By Rod Carew
Editor's Note: Rod Carew was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1991. He won seven American League batting titles and retired with 3,053 career hits. He is one of baseball's most sought-after hitting instructors. A few players who have blossomed under his watchful eye include: Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, Torii Hunter and Darin Erstad.
When using the flex-stance, the key to making it work starts with knowing when to be flexible.
You can use all three stances – the standard stance, which is medium open with your front foot 8-12 inches away from the inside chalk; the open stance with your front foot 12-18 inches off the inside chalk; or the closed stance with your front foot close to the chalk line.
But you have to know when to make your move.
I was never a guess hitter and you shouldn’t be either. I was a situational hitter, and prepared for the pitcher I’d be facing before ever coming up to bat. I studied my opponents and knew in advance what pitches they like to throw. It made it easier to make judgments and to pick up on pitching patterns.
While it may not lend itself to every level of baseball, at the major league and most college levels, you often know who you’ll be facing…and scouting departments help prepare you on what to expect. Thus, it’s easier to pick up a pattern rather quickly.
But at any and all levels, the science of hitting lends itself to studying the opposing pitcher before and during the game. You have to do a little scouting of your own if you’re going to make the flex-stance work for you.
Studying the opposition is useful and key at the simplest level – even if it’s just watching your opponent from afar as he warms up in the bullpen before the game. Watch if they throw more off-speed pitches or more fastballs. And, when the game starts, see how they go after your teammates. Do they try to set them up or are they aggressive – going after them right away? Are they worried about going inside? Do they like to throw breaking balls when they’re ahead in the count? Every tendency helps.
Communication with your teammates is also important. Ask them about the movement of your opponent’s pitches.
All this will help you be that much more prepared when you walk into the batter’s box – and aid you in what stance you should use. Most importantly, you’ll be hitting from a position of strength and not weakness.
Most often, I chose to start with my medium-open stance, adjusting as I saw fit. Sometimes it was the next pitch. But no matter what stance I elected to use from pitch to pitch, I always stepped straight toward the mound and was usually able to handle any pitch.
Indeed, it’s all about preparation. Prepare yourself with the GAPHitter; prepare yourself by working on all three options of the flex-stance; and prepare your mind for who you’re facing and what stance to use.