Ok, you are On Deck...What should you really be doing?
Baseball, like other sports, has unique names for parts of the playing surface that are used. Hockey has creases, where the goalie is located defending his net; football has end zones, where touchdowns are scored; curling has a hog line, where the rock must get past for it to count; basketball has three point lines where a team can shoot and get a three pointer; and baseball has the On Deck circle, where hitters stand waiting. It is defined as an area in foul territory, measuring about 5 ½ feet in diameter, in close proximity to your team’s dugout, where the next hitter is supposed to stand (warm up) as he prepares for his at bat, following the hitter who is currently hitting. It is the designed with the sole purpose for the next hitter to get physically and mentally in tune to his upcoming at bat. It is designed for each player to create and develop a routine that permits them to have the proper frame of mind before entering the batter's box to fashion the duel with the opposing pitcher. It is designed as the door mat that welcomes each hitter to the inauguration of their plate appearance. This truly sounds simple in its origin and purpose, however, the simplicity of its beginning has taken on many a wrong purpose over the years of baseball.
The idea and thought process of many young, inexperienced hitters is to use the on deck circle as a place to “get quick or get strong”. That being the utilization of using a heavy implement, such as a bat weight, doughnut or lead pipe to get the muscles ready to fire or get the muscles to feel like they need to be contracted and hard before the at bat. Well, this is actually not what the on deck primarily should be used for. In fact, using an implement that is heavy essentially does the opposite of what most hitters think.
There have been numerous studies over the years that in fact will refute the long old paradigm of using a heavy weight in the on deck circle in preparation to the at bat. These studies show that the use of a heavy bat in developing increased bat speed prior to the at bat will reduce one’s ability to swing the bat at optimal speed. Coop DeRenne, a physical-education professor at the University of Hawaii, frames his findings in hard numbers: Increase—or even decrease—the weight of your bat between 10% and 13%, and you decrease bat speed from three to five miles per hour. Other studies show similar findings, in that, players that swing heavy implements prior to their at bat, will show slower bat speed over the course of their at bat. Recent studies have even shown that something called post-activation potentiation might be the best "physical" warm up you can do in the on deck circle (Read more about it here in Graeme Lehman's excellent blog).
Having said this then, what really is the function of the on deck circle? Well we know it is not a small, round gym to workout in. So what is it? Simple, it is the on deck hitter’s personal laboratory. That’s right, their own lab, for a few precious minutes each and every game, where they (the hitters) need to cleanse their minds, focus on the upcoming task at hand and prepare mentally for that hitter-pitcher battle. So, just how do they accomplish this mission?
Well, what is hitter trying to undertake in the on deck circle? Certainly a routine is most critical. But, within that routine, what really is going on should be the question? Hitters need to first and foremost place themselves in a position that allows them the best angle to observe the pitcher, his delivery, arm action, and sequence of pitches. If that means the on deck hitter is out of the on deck circle and the umpire says nothing, then stay there. This is not cheating, in fact, it is getting an edge, taking what you can, doing the necessary measures to try and increase the likelihood of a good at bat. In this position, the hitter should be using his own bat, the game bat, to work his timing to that of the pitcher's delivery while at the same timefocusing on the sequence of pitches to the hitter in front of him and the game situation that he potentially is walking into. With the timing aspect, the key is getting the front foot down in time and in sync with the ball coming out of the release window of the pitcher. The routine needs to be cleansed and not clouded by outside interferences that will distract one of the upcoming goals...a concentrated focus and positive approach.
As hitters, we all train to be the best we can. Hours and hours of dedicated work is put in lifting weights, becoming more flexible, more agile, stronger and more explosive. An inordinate amount of time is spent swinging the bat off a tee, front toss and batting practice, yet many look at the on deck circle as “I’m next”. That’s fine, but if you are next, what are you doing as the next hitter to prepare yourself for the plate appearance? Think about it this way...if a hitter get’s four at bats in a game, they are on deck four times. Those four on deck appearances are limited in time. Everyone’s equal enemy is time and therefore, those that make use of that precious time, which over the course of a game is so limited, may have a better chance of finding success as a hitter. Just think for a moment, the hours and hours of dedicated preparation... lifting, running, eating and swinging a bat can be easily flushed down the toilet with poor on deck preparation. Find out what works best, create the routine, find the psychological edge, limit the number of swings fashioned with a heavy bat and WIN the at bat instead of giving it away with tired, slow muscle fatigue. Would a world class sprinter work on endurance running? Nope! They would work on the focus of running faster, becoming more explosive and carrying speed through good fundamental movements of the body.
So hitters, use the on deck circle to refine your movements and make them more efficient, not less efficient. You could be walking a fine line by swinging a heavy bat that has negative effects on how hitting movements are accomplished. Create your positive sacrament while awaiting ON DECK. Develop a routine. Study the pitcher. Get your timing set. Make it COUNT!
Rick Johnston, Head Instructor - The Baseball Zone