not given credit if the defense concedes the base because of the situation in the game. (This generally occurs very late in the contest, with the defensive team ahead by more than one run. The defense -- not wanting to play out of position -- doesn't cover the base and, as a result, the ruling is "defensive indifference" rather than a stolen base.)
Stolen bases have long been an integral part -- and one of the most debated aspects -- of the game. The upside to a stolen base is obvious; the runner advances a base and puts himself closer to scoring. However, the downside -- a baserunner making an out -- arguably far outweighs the upside. In this vein, a runner who steals bases at a 50 percent clip is considered to be doing his team a disservice. As a general rule of thumb, a base stealer with a stolen-base percentage of 75 or higher is helping his team by attempting steals.
There are few maneuvers in baseball more strategic than a stolen-base attempt. In some cases, the third-base coach will give the runner a sign, telling him to steal. But certain runners, who have proven to be competent base stealers, are given "the green light," whereby they can take off at their discretion. One of the most common times to steal occurs with two outs and the hitter behind in the count. In this case, the downside to stealing is minimized. If the runner is thrown out, the hitter gets a fresh count to start the next inning. But if the runner is safe, he has put himself in scoring position.
The league leaders in stolen bases are almost always among the fastest players in the league, for obvious reasons. However, speed is only one ingredient in the stolen base. A base stealer must also be adept at choosing a good pitch to run on (generally a breaking ball, which will travel slower to the plate than a fastball and sometimes bounce in the dirt). He must also be able to read the situation and a pitcher's pickoff move to get a good first step.
The modern steal rule was put into place in 1898. Before then, any time a runner took an extra base (such as advancing to third base from first on a single) he was awarded a stolen base.
Watch: Jonathan Villar steals three bases against the Cubs.
In A Call
"swipes," "steals," "stolen bags"