Ron Costello

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Charlie Manuel knows hitting.
If you're not into launch angle, you're not with it in major league baseball. Launch angle is the verticle angle on which the ball leaves the bat.

Or, as the former manager and hitting guru Charlie Manual describes it: "It's choppin' wood. You wouldn't chop wood by swinging the ax upward, no, you swing downward to chop the wood." Charlie made those comments to Mike Schmidt and John Kruk during his recent appearance in the television booth. He was explaining to the two former hitters about launch angle, in Charlieism fashion.

You also need to understand exit velocity, which is the speed of the baseball when it comes off the bat. You need a radar gun to measure it, and newer baseballs have a higher exit velocity than old balls, which is part of the reason a batter will request another ball.

So what does all of this mean?

What I got from Charlie in the booth is that baseball today — including hitters, managers, coaches, hitting instructors and the 30- something nerds that sit in the dugout measuring 'the analytics' — is too focused on trying to swing up. Back in the day we called it uppercutting. The belief was you swing through the ball, you don't uppercut.

Some think baseball has become obsessed with launch angle and exit velocity, and because of it, a number of Phillies are struggling at the plate.

The launch angle and exit velocity go hand in hand, and result in more home runs — and doubles and triples off the walls — but fewer balls in the holes and gaps. I think the upward-swing philosophy is a direct result in countering defensive shifts.

It's changed pitching, too. More pitchers are throwing up in the strike zone, trying to force batters to hit popups and fly balls. As a result, strikeouts have increased dramatically, forcing more hitters to "work the count," which is a contradiction. 

Working the count means the hitter tries to get the ball-strike count in his favor — 3-0, 3-1, even 3-2, to get a better quality pitch location.  If more hitters are working the count, why are strikeouts increasing? It doesn't make sense. 

But it does. The more pitches a hitter sees the more likely he'll walk but also the more likely he'll strike out.
Scott Kingery appears to be uppercutting.

Philadelphia is fast becoming the strikeout capital of the world.

It makes sense. If the batter gets ahead, he might be more prone to swing upward and at the same time more inclined to strikeout. If the pitcher gets ahead he might pitch up in the zone, thus making an uppercut swing more difficult.

All this brings up the question of what's wrong with Scott Kingery? Using launch angle and exit velocity, have they fooled with Mr. Kingerly's swing? Having him uppercut rather than swing down and through the ball as in Charlie's chopping wood example. 

I've cut, split, and stacked a ton of wood in my lifetime, and I can relate to Charlie's lesson. If you want more power, you've got to swing down.

Kingery's numbers suggest he is swinging up — he has nearly a hundred strikeouts and 21 walks. He seems to get behind in the count often, and if he goes 0-2 or 1-2 he's in trouble and either strikes out or flies out. An indication his launch angle is upward.

Another example is Rhys Hoskins. His percentage in hitting the ball on the ground is the lowest in the majors, and his strikeouts are high, yet he has 22 home runs. Where do you think Mr. Hoskins' swing was in the All-Star game home run derby, up or down?

Carlos Santana is hitting .215 and has 17 home runs and 88 walks. An uppercut sign?

What does this mean to those of us watching the game?

The next time you see Odubel Herrera or Maikel Franko swinging for the fences — or, another old term we used, trying to kill the ball — watch their swing.

I bet they're not chopping wood.

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