Launch angle is something that has always been a part of hitting but the term has recently been popularized with the creation of statcast and tools like Hit Trax to measure it. Today I want to discuss what optimal launch angles are, why they are important and how to improve them.
Launch angle is simply a fancy term for the angle the ball leaves the bat from. Simply put, negative numbers means ground balls and positive numbers mean balls in the air. Any ball hit in play will range from -90 (ball that is hit off of home plate) to 90 degrees (pop up to the catcher), however, the majority of batted balls will range from -20 to 60.
So what is a good launch angle?
Almost all measures of offensive production suggest that hitting line drives and fly balls are more advantageous than hitting ground balls.
Look at thee charts below
Spray chart: (blue/yellow are hits, red are outs)
Where are the hits? In the outfield. How do we hit the ball to the outfield? Hit line drives and flyballs.
Batting average at different launch angles
What do we notice? Batting averages below 0 degrees (ground balls) don't produce a very high average. Neither do balls that get hit over 30 degrees. The highest averages are seen on balls between 10 and 30 degrees.
Slugging pct at different launch angles
What do we notice? Slugging Pct. peaks between 10-30 degrees in the vast majority of hitters.
So, from all of the data, the best ranges tend to be between 10-30 degrees.
Line drives tend to be in the range about 10-20 degrees and good driven fly balls tend to be between 20-30 degrees. Think of a 10 degree line drive as a hard line drive right back at the pitcher and a 30 degree fly ball as a double to the wall.
Anything below 10 will be a ground ball which at any level where fielders are semi competent will result in an out.
Anything above 30, which for the majority of hitters (Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton excluded) tend to sit in the air too long and result in weak fly balls.
So, how do we get the majority of our batted balls to fall in this range? Improve bat path. Launch angle has everything to do with where we get the bat to meet the ball. Look at the picture below.
Simply put, if we hit the top of the ball, the ball will go down, if we hit too far below the center of the ball, the result will be a weak pop up.
Most balls that get hit below 10 degrees and almost all of the balls that get hit above 30 degrees tend to be bat path related. If ground balls are the problem, it generally means that the bat stays on top of the ball throughout the whole swing. If fly balls are the result, it means the bat stayed under the baseball. The fix for both? Swing up through the Zone. In a good swing, the bat will drop below the ball when it enters the hitting zone. Ideally it should work up (like the Greg Bird clip below). If the bat gets below the ball and doesn't work up then the result will be a weak fly ball.