Charlie Blackmon and Chris Denorfia on Launch Angles

Charlie Blackmon and Chris Denorfia share a similar philosophy when it comes to swing paths and launch angles. Each eschews chopping wood and champions the value of hitting the ball in the air, not on the ground. But while the Colorado Rockies’ outfielders are kindred spirits when it comes to process, their approaches to the science aren’t alike. One is more studious in his pursuit. The other is satisfied to simply be aware of the concept.

Blackmon and Denorfia shared their thoughts on the subject earlier this week.

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Charlie Blackmon: “I try not to get super technical. I do understand that I want to match the angle of my bat with the angle that the pitch is coming in. I think that’s the best way to transfer the most energy into the ball. In saying that, I can feel what’s good and what’s bad. I can feel when I’m hitting the ball hard and when I’m just spinning the ball — I’m swinging at too much of a downward angle and just clipping it — as opposed to squaring it up and getting a lot of my energy transferred to the ball, with a better bat path.

“I haven’t seen a lot of the data, to be honest. I’d be interested in seeing it. But I think that no matter what the data says, I don’t think you can know what the launch angle is, and then backwards engineer a good swing. I think that would be hard.

“Math and statistics are a good way to figure that out, but at the same time, launch-angle data is essentially going to tell me to hit hard line drives. It’s going to say, ‘Hit like Miguel Cabrera.’ Guess what? I’m trying to hit like Miguel Cabrera.

“I would be very hesitant to let someone tell me I needed to do something different because they have a lot of math on it. If you’re more general and say ‘steeper swings’ or ‘inside-out swings’ or ‘a better bat plane’ — generalities like that can help a guy in the right direction; they can better help him understand. There are a lot of ways to say ‘Stay inside the ball.’ Some guys might say that, some guys might say ‘backspin the ball.’ There are a lot of ways to get to the same feeling.

“What I want is to be very connected to my back side. The proper swing is going to have a slight up-tilt to it, because that’s the way the ball is coming into the zone. Really, I think what [people who study launch angles] have done is gone out and proved something that is somewhat common knowledge. That said, there are some people who want to swing down on the ball. That works in certain situations, but I don’t think it’s the way to go. I don’t want to hit ground balls. Absolutely not. Ground balls make outs. Another thing to consider is that a fly ball is a nearer miss than a ground ball.”

Chris Denorfia: “The last couple of years, I’ve trained with those types of things in mind — the exit velocity and the launch angles. There are different hitting systems now that we can install in cages. They can track that while we practice, so we can practice what we’re trying to do in the game.

“I know that the Cubs have a system installed in their new place, although the ones I’ve used have been outside of organized baseball, like when I’ve been training back home. It’s interesting to train that way. Instead of worrying about one mechanical part of your swing, you’re trying to find out what works to get the best results. There are different ways you can go about generating that kind of exit angle, that kind of launch angle. At the same time, the swing down on the ball, to try to get on top of it, is kind of falling out of favor.

“Everybody used to tell you to get on top of the ball. Well, if you hit a ground ball, you’re more likely to get out. I think that’s where launch angle comes into play. We’re not trying to hit a low line drive in the cage anymore. We’re trying to hit into the top of the cage. That, over the 15 or so years I’ve been playing, is the biggest thing. We used to get patted on the back for hitting a line drive four feet off the ground. Now it’s not what we’re looking to get.

“I tend to like the analytics part of the game. I don’t think numbers lie, and you have to try to remove yourself from taking them too personally. That’s where the front offices are going for their information. They’re trying to set the deck, if you will, to count the cards. They’re doing the best they can to predict what a guy is going to do, and what his potential is, so they can assign the right dollar amount to it.

“Right now, I think players are kind of split on the analytics, including [launch-angle data]. Some people like it and some people don’t. Like I said, I’m on board with it. If used properly, guys can not only get better, and get better results, they can also appeal to more organizations who are analytically minded. That can impact a career.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Okramember
5 years ago

Wow, great interviews. Thanks David.
It’s good to hear that chopping the ball into the ground is falling out of favor within the industry.