Who doesn’t love a good steal of home plate? I’d argue that a steal of home — a real “straight” steal of home — is the most exciting four-second play in baseball. It’s a freak event, uncommon enough to be a welcome sight in any season.
The subject of today’s article is that act: the theft of home plate. And over the past couple of years, I’ve been especially fascinated by the act. As such, I wanted to take the time to review the Sox’s home-stealing efficacy over the last several seasons, going back to the start of 2007.
Even with all the data at our disposal today, getting info on steals of home can be a long process, especially without a robust database (or Rob McQuown) at the ready. Baseball-Reference is a must, but then you have to look at data manually — whether it’s game logs or video — to find out the circumstances behind each event. Why? Because oftentimes, what shows up in the box score as a steal of home (successful or no), isn’t a designed straigh -steal of home. Much more commonly, it’s a failed squeeze bunt or a double steal of home and second base.
Just like how there is more than one way to skin a cat*, there is more than one way to be credited with an attempted steal of home plate. Today, I’d like to talk about the many ways you can steal home — or get caught stealing home — and how over the last seven or eight years, the Red Sox have done a good job of showcasing many of them.
Caught Stealing Home: Failed Double Steal
Mike Napoli is the King of Stealing Home among current Red Sox players. One of the reasons is because he’s credited with two attempted steals of home since he’s been with the Sox. The first, we’ll talk about later — but the second we’ll talk about now. This actually happened this year, allll the way back in May. On May 15th, Naps was thrown out at home as part of a double steal attempt against the Mariners. It ended the inning, and any attempt at a rally, and the Sox ended up losing the game by one run.
Mookie Betts was also caught in a similar situation back in 2014, as a pitch out-caught him in the attempt for a double steal — at least as far as I can tell through the box scores. It looks like the pitchout might have been designed to get the runner on first, but hey, why not bust the quick guy on third in the process?
Caught Stealing Home: Failed Suicide Squeeze
There are many ways to fail at stealing home, but most are a version of a failed suicide squeeze. Oftentimes, the hitter may miss a sign, or simply miss putting the bat on the ball. For example, in July 2011, Josh Reddick was hung out to dry on a “steal of home” when Marco Scutaro missed the sign for a suicide squeeze. The same thing happened in 2008, when Coco Crisp was hung out to dry by Alex Cora.
More often than not, if you see a player with a CS: home, this is my guess on how they got there.
Caught Stealing Home: Straight Steal
Sometimes, you think you’re ready to make a straight steal of home. The straight steal of home attempt is a rarity, and the players who do it need to be both lightning fast AND get a great jump on the pitcher. A Sox player hasn’t tried this and failed recently, but how about we all watch a video of someone who has?
This is stupid. Torii Hunter is more athletic than I’ll ever be, but man, oh man, this is a great way to murder a rally. Hunter is 39 years old! He’s fast, sure, but he’s not the same player he was a dozen years ago. Yikes.
Successful Steal of Home: Double Steal (Level 1)
This is why Mike Napoli is the current King of Stealing Home (Boston). Not because Mike’s the only guy credited with two attempts … but because one of those two attempts was successful. During this game on June 22 of last year, Jonathan Herrera was going, the Athletics pitcher moved to pick him off, and Napoli still took advantage and ran it in for a score. Check it out.
This is, for sure, the most common way a steal of home takes place these days. All five successful steals of home this season have come as part of a double steal, per my research. It’s still extremely exciting when it happens, but it’s not what I consider a “true” steal of home where the runner combines both the mental aspect of catching a team napping with the adrenaline rush of speed. Guys like Napoli, Russell Martin of the Jays … pretty much anyone with a pulse and two good knees can pull these off.
Four of the five successful steals of home by the Sox since 2007 were of this variety. Most recently, it was Napoli, of course. The Sox had two successful steals of home on a double-steal in 2013: both Shane Victorino and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (!) pulled it off. Ryan Kalish also stole home in Game 162 against the Yankees back in 2010, en route to that memorable victory.
Oh! And Napoli actually homered and stole a base in the same game! He’s not the first Red Sox player in history to have done that, but he is the first since Rico Petrocelli in 1967.
Successful Steal of Home: Distraction Play (Level 2)
This is where we start to get to the “totally awesome steal of home” level. In these cases — which are not all alike — the runner doesn’t usually just break for home on the pitch. In these cases, something else happens, which the runner uses as an impetus to break for the plate.
Since this hasn’t really happened for the Sox over the last few years, I’ll use two incredible examples from other teams.
The first is David Peralta of the Arizona Diamondbacks, from last year.
As you can see, David uses an errant return throw from the catcher to spark a run. This is the kind of combo of athleticism and instinct or intelligence that makes for a truly great play.
Here’s another version of that style of a steal of home … one that’s a bit more famous, perhaps. Back in 2012, Bryce Harper made a mark with the first steal of his big league career. This one came off of Cole Hamels and a simple pickoff throw on May 6, 2012.
Baller move, Bryce.
Successful Steal of Home: Classic (Level 3)
This is the maximum excellence in stealing home, the kind of steal of home we imagine Jackie Robinson performing. These are even more of an extreme rarity these days, and I’ve only found scattered instances of players performing the feat.
Of course, of the five Red Sox steals of home since 2007, one was of this epic variety. I present to you, our old friend: Jacoby Ellsbury. April 26, 2009.
That’s your classic, excellent, top-of-the-line steal of home. The height of base-stealing achievement, if you ask me. They’re rare and amazing, and like most rare and amazing things, there’s a Red Sox version of it out there.
Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports Images