Saturday, November 25th, 2017

Teaching launch angle is a waste of time

November 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Coaching, Hitting

If you work with baseball players below the AA or AAA level (and 99% of baseball coaches do) then there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to use the term “launch angle” in your instruction.

Three stories …

I grew up watching a lot of Yankees games and loved to watch Don Mattingly hit.  I remember listening to an announcer talk about his hitting progression by saying that Mattingly never was a power hitter until he reached the major league level.  Prior to that he was a line drive hitter who showed opposite field gap power to left center.  When he reached Yankee Stadium, major league level coaches taught him how to pull the ball more and generate some lift.  Only then did he start being known as a home run threat.  His first year ever with 20+ home runs was his first full year in the majors.  Prior to that, his highest total was 12.  That was when he split time between AAA and the big leagues.

When I played in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 1988, Jeff Bagwell was one of many future major leaguers I played against.  It seemed like every time Bagwell swung the bat, a laser into the opposite field gap was the result.  He didn’t spend much time in the minor leagues (2 seasons) but it is worth mentioning that his highest minor league home run total was a whopping four.  It wasn’t until his age-25 season that he finally reached 20 home runs.  

Today, Josh Donaldson seems to be the poster boy for the whole “swing up,” “launch angle,” and “who cares about strikeouts” mentality that is sweeping baseball.  This is largely because of Donaldson’s outspoken comments in favor of the concepts.  However, let’s look at some of Donaldson’s stats before he got to the big leagues.

At Auburn, Donaldson never had more than 11 home runs in any of his three seasons.  And that’s with an aluminum bat.  To add to that, it’s interesting to note that he had more walks than strikeouts his last year as well.  It wasn’t until he reached AAA in the A’s organization that he hit over 10 home runs (he had 18).  He was also 24 years old that season. In fact, he was 27 years old when he finally hit 20+ home runs in the major leagues.

One could argue that all three were never taught the “correct way” to hit until they reached the major leagues.  They might contend that if the three players I mentioned had that instruction much earlier then their success in driving the ball out of the park would have begun sooner as well.

I don’t agree.

These players (and virtually every other major league hitter) were able to get to the major leagues by consistently hitting the cover off the ball to all fields at every level.  When they showed the additional consistency of doing this off of great pitching then (AND ONLY THEN!) did they start to tinker with pulling the ball and getting more lift to produce more home runs and RBI’s.  This usually does not happen until the hitter approaches his mid-20’s.  There are always exceptions to this but that has been the standard for every generation of ball players.

This is why I believe teaching a younger player (little league, middle school, high school, and most college players) the concept of getting lift on the ball (promoting “launch angle”) is a total waste of time.  It’s like trying to teach a kid how to fix a transmission on a car without first teaching him how to use a screwdriver.  

No matter how complicated coaches make it, successful hitting is still pretty simple.  Take good swings and consistently hit the ball hard to all fields.  

Focus on that and let them learn all about “lift” and “launch angle” when they get to the big leagues.

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