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The Art Of Stealing Home

This is the precise moment Coco Crisp wishes he had a slightly bigger lead off of third base.
This is the precise moment Coco Crisp wishes he had a slightly bigger lead off of third base.

Stealing home is a lot like stealing six garments from a department store: It seems like a better idea until you get caught. Whether last night's attempt by Coco Crisp was a good idea or a bad idea, those of you who have bemoaned the A's approach of "trying to draw walks" have to admit that at the very least, the A's weren't waiting around.

And while Crisp's attempt would have made more sense had the batter been Kevin Kouzmanoff or Cliff Pennington than Conor Jackson, batting against a LHP fastball pitcher who has scuffled all season, let's not forget that Jackson is only one of the A's better hitters, not one of the league's better hitters. It wasn't Evan Longoria at the plate, or Robinson Cano, or Adrian Gonzalez. It was Conor Jackson.

But this particular post isn't about whether Coco's derring-do was done at the right time. What follows is my analysis of how to steal home if you're going to do it. (Next week I'll offer Mike Leake tips about how to shoplift if you're determined to avoid paying for your shirts.)

There are two ways a steal of home attempt can be successful. One is that the element of surprise flusters the pitcher so much that in his haste to react he balks or throws the pitch away. Unfortunately for Crisp, the A's wound up relying on this in order to tie the game in the 8th inning last night, and Matt Thornton did not comply.

The other way an attempt can succeed is that the runner can literally beat the pitch to home plate, and here is where Coco failed. In order for this to happen, you need to get about a 40 foot walking lead off the bag at 3B and be literally halfway to the plate by the time the pitcher commits to his windup, and/or you need to gauge correctly that the pitcher's windup is so slow that by the time he commits to it he cannot deliver the pitch fast enough to stop you from beating the "throw".

Last night, Coco got about a 25-30 foot lead, and only about a step towards a "walking lead" by the time Thornton actually started the windup. Then Thornton's windup was not especially deliberate. That combination allowed Thornton to deliver the pitch well ahead of Coco's arrival to the plate, meaning that Crisp's avenue for success relied on the pitch being wild, or at least outside to where A.J. Pierzynski would have to reach all the way across the plate to make the tag.

What I would have liked to see, more than anything, last night was that if Crisp was going to go for it -- and let's face it, the A's have struggled enough to score runs this season that you have to at least applaud the chutzpah behind just flat out going for it -- the "going for it" should have included bouncing out to a 40 foot walking lead and banking on the fact that Thornton wasn't paying enough real attention to him to step off or put on a play at 3B.

That precocious and "dangerous" lead is part of the derring-do, and is the part that ups your odds of success tremendously -- because now you have a chance to flat out beat the pitch home even if it isn't wild, even if the pitcher doesn't balk.

My main criticism of the attempt last night wasn't the timing; it was just the execution. Mike Leake: Bad idea, badly executed. Coco Crisp: Cool idea, just a bit poorly executed.