San Diego Padres: How Launch Angle Has Taken Over Baseball

SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 16: Christian Villanueva
SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 16: Christian Villanueva /

Hitters in today’s game are hitting more homers, driving in more runs, and making more money than ever before in the history of the game. But are the San Diego Padres benefitting from it? More so, what damage could this do to the future of the game?

The San Diego Padres have bought into the idea of launch angle, just as many other teams have. Players are arguably having more success since the phenomenon of launch angle entered the league, but is there a price that hitters pay when they abide by launch angle’s rules?

For those of you who don’t exactly know what launch angle means, it’s basically the angle to the degree, the ball leaves the bat at.

For example, the exit velocity of the ball off the bat is 110 MPH and the launch angle is 30 degrees (picture an alligator’s mouth), that’s got a good chance at being a home run.

Hitters have been trying to use a bit of an upper-cut swing to turn hard-hit line drives into hard-hit long fly balls by changing the angle of the ball’s trajectory at contact.

With the increase of hitters trying to hit the ball into the air, it has led to a spike in the number of home runs being produced.

The effect of launch angle on MLB

Last year during the 2017 season, we saw a record of 6,104 home runs hit,  that was by far the most home runs ever hit in a season. The previous record for most home runs hit in a season was 5,963, which was set back in the year 2000.

Hitters like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Joey Gallo, and Khris Davis would argue they have all benefited from this new approach due to the fact they all hit over 40 home runs last year.

But another statistic they all have in common is that they all struck out over 160 times in 2017. In fact, there were 140 players that struck out over 100 times last year. In the year 2000, there were only 58.

It seems players are willing to strikeout more in order to hit more home runs

The mindset of players and teams have now is that outs are outs no matter how they are made. If you strikeout three times in a game, it’s no different than grounding out or popping up three times.

This has led to hitters having an “all or nothing” approach up at the plate no matter the count, situation, or score. This is now an era where both the leadoff hitter and the number eight hitter in a lineup are trying to bat like a four-hitter.

The majority of hitters are no longer shortening up with two strikes, trying to move runners over, or simply driving in a runner on second with a single.

With strikeouts being at an all-time high too last year, should the focus of launch angle be apart of all players approach at the plate? Hitters racked up a total of over 40,000 strikeouts in 2017.

Do the San Diego Padres have the correct players to emphasize launch angle to their swings?

When you look at the San Diego Padres’ lineup, it absolutely isn’t composed of many power hitters. Only three players on this year’s roster hit more than 20 homers last year. Is it really a good idea to have Padre hitters try to hit the ball in the air more?

Some could argue yes because the Padres need the offense. Though do you really want players like Cory Spangenberg, Manuel Margot, and Matt Szczur to hit the ball in the air more?

They aren’t power hitters and should be focusing more on line drives and utilizing their speed on balls hit in the gap. Playing half of your games at Petco Park should also be a reason why Launch Angle may not be the best approach when it comes to the Padres’ hitters.

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Launch angle is taking an effect at the youth level

Young players are of course fascinated by home run hitters at the MLB level, and respectfully so.

Newly developed apps are now being produced to track and determine player’s bat speed and launch angle. Parents are buying these apps thinking it could help give their kid an edge.

Hitting coaches also use these new hitting apps to tell kids and their parents that they’re going to be able to produce the same launch angle Kris Bryant did to hit his home run in Tuesday’s game.

What parents and kids don’t understand is that Kris Bryant is 6″5, 230 lbs.

You can’t tell a freshman in high school who is probably 5″7, 150 lbs soaking wet that if he launches the ball into the air at the same angle Kris Bryant does he’s going to hit more home runs.

It’s not physically possible for a regular kid in high school to do what Kris Bryant does. Kids are now hitting off a tee with their hitting coach in a cage, and launching balls straight up into the netting trying to attain the perfect launch Angle.

It’s ultimately a choice

They have the strength to muscle balls over the stands and benefit from an “all or nothing” approach. Joey Votto‘s thoughts on launch angle could be one of the more better points of view out there on the topic.

By heavily emphasizing launch angle to your swing, you’re agreeing to hit the ball into the air more and possibly hitting more home runs.

The price you pay is having a longer swing, leading to striking out more. This new method of hitting seems to be better suited to those that are able to turn those fly balls into home runs.

Players like Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo are happy to strikeout over 200 times every year because they know they’ll be able to still hit over 40 home runs.

Next: Padres Success with RISP Being Wasted

Launch angle has certainly created more excitement to the game, but with it resulting in more strikeouts it will be interesting to see if hitters will shy away from it and make adjustments.