Is the focus on launch angle the reason for more strikeouts?

The technology in baseball is moving fast. In this recent entry, O’s minor league hitting coach Tom Eller gave us a bit of a primer on some of the technology that is in place as of 2019 on the Orioles farm.

For most of us, it was probably both educational and enlightening.

Eller was new to the O’s organization in the 2019 season. He started it as hitting coach at Single-A Delmarva and later moved to join short-season Single-A Aberdeen when its season began last June.

Smith-HR-Swing-Gray-Toronto-Sidebar.jpgSome fans that watch the game and maybe even some media that cover the game may sometimes talk about the so-called “launch-angle revolution.” That is a reference to players looking to hit the ball in the air more often to produce more power. With the change in swings, players produce higher launch angles and thus produce more strikeouts. At least that is the popular analysis of it.

But Eller, who brought us up to speed on technology including bat sensors and K-Vests and TrackMan data in the earlier entry, doesn’t necessarily believe A led to B here when it comes to strikeouts.

In fact, the launch angle revolution may already be losing some devotees.

“No, you’re right,” Eller said about that premise. “It’s not that we are catering a launch angle swing. The launch angle is the product of the swing. And I don’t even talk about launch angle unless there is a guy that is constantly hitting the ball way too low or the barrel path is coming in too steep. I’ve got to tell him, ‘This is what your launch angle is.’ We need to figure this out.

“Launch angle - I never really talk about that. People get so ... they want to have an excuse for the strikeouts and that is what they pin it on. But I say this all the time, guys will keep striking out more. It is not about the way they are swinging. They are swinging better than ever. It’s because guys are throwing 92 mph sliders and 90 mph changeups and they are throwing 3-0 changeups and 2-0 sliders. Nothing is scripted anymore. Pitchers know what they are throwing and the hitter does not. Pitchers will always be ahead. If you’re throwing 99 with a 92 mph slider, yeah, it’s pretty hard to hit.”

Strikeouts have risen in the major leagues each season since 2008, with an increase of more than 1,300 this year, to 42,823. In 2008, there were 32,884.

I asked Eller if batting coaches should simply have players spend more time and effort working on putting the ball in play more and striking out less.

“Nobody wants to strike out,” he said. “Understanding that, if I just try to make contact at this level, it’s going to be an out. We have to be able to swing and again, it’s not a home run swing. We are swinging the bat like our body can. And it’s a controlled fashion so that we can adjust to different pitches. There are going to be some strikeouts. You can hope to just bloop one in by just making contact, but you need three of them to score one run.”

Meanwhile, on the trade rumor front: This New York Post article suggests that the Yankees could have some interest in a deal with the Orioles for Jonathan Villar. It also suggests the Yankees made a push to acquire O’s right-handed reliever Mychal Givens at the trade deadline last year. Seems to me they already have a pretty good bullpen, but maybe Givens will be on their radar again this winter. Or even Villar plus Givens in a package deal. Would the O’s deal with the Yankees? Sure, why not?

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