Baseball’s back, and so is the long ball.
One year after Major League Baseball teams shattered the record for home runs in a season by more than 400, slugging 6,105 of them, teams show no sign of slowing down in 2018. On Opening Day, Ian Happ of the Chicago Cubs parked one in the right field seats in Miami on the very first pitch of the season, and New York Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton each hit moon shots in their opener in Toronto.
But all these homers didn’t just fall out of the sky; it’s part of the so-called “fly ball revolution.” Emphasis on things like launch angle and exit velocity have been en vogue in recent years, encouraging players to hit the ball in the air to maximize their power potential. From 2015 to 2016, the average launch angle in MLB rose from 10.5 to 11.5 degrees.
Launch angles and exit velocities are now becoming a staple of MLB broadcasts, and the stats are readily available on MLB.com, just one click away from more traditional stats like batting average and RBI. These stats and the home run trend are accessible to everyone, including young players.
The fly ball trend has even led to an improvement over a classic youth baseball implement: the hitting tee. After all, a player can’t work on launch angle if he’s hitting the tee every time. Some youth coaches have argued that ballplayers everywhere need to pay attention to launch angle.
But is a higher launch angle something that a young player should be striving for? Or is such a launch angle more the result of good, solid, fundamentals, honed from a young age?
What’s your take?
Take 1: Hit the Ball in the Air and Good Things Happen
Take the career of Josh Donaldson. After a minor league career with average power, Donaldson worked with a swing coach to put greater emphasis on hitting fly balls. The result was a 41-home run season in 2015 and American League MVP award. He was a believer, and it became his mantra, famously tweeting in 2017: “Just say NO…. to ground balls.”
Donaldson is not alone. Players like Jose Bautista, Justin Turner and J.D. Martinez have all revitalized their careers by adjusting their swings skyward. Even Hall of Famer Ted Williams talked about swinging on an upward slope in his book, “The Science of Hitting.”
Take 2: Keep it Simple, Just Make Good Contact
Not everyone is a power hitter. Introducing too much of a focus on launch angle could be counterproductive and take a player away from what he does best at the plate. Joey Votto and Ryan Zimmerman — bona fide MLB sluggers in their own right — have expressed concern with the fly ball trend. Zimmerman told The Denver Post in 2017:
“I think there’s obviously proof to the data, but it’s really easy to sit there and say, ‘Every ball that goes out at a 35-degree launch angle and squared up at 95 miles per hour.’ For me, if I start trying to control all those things, I start trying to do too much and think too much. It’s always been tough enough to just hit the ball hard. If you can do that, good things happen.”
And not everyone has a success story like Donaldson. One-time All-Star Jayson Heyward increased his launch angle from 4.7 degrees in 2015 to 10.5 in 2016. The result was a drop in slugging percentage from .439 to .325. Major leaguers may have the aptitude to recover from tinkering with their swings, players still learning the game may not be so lucky.
What do you think? Is the fly ball revolution here to stay? If young hitters don’t get on board now, will they be left behind at higher levels? Or is this just an example that works for certain players? Have your say in the comments below.
From GameChanger and Todd Kortemeier
Find this article interesting? Check out another article that analyzes the "fly ball revolution" here.