I completely understand. Home runs typically lead to more runs scored. However, we all know more home runs are synonymous with more strikeouts. This is something we’ve come to see over the past year. Organizations are placing more emphasis on the launch angle. Players that had a launch swing were considered to have uppercut swings. My brother is one of the best examples of a hitter with a natural uppercut swing. While, I was direct and towards the top half of the baseball, he was able to get more loft on the ball due to his uppercut. Now, we seem numerous hitters with these swings. For the sake of the topic, and giving more attention to the Cubs, I will use Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber as examples (click on player’s name for video of each player’s swing in slow-mo). Both players have tremendous power, and generate great torque during their swing. One thing you notice is the uppercut. This leads to more home runs, but — as I stated before this — it also leads to an unwanted number of strikeouts. This week, I want to focus on launch angle in “That’s Amore!” Is More Emphasis on Launch Angle Good or Bad?
Teams want to score runs. It’s a simple concept and that’s what we’ve become accustomed to. Gone are the days when teams would lay down bunts to advance runners and hope someone could drive them in. With more emphasis put on defensive shifts, it only makes sense for players to get more loft on the ball and try to drive pitches to the outfield. With that being said, when players are looking to drive every pitch the likelihood of swings and misses rises tremendously. One of my biggest pet peeves that I see more are hitters taking first-pitch strikes. From there, the pitcher immediately becomes ahead in the count and can use this to their advantage. From here, pitchers can peck at the corners and throw their breaking balls in the dirt. Think of it this way — if you are behind in the count and want to get loft underneath the ball, you are going to have a longer swing. In yesteryear, players would shorten up their swing and try to dump pitches for base hits. This cannot be the case if you’re looking to drive the ball. One cannot shorten up their swing and produce with similarities of a normal swing trying to loft the ball.
Why do we see more emphasis on putting more loft under the ball? For one, as we see with all sports, athletes are taking over professional sports. Now, you may say that’s an obvious, but now more than ever we see athletes that excelled in more than just the sport they play professionally. I remember speaking to one college coach during a showcase my senior year of high school and he made a point in stating that his respective University isn’t looking for just baseball players, but pure athletes. Given the notion that these players are pure athletes, they are more athletically gifted to do a numbers of things. This lays in line with more players than ever being able to hit the ball out of the ballpark. I can name a number of teams that have players, from top to bottom, that can hit home runs. This also aligns with the fact that managers will send players to bat and — rather than have them lay down bunts — they give them the green light to swing freely.
To the right, I compiled a chart looking at home run and strikeout totals from 2013 to the current 2018 season. In 2017, home runs were up nearly 40% from 2013. At the same time, strikeouts were up nearly 9.25%. This increase in strikeouts aren’t shocking as it’s almost a given that more swing and misses arise when players are looking to put more of an upper-cut swing on the ball. We are a full month into the season, and Major League Baseball is on pace to yet again reach the 6000+ home run total. Even then, the pace of strikeouts could easily surpass the total from 2017.
When I think of certain players altering their swing to have an increase in power numbers, Yonder Alonso immediately comes to mind. 2017 was a career year for Alonso. Prior to 2017, Alonso had never hit double-digit home runs and his career-high was nine set in 2012. Much of Alonso’s success can be attributed to working with future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran in the off-season leading up to 2017. Both players studied tape, and designed a swing for Alonso that put more emphasis on getting more loft under the ball. Fast-forward to the end of the 2017 season and Alonso finished the season with a career-high 28 home runs as well as a career-high 118 strikeouts. While the number of strikeouts aren’t alarming, there are numerous hitters that see an uptick in strikeouts as their home run totals increase. Now, before we move on, I know there are those reading that will bring up the fact that Alonso’s numbers started to fall off in the second half of the season. Keep in mind, this was only the third time that Alonso accumulated 500+ at-bats and the first time with back-to-back 500+ at-bat seasons. When you’ve never had those amount of at-bats in back-to-back seasons, it’s typical to see some fatigue set in and numbers to decrease in the second half of the season. Yonder is one of the better examples of a player that changed his swing to go along with more upper-cut emphasis and the results were some of the most dramatic compared to other hitters that made a similar to change to their approach.
There is a correlation between exit velocity and launch angle. When we look at the type of contact produced, think of launch angles by contact in relation to the chart to the right. Obviously, with more emphasis put on launch, players will want to generate from a lunch angle of 50 degrees or higher. The higher the launch angle, the higher the exit velocity. Why are these correlated? Bat speed. Rarely do you hear experts bring up bat speed, but it goes hand-in-hand with launch angle and exit velocity. If I’m not mistaken, the quickest path between two points is a straight line. If you have a hitch, or uppercut, in your swing it will take milliseconds longer to reach the baseball. How does one make up for this? The answer is bat speed. Players will without a doubt need phenomenal bat speed to make up for the uppercut to be able to A) provide more launch on the ball and B) have a higher exit velocity. Think of it this way. If we are talking about a slap hitter, more times than not they will make softer contact and even a well-hit ball will have “warning track” power. On the other hand, a player that has more loft on the ball and typically hits more balls in the air, they will have to generate more exit velocity to get the balls that are hit in the air over the outfield wall. Simply put, home runs hit with a higher launch angle will always have a higher exit velocity.
Now we know what launch angle and exit velocity truly mean. Now, let’s finally get to answer to the title of the article as to whether emphasis on launch angle is good or bad? Personally, approaches at the plate have evolved throughout baseball. If you have runners on base, the ultimate goal is to driver them in. Players with home run ability absolutely want to drive the ball out of the ballpark. Getting more loft on the ball will cause this to happen more times that not. Again, is this good or bad? I honestly believe there is no right answer. There are numerous factors as to why I believe this. If you have phenomenal pitching, but your offense isn’t the greatest, you want to score runs no matter how many and put the game into the hands of your pitching staff. On the other hand, if your pitching staff is sub-par, but your offense is similar to those in the American League East, you absolutely need to score runs and hope the other team can’t keep up with your pace. This is similar to NFL teams that have dynamic offenses, but their defense isn’t anything to write home about. Still, as my chart showing home runs and strikeouts since 2013 suggests, the more an offense emphasizes launch angle, the higher the tendency of swings and misses leading to strikeouts. It comes down to personal opinion on whether or not emphasis on launch angle is positive or negative, but I will tell you one thing that no one can argue. When it comes to the playoffs, teams will want to score runs no matter how they can be manufactured. The only downside could be a manager trying to play small ball and give a hitter the bunt sign to move the runner on base. If a player hasn’t bunted the entire season, it will be more difficult to do. I get these are professional players, but I can promise you that if you try to do something that you haven’t done in an extended period of time, you will have more difficult doing so than if the gap of time was shorter.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday May 6th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #119 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Kyle Klinker. Kyle has been an owner in MLFS baseball, and basketball leagues for over 5 years. He also has a couple of championships under his belt over that span in some tough leagues. We loving refer to him as “The Red Rocket.”