It’s a thought that is on a lot of young hitters and coaches minds these days. As I travel the country working with high schools and colleges, I hear real concern in the voices of hitters who are trying to live up to what the online community is preaching.
In 2001 when I started KWB, terminology like launch angle didn’t exist in the game. Now this isn’t to say that the intent and goals for hitters were any different. In fact, it was just the same – minus the fancy lingo.
You see, hitting hasn’t changed that much over the years. What has changed is the way we can measure results and view the swing. But to say that the way we have to teach hitting has drastically changed over the years would be misleading the younger generation of hitters and coaches.
I’ve learned a lot about hitting over the past 17 years, including the art of teaching someone how to HIT. I’ve gotten better at communicating a message that is specifically tailored to that individual. I’ve also learned to ask better questions, as well as listen more to the individual in order to understand where they are coming from. This is the same type of journey that every leader will hopefully trek and it’s why I spend most of my time on the #GoodBatting Tour teaching the coaches and not just the players.
I’m not a big believer in being enamored with the shiny object and leaping from one theory to the next. I rather view it from all angles, be curious more than excited, and ultimately allow the results from the hitter dictate if it’s something that works for them or not.
Hitting is simple. It’s just not that easy. And when it comes to the statcast world that we live in, the art of hitting can quickly be complicated. Over the years I don’t think a lot has changed in terms of the intent of good hitters. The goal has always been to hit the ball hard, we just now have a way to measure how hard we have hit it.
For those who are new to launch angle, or who need a quick refresher as to the “guidelines” here is a quick rundown of the varying degrees of Launch Angle:
- Ground ball: Less than 10 degrees
- Line Drive: 10-25 degrees
- Fly ball: 25-50 degrees
- Pop up: Greater than 50 degrees.
Did you know that the average launch angle in the big leagues is 11.83 degrees?
Former AL MVP Josh Donaldson’s average launch angle in 2017 was 13.42 degrees.
- During his 2015 MVP season, Donaldson’s average launch angle was 8.4 degrees
AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge’s average launch angle in 2017 was 15.74 degrees.
World Series Champion Jose Altuve’s average launch angle in 2017 was 9.8 degrees.
NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton’s average launch angle in 2017 was 11.1 degrees.
*Sources: MLB.com, Baseball Savant
Of the players chosen with varying degrees of talents, strength, sizes and success, what is one thing that grabs your attention?
Outside of one player (Altuve), they all averaged “line drives” throughout the season.
So in the era of the “fly ball revolution” the best hitters in the game don’t exactly follow the narrative that a lot of people try and push.
I think future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones put it the best when he was asked about trying to hit more fly balls:
I’ve been around a lot of good MLB hitters in my time and the one thing I have discovered is that there is not one way to teach someone how to swing.
While some hitters have made swing changes and seen positive results, there are many others who have tried to change their swings to “elevate and celebrate” and were never seen again.
Joey Votto spoke the truth when he said, “I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of sh**ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.”
So, what launch angle should you hit at?
Learning who you are as a hitter is the first step in the process.
How hard do you hit the ball?
If you’re hitting 80 mph fly balls into the air (25-50 degrees), those won’t carry far, resulting in a fly ball out or a pop-up on the infield. If you consistently hit the ball hard at exit velocities over 90 mph in a game, then you have a greater chance of hitting the ball over someone’s head.
If you have identified yourself as a hitter who doesn’t drive the baseball as hard as some of your teammates, then having a higher launch angle probably isn’t for you. For example, Altuve’s average exit velocity in 2017 was 86.12 mph, with an average launch angle of 9.8 degrees. He ended up hitting .346 with an OBP of .957, 204 hits, which included 24 home runs.
DJ LeMahieu is another example of someone who understands himself as a hitter. His average launch angle in 2017 was (gasp) 3.11. His average exit velocity was 89.15. He’s a career .300 hitter who finished 2017 hitting .310 with a .783 OPS, while falling 11 hits shy of 200 in the process.
But what if you’re someone who can drive the ball with backspin? Does it mean that you try and hit fly balls (25-50 degrees)?
The simple answer is no.
There is a difference between driving a baseball with backspin and hitting a fly ball. If you’re coaching a hitter to hit the top of the cage and he can’t drive the baseball yet, you’re setting that hitter up for failure when they step out on the field against good pitching.
Hitting a ball hard and hitting it on a line has been the purpose of every MLB hitter for over 100 years.
Some say the “fly ball” trend is driving up the amount of total offense. But it’s also evident that this approach for hitting everything in the air won’t work for every player.
So whether you’re a big power hitter or a hitter who excels at squaring up the baseball consistently, understand your strengths and work to master those.
There’s nothing wrong with hitting a line drive in the game. Just like there is nothing wrong with hitting a ground ball. Just ask the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. In the Top of the 10th inning in Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians, the Cubs broke open a 6-6 ballgame on 3 ground balls.
Yes, ground balls.
The first came on Kyle Schwarber’s hard hit ground ball single to right to lead off the inning. Kris Bryant followed with a fly ball to centerfield for the first out of the inning, during which, pinch runner Albert Almora advanced to second on a heads up baserunning play. With a base open and one out, Cleveland intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo to put two men on for Ben Zobrist. And on a 1-2 pitch, Zobrist hit a hard ground ball to left field for a double to score Almora from second and advance Rizzo to third, helping the Cubs claim a 7-6 lead.
Cleveland opted to walk the next batter Addison Russell, loading the bases with one out for Miguel Montero. He took a 1-1 cutter and hit a ground ball to left field that scored Rizzo from third to make it 8-6 Chicago, in what would eventually be the final score and the first World Series Championship for Chicago in 108 years.
You see, hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. And if you’re going to face the best pitchers in the world thinking about manipulating your swing to hit nothing but fly balls, you’ll be disappointed in your results.
The Cubs hitters didn’t ask for the ground balls back. They weren’t ordered by their coach to not hit ground balls with 108 years of championship drought on the line. No, they were just trying to put together the best at-bat they could to help their team win. In fact, Ben Zobrist said afterwards that he was battling and was just trying to get his bat on the ball.
Your experience will shape your opinions.
Be honest with yourself as a hitter. Find something that works for you when the lights are on and the game is on the line.
If your best is being a contact hitter, getting on base with ground ball and line drive base hits, then be the best ground ball and base hit player on your team. If your best is being a guy who drives the ball in the air because you’re one of the stronger guys on team, then be the best line drive hitter on your team.
Coaches will always find a spot in the lineup for a hitter who is consistently on time and hits the ball hard.
Success rarely comes from hitting a fly ball.
For more than a decade, Kevin Wilson has been one of the most respected hitting coaches in the game. He works behind the scenes as a private hitting consultant to some of the best hitters in Major League Baseball. In 2013, Kevin was the hitting coach for the USA Baseball 18U National Team. Team USA beat Japan for the Gold medal at the IBAF World Cup in Taichung, Taiwan.
He is the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller The #GoodBatting Book and co-hosts a popular podcast, KWB Radio, that showcases unique conversations with the pros. If you want Kevin to speak at your next event or if you want take advantage of his popular 2-day KWB Experience for players and coaches, contact Kevin today!