One of my biggest pet peeves as a hitting instructor is the way that players approach their warm-up swings in the on deck circle. More often than not, I see the poorest swings in the moments just before a hitter goes up to the plate.
The biggest issue that I see with on deck swings is the swing path of hitters. I have written many articles on the importance of a proper swing path. To sum up the thousands of words that I have written on this topic: the path of the bat should be slightly up through the hitting zone, not level or down. If you want to read about bat path you can find those articles here and here.
One of the top 2 or 3 mechanical issues that I work on with players is the bat path. The majority of players are taught to swing down or level. Changing the bat path to be slighlty inclined is challenging but a prerequisite to being successful as a hitter. So, why do players continue to take downward swings in the on deck circle?
I attended the Reds game the other day at Yankee Stadium. Among lots of other things, I spent a good deal of time watching the way that players approached their on deck routines. I saw some players, like Jacoby Ellsbury take the type of swings that I hate in the on deck circle. I saw other that I really liked. I loved the way that Gary Sanchez and a few other players swung on deck, but my favorite was Joey Votto. Joey Votto has been one of the best hitters in baseball for the past 10 years. From all accounts, he is a true student of hitting. Watch his warm-up swings below.
Now, I have never spoken to Joey Votto about his thought process of his routine but there are a few things that I love. The first is the position of his body. He allows his back shoulder to drop and sets his body up the same way that he would at the plate. The second thing is the path of his bat. His bat gets below the imaginary pitch and works up through the zone. The final thing that I love is the path of his hands. They stay connected to his back shoulder and then work up as his hands more through contact. All of these things are traits seen in a good swing.
It frustrates me when I work with a player on their bat path and then as they take dry swings, its the same disconnected, downward, choppy swing that we are trying to get away from.
Here is a clip of one of my college hitters on deck. I spoke with Pat as I was writing this article and asked him what he is thinking when taking these swings. He said that he is trying to keep his hands up and allow the bat to work the way it would at the plate.
The bottom line is, have a reason for what you do in the on deck circle. They are the swings that you take just before you go to the plate. Having no plan or doing the opposite of what happens in a swing is a recipe for struggling at the plate. If you are working on not swinging down, swing up, not down. Don't reinforce bad habits just before show time.