“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.” No truer words, Jean Valjean. MLB has/will set the single-season record for both strikeouts and home runs in the same season. For my last post this season I wanted to take a look at the season at large and 2019 has proven to be quite the spectacle. Strikeouts have risen every year now since 2008; that’s 12 years straight of rising strikeouts. Grounding into Double Plays (GDP) is at 3393 for 2019, on pace to be the lowest total since 1995 when there were 28 teams. So due to Ks and HRs being up, fewer groundballs and fewer ducks on the pond, this has gone down. On the wings of eagles (and juiced balls) Home Runs will totally obliterate (word of the day) the total of 5585 last year by over 1000; yes, 1000. Currently at 6647, it is already destroying the old record by over 500.
Stolen bases are at 2227 falling short of 2474 from 2018. It will be the lowest total since the 2021 in 1981 when there were only 26 teams. There are 15578 BBs this year compared to 15686 BBs in 2018, so it seems like walk totals could end around the same. And because offense is up thanks to HRs, avg runs/game have gone up from 4.45 in 2018, to 4.84 (currently highest since 2006). And the average pitcher ERA has jumped from 4.15 to 4.51 (also highest since 2006)! Around here we have had a good laugh about the LAR. The Launch Angle Revolution has stormed the Bastille — slapped most of the pitchers — and decapitated the old guard of Small Ball: oppo-taco singles, sacrifice bunts, and moving the runners. I present to you the Great Board of Home Runs:
|RK||Player (300+ ABs)||AB||HR||AB/HR||LA’19||LA’18||DIFF|
Here is the top ten list for at-bats per home runs (AB/HR) with at least 300 ABs. I chose 300 because it represents a decent sample size of roughly half a season and another excuse to include Mitch Garver :) who happens to be the front runner with his 50% FB rate. Notice 2 of the top 10 are rookies. The prevailing philosophy coming up now is teaching prospects the gospel of Launch Angle, geared towards uppercut swing pathing. With the exception of Yelich, everyone on our top ten list for HR frequency had an average LA north of 13 degrees, all safely above the line-drive cutoff. You can see the general effect of launch angle numbers HERE. Generally anything less than 10 results in a groundball. Anything between 10 and 25 results in a line-drive. Lastly, anything above 25 is a flyball.
A Revolution takes only a seed, a dream. And, “there is nothing like a dream to create a future.” It only takes one man to breach the wall; not Valjean in this story, but Tommy La Stella. The average launch angle for MLB has been 11.2 this season. Steadily climbing each season since 2015 when it was 10.1! The patron saint Tommy La Stella had all of 10 HRs in his 5 years prior at the MLB level. Enter 2019, he came out of nowhere to hit 16 HRs in 283 ABs only to get injured days before playing in his first All-Star game. The first one through the wall always gets bloodied. He always had great contact skills; but now he was elevating balls and generating more power, posting 12 of those home runs through 51 games by the end of May. The story? Changing his approach at the dish; by getting his hands through the zone quicker and altering his default launch angle, he was making better contact. What’s more, he was now able to smoke breaking balls. Now crushing them to the tune of .328/-/.516, whereas before he struggled hitting .163/-/.163… Tommy got better! His average launch angle? Jumped from 8.1 to 13.4.
“The future has several names. For the weak, it is impossible; for the fainthearted, it is unknown; but for the valiant, it is ideal.” The Future is now. Many other hitters have climbed out from the shadows of irrelevance, including Ketel Marte, Josh Bell, Jorge Soler, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to name a few. A common thread with them is that they each conquered their demons versus the breaking balls as La Stella did. All showed significant improvement in either AVG, SLG or both. Like Cerrano, “F*** you Jobu! I do it myself.” Marte, for example, has specifically feasted on sliders. Which over the last few seasons has become the weapon of choice for getting whiffs, and climbed to all-time usage high of 17%. Cast down your idols, take up your arms, and join the revolution! Vive la Revolution!