Launch Angle: The Most Misunderstood Term in Hitting

Written By: Chas Pippitt

Launch Angle is a huge topic in all of baseball and softball right now.  Many coaches, parents, and players are scared of the term “launch angle”, as they think or assume that people that talk about launch angle want you to practice popping up and flying out.  Why would a coach want that?!?  We in the ‘top of the cage’ camp do not want you to practice hitting weak and easy to catch hits.  We are trying, and in most cases succeeding, in allowing players to reach their power potential and drive the ball farther, which can in many cases leads to more powerful hits, more doubles, and more home runs.

Before I go on, I’d like to make sure everyone understands this one major point: Every ball hit has a launch angle.  Zero Degrees would be a line drive parallel to the ground.  -30 degrees would be a grounder/chopper.  30 degrees would be a fly ball.  Even foul balls popped up out of play behind the catcher have a launch angle, sometimes over 90 degrees! Recently, launch angle has become very popular with Major League Baseball's StatCast and as more hitting facilities and colleges are acquiring the technology required to measure it.  When something is measured, it can be trained and manipulated over time to get a better result.  Launch angle is no different than exit velocity in that now that it's constantly measured and discussed, there will be ways that instructors drill hitters to increasing or decreasing the amount of height a certain hitter attempts to create in his batted balls.

Now that we understand that every ball has a launch angle, we can talk about which launch angles are good and which launch angles are bad and why.

An important point to know going into a discussion about Launch Angle is that each hitter’s optimal launch angle is COMPLETELY DETERMINED by how hard they hit the ball, otherwise known as their Exit Velocity, which is the speed of the ball coming off the bat.  I have a player, “Jon”, I work with who consistently hits the ball in BP over 100mph, sometimes harder than 105 mph.  That player should constantly try to hit the ball off the top of the batting cage to allow for more doubles and home runs.  More doubles and homers will directly determine how much money Jon makes (either in scholarships or a contract), how long he can play baseball and what level of baseball he can reach.  A great example of this is the recent article in the StarTribune by Chris Hine about Logan Morrison’s swing change.  Check it out and see how much lifting the ball has positively affected his career and salary.  This story is very similar to the work we did with Ryan Mountcastle, a top prospect of the Baltimore Orioles.

Ryan Mountcastle's Stats from 2016 to 2017 after an offseason of Launch Angle work at Baseball Rebellion.

Mountcastle's doubles went up by 20 (he led MiLB in doubles) and HR's went up by 8.  Strikeout rate went DOWN while Average was basically the same and OPS and Slug had significant jumps.  Mountcastle hits the ball HARD enough (over 105 mph) to train to hit it HIGH (over 25 degrees) as often as possible.  You can see his MLB Spring Training home run here...it cleared the batter's eye.

I have another player “Larry” who is on the other side of the exit velocity spectrum.  He exit velocity is almost always between 70 and 76 mph, which is in the 52nd percentile of his 15u age group and clearly not high enough to make it intelligent to ask him to hit the ball up in the air  So, on a big 60/90 field, he’s gotta hit the ball much lower than the player who hits the ball 105 mph.  If “Larry” hits the ball with a launch angle in the high 20’s and low 30’s, he’s going to fly out over and over and over again.  He simply doesn’t hit the ball hard enough to make a higher launch angle a positive result for him.  Here's a screenshot of his most recent session with us on HitTrax.  As you can see, he has 98% singles.  Lowering his launch angle to UNDER 25 degrees but OVER 12 degrees was by design based on how hard Larry hits the ball.  If we go for distance when training, I'd like Larry to be above the 25-degree launch angle and up into the mid 30's.  When Larry is in that higher launch angle range, he can hit the ball 265 or so, which is in the 65th percentile for his age group.  265 on a 60/90 big field is an out, and if he misses even a little bit he's out at an extremely high rate.  This lower 'singles based' launch angle gives Larry the best chance to be the best player he can be in games and help his team win.

 

On the other side of the Launch Angle story is Buster Olney's Article which you can find HERE.  Basically, Olney interviewed people who wanted to remain nameless and they are either totally against launch angle for a variety of reasons, or just uninformed and fearful about what the changes may do to individual players or the teams they play on.The most insightful quote in the article was by an unnamed GM who said, " The concept is so new that I don’t think the process has been fully vetted,” said the GM. “It feels like some of them -- including coaches -- are just making it up as they go along without understanding the mechanics or the collateral damage." and that there are probably not enough coaches who can effectively adjust a player's launch angle one way or the other without ruining his other offensive performance.  While Olney did quote many unnamed with high-level jobs within the organizations they work for, I genuinely believe that baseball is just beginning to figure out how training these metrics will create better players.  You can quote me now, the newest 'Moneyball' type revolution is going to be hitter development and eliminating ground balls.  Once that happens, the people quoted by Olney will, like ground balls, be eliminated from baseball as well. Again, I recognize that not ALL hitters need to hit the ball up in the air to try to drive the ball out of the park.  Not all hitters CAN do that.  All hitters need to understand the launch angle and exit velocity metrics because understanding those metrics will help you improve as a hitter. Almost all hitters benefit from hitting fewer grounders, even if that just means more line drives that land between the infield and the outfielders.

In what is a necessary contrast to Buster Olney's article, HERE is a great article (written by Dayn Perry, CBS) actually trying to explain what launch angle means and how it can actually HELP hitters who focus on it. It goes into great detail about what launch angles are the most successful for everyone and who are the best "launch angle hitters"  in Major League Baseball. Perry gives a list of the hitters who hit the most batted balls at ideal launch angles, between 10 and 30 degrees. You will see the names of some of the best hitters in baseball at the top of the list including Jose Altuve, Daniel Murphy, Miguel Cabrera, Matt Carpenter, etc. This article helps show that just because the "old school" executives, scouts, and coaches think that launch angle is just a phase, or doesn't belong in baseball, doesn't mean that players feel the same way. With more players beginning to study and understand the data, you will start to see more and more of those old school thoughts being "launched" out of the game.

The measurement, tracking, and manipulation of a hitter's launch angle is here to stay.  Please don't hide from it coaches!  Take the time to understand it. Use this (new) information to your advantage!  One way to help is this article I put out earlier in the year about batting cages and launch angle.  I know that coaches all over the country want to do the best job they can for their players.  Keep looking for new information, keep learning, and maybe...just maybe...don't kick that kid out of the cage if he hit's the top of the net.  That 'top of the net pop up' might have been a home run!

 

**If you're interested in the training your Launch Angle, check out the Launch Angle Tee.  It was designed by with the intention of allowing hitters to swing up and through on the ball without making contact with the tee!  If you are a coach or a parent teaching hitting the ball high and hard, definitely take a look.**

Chas Pippitt, Leader of the Baseball and Softball Rebellion

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