In the past three MLB seasons, hitters have subscribed to the launch angle ephemera, which represents the vertical angle at which the ball leaves the bat. The launch angle revolution has changed the fundamental components and approach to hitting that you may have learned back in little league:
Don’t be quick to the ball, get loaded earlier.
Don’t get on top of the ball, strike the bottom third of baseball.
Don’t hit line drives to the back of the batting cage, hit the top.
Don’t just put the ball in play, put it in the air—even if you whiff.
From 2015 to 2017, hitters hit 3,023 fewer ground balls and 1,196 more home runs. As batters lifted 3,157 more fly balls in the air, it resulted in 2,658 more K’s. Ground balls are a pitcher’s best friend, resulting in outs 75.5% of the time. The fact of the matter is that no hitter with a high ground ball rate is a productive hitter, which has lead to the launch angle era. Here are the guidelines for launch angle and hit type:
Ground ball: Less than 10 degrees
Line drive: 10-25 degrees
Flyball: 25-50 degrees
Pop up: > than 50 degrees
In 2017, 41 balls were hit at an exact 13-degree launch angle at least 90MPH, and they were all hits. The problem with this? 37 of those 41 batted balls were singles. Double the launch angle to 26 degrees at least 90MPH, however, and you have 469 homers—the most of any launch angle last season.
The dawn of the launch angle age has evinced a stark change to Didi Gregorius’ career over the span of those last three years:
*GB% (ground ball rate), FB% (flyball rate)*
2015 (10.3 degree launch): .265/.318/.370, 9 HR, 24 2B, 56 RBI – GB%: 44.7%, FB%: 34.1%
2016 (13.5 degree launch): .276/.304/.447, 20 HR, 32 2B, 70 RBI – GB%: 40.1%, FB%: 40.3%
2017 (17.1 degree launch): .287/.318/.478, 25HR, 27 2B, 87 RBI – GB%: 36.2%, FB%: 43.8%
In the window from ’15 to ’17, Gregorius saw his GB% drop from 44.7% to 36.2%, while his FB% spiked from 34.1% to 43.8%. As GB% decreased and FB% increased, slugging percentage jumped from .370 to .478—resulting in a career-altering power surge: 9 HR & 56 RBI in 2015, to 25 HR & 87 RBI in 2017.
Although it’s a diminutive sample size, Didi’s hot start in 2018 could be an indication that he still has room to improve on his career year last season. So far, the Yankee shortstop is 8 for 18 (.444), and 7 of those 8 hits have been for extra bases: triple, double, double, double, double, home run, home run, single. After his record-breaking 8 RBI, 2 homer day, Gregorius is not going to stray away from focusing on launching. His average launch angle right now is 27.8 degrees, his GB% is 23.5% and his FB% is 52.9%
“For me, it’s not about all the records,” Gregorius said to the media following yesterday’s 11-4 win over the Rays. “As long as we play and win, that’s all I’m trying to do.”
The humble 28-year-old never credits himself in his acclaimed postgame tweets, but some of the records he broke yesterday are worth noting. He’s the 1st Yankee shortstop ever with an 8 RBI ballgame. He’s the 11th Yankee to have an 8 RBI day, joining: A-Rod, Paul O’Neill, Danny Tartabull, Elston Howard, Yogi Berra, Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio (2), George Selkirk (2), and Lou Gehrig (3). He also joins a short an exclusive list of AL shortstops with an 8 RBI game: Nomar Garciaparra (’99, ’02), Miguel Tejada (’01), Ripken (’96).
While the record-shattering performance with the bat was impressive, rookie manager Aaron Boone thought he was equally as good with the glove.
“Obviously a tough night out there conditions wise, he handled a couple plays defensively that I think got overshadowed by the big night,” Boone said in his postgame presser. “Some big swings from him and a really great performance in the opener.”
Didi Gregorius is launching his way to success, which begs the question of whether or not a 30 homer campaign is in his crosshairs. He’s certainly off to great start to accomplishing a feat only 18 other MLB shortstops have and join a club with names like Alex Rodriguez, Ernie Banks, and Barry Larkin.