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Unorthodox open stance works for Pirates' Jaso

| Tuesday, March 1, 2016, 9:12 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — John Jaso figured he had made it big when got caught the attention of Batting Stance Guy.

BSG, a.k.a Gar Ryness, became a YouTube phenomenon for his uncanny ability to mimic the batting styles of big leaguers. In 2010, while Jaso was on a hot stretch with the Tampa Bay Rays, he was the subject of a BSG video.

“That was pretty cool,” Jaso said. “I thought, ‘I finally got famous!' ”

These days, however, Jaso's stance has changed so much even Batting Stance Guy might not recognize him.

Until 2012, Jaso had a closed stance, sometimes with a deep crouch. Now, it's an open and unusual approach.

A left-handed swinger, Jaso plants his left foot near the plate and sets his right foot on the outside edge of the batter's box. As the pitcher delivers the ball, Jaso slides his right foot in toward the plate.

“It's unorthodox, but that doesn't matter,” Pirates hitting coach Jeff Branson said. “As long as the consistency of the timing is there to get the barrel to the ball, the starting point really doesn't matter. His numbers don't lie.”

Jaso owns a career .263 batting average and a .767 OPS. Over the past four seasons using his open batting stance, Jaso has put up a .273 average and a .804 OPS.

“I've always been kind of a tinkerer when it comes to my batting stance,” Jaso said. “A lot of the tinkering developed because I was a catcher.”

Early in his career, Jaso set up square to the plate with his knees bent, similar to Jeff Bagwell's recognizable hunkered-down style. As years of catching took a toll on his legs, Jaso eventually stood more upright while batting.

It was Jaso's idea to try a wide-open stance, but hitting coach Chili Davis helped refine it while Jaso was with the Oakland A's in 2013-14.

“We got along really well,” Jaso said. “He saw a couple of my batting stances that worked equally well and said, ‘Why don't you discover kind of a hybrid between the two?' That's where this kind of awkward stance came from. I don't know if it really was what he was envisioning, but it worked for me and it stuck.”

As he broke down video of Jaso over the winter and then saw him in the cages this spring, Branson was intrigued by the open stance. Forcing Jaso to use a more conventional approach never crossed Branson's mind.

Branson recalled playing with Hal Morris, who broke a cardinal rule by constantly moving his feet in the box, but was always in position to hit. Tony Bautista of the Arizona Diamondbacks was able to generate power with his funky, open stance.

“You don't cookie-cutter guys,” Branson said. “You try to enhance and make them better, but changing them ain't what we do here. We try to make them the best they can be with what they have.”

Just as he experimented with his batting stance, Jaso often changed his crouch behind the plate while catching.

“All the catching stances really have to do with a person's flexibility and what their body's capable of doing,” he said. “You'll see guys who are practically sitting on the dirt. They've got tremendous flexibility.”

Jaso, who turned 32 last September, paused and laughed.

“All you can do is envy that,” he said.

As he transitions to a new position this spring, Jaso won't have to experiment with different setups to catch throws at first base.

“Nah,” he said with a smile. “Not much has changed there in the last 100 years.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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