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.
Just as a pitcher can set up a batter, I feel a hitter can set up a pitcher.
Hitting is a science. From preparing yourself with tools such as the GAPHitter and studying your opponent, to analyzing your stance and how to get the best of your opponent; it’s a thinking man’s game from start to finish.
With the flex-stance, it’s possible to dictate the pitches you’ll see without sacrificing a swing or an at-bat.
For example, when I wanted a pitch on the inside of the plate, I would lean over the plate with my hands and head and close my front foot a couple of inches. When the pitcher and catcher saw that, they automatically thought, “Fastball inside.” Of course, that’s what I was thinking, too.
So, as soon as I saw the ball leave the pitcher’s hand and saw it coming for the inside corner, I was ready to open up my front leg and turn on the ball. Even if I couldn’t pull the ball, I could still get good wood on it and hit it up the middle or go to the opposite field.
Of course, many a pitcher is a thinking man, as well. So what happens when he wises up to your mind games and knows you’re looking for an inside pitch and he throws to the outside? Well, it’s simple; you don’t do a thing except swing away.
That’s the beauty of the flexible front foot. If you can learn to pick up the ball early enough – we’ll talk about that another time – you can stay one step ahead, since a pitcher can’t change location once he’s released his pitch, but you can adjust.
You can also set up the pitcher with your stance.
I would crouch a bit lower or stand up a bit straighter if the pitcher was aiming for one particular area of the strike zone. And just as the delivery came, if I was standing straight, I’d bend my knees a little or vice-versa.
My suggestion to you would be to practice three or four different stances with the GAPHitter or in batting practice. During the latter, work on adjusting those stances as the pitcher is about to deliver.
Granted, there are a million different combinations, but I would limit myself to a few different stances, depending on the opposing pitcher, that I would use in a given game. I would also work on hitting pitches in certain directions off certain stances. For example, from an upright stance, I’d force myself to hit on top of the ball. If I was going against a sinkerball pitcher, I’d adjust my stance down and not move my front leg in or out, and I would crouch more in my stance to better see the pitch and handle it.
It’s important to remember that when working on the flex-stance or simply becoming a better hitter, in general, it’s important to be flexible – at the plate and in your mind.