Let’s Talk About Launch Angle “Tightness”

Yesterday, I finally followed up on a note written on my white board for months: “sd(LA) –> BABIP?” The results from my research: the tightness of a hitter’s launch angle is moderately positively correlated with his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). I measure “tightness” in terms of variance. The narrower the distribution of his launch angles, the tighter. The wider, the looser. There is also weak evidence to suggest a tighter launch angle correlates with more consistent exit velocity (EV).

(Turns out Brock Hammit, who is part of the Brewers’ player development team, investigated this very idea in June. Small world! Great minds! All that good stuff.)

As noted in my Tweet, the crux of the finding hints at something previously quantifiable only by the eye test: bat control. In effect, it’s a quantification of the hit tool — to me, the most interesting possible application. Would it surprise you to learn that Joey Votto has the tightest launch angle in the Statcast EraTM? Followed by hitting savants both current and former, such as Freddie Freeman, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Mike Trout, Michael Brantley — and maybe less-expected and arguably underrated names (underrated exclusively in the greater “hit tool” discussion) like Justin Turner, Daniel Murphy, J.D. Martinez, and DJ LeMahieu?

Tightest Launch Angles – Statcast EraTM
Hitter Name BBE stdev(LA) EV
Joey Votto 2,148 21.8 88.5
Nick Castellanos 2,132 22.0 88.7
Freddie Freeman 2,054 22.4 89.8
Miguel Cabrera 1,692 22.6 92.1
Joe Mauer 1,738 22.7 89.6
Brandon Belt 1,723 23.0 87.4
Matt Carpenter 1,881 23.0 88.7
J.D. Martinez 1,938 23.2 91.3
Justin Turner 1,894 23.2 89.5
DJ LeMahieu 2,452 23.6 90.2
Mike Trout 1,860 23.6 90.5
Michael Brantley 1,839 23.7 88.7
Eugenio Suarez 1,872 24.1 87.9
Matt Kemp 1,672 24.3 88.4
Daniel Murphy 2,068 24.4 88.7
stdev(LA) = Standard deviation of launch angle
Top 15 of 120 hitters with 1,600 batted ball events (BBEs) since the beginning of 2015.

These hitters all have or had outstanding contact skills, superb batted ball efficacy, or both. If you click through to any of their player pages, you’ll encounter routinely elevated BABIPs.

Is there more to this than meets the eye? I’m not sure. Obviously all of this here is but a small part of a much bigger puzzle and should be used in conjunction with, and not in place of, our existing knowledge about player performance. I wouldn’t consider this the be-all, end-all of BABIP analysis by any means, although I do think it’s significant.

That said, here are three potentially pertinent applications of this knowledge:

1) Circling back to the idea of the “hit tool,” I think launch angle tightness clarifies a hitter’s hit tool grade(s). Singling out Manuel Margot: his player page still displays scouting grades, which include a 50 PV/60 FV on his hit tool. Among 282 hitters who have seen at least 5,000 pitches since Statcast launched, Margot owns the 11th-loosest launch angle. By no small coincidence, he has continually drummed up below-average BABIPs despite 70-grade speed — no small feat for someone allegedly equipped with multiple ‘plus’ tools. With a career .289 BABIP, .146 isolated power (ISO), and 84 wRC+, Margot is the poster boy for a hit tool grade gone wrong. (Or maybe Byron Buxton is. More to come below.)

2) Unsavory trends in a hitter’s launch angle tightness could indicate decline (or perhaps injury). Some of the biggest increases in launch angle standard deviation from 2018 to 2019? Robinson Canó, Matt Carpenter, Manny Machado, Daniel Murphy, David Peralta, and Wil Myers, all of whom had proportionately unsavory 2019 seasons. Similarly, 2019’s biggest breakouts and improvements were among MLB’s biggest launch angle tighteners: Cody Bellinger, Rafael Devers, Ozzie Albies, Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson, Josh Bell, even James McCann. Both sides of this coin make a ton of sense.

Biggest 2018–19 Changes
Hitter Name ∆ stdev(LA)
Dansby Swanson –4.3
Jason Heyward –3.4
Javier Baez –3.2
Cody Bellinger –3.2
Rafael Devers –3.2
Jose Iglesias –3.1
Evan Longoria –3.1
Ozzie Albies –3.0
Enrique Hernandez –2.8
Yoan Moncada –2.7
Tim Anderson –2.6
James McCann –2.5
Amed Rosario –2.3
Josh Bell –2.3
 
Manny Machado +1.8
Joey Votto +1.9
Matt Carpenter +2.0
Colin Moran +2.1
Teoscar Hernandez +2.2
Nick Castellanos +2.3
Adam Eaton +2.4
Yolmer Sanchez +2.4
Christian Yelich +2.6
David Peralta +2.6
Adam Frazier +2.7
Daniel Murphy +2.7
Eugenio Suarez +3.2
Robinson Cano +3.6
Jose Altuve +3.8

José Altuve owns 2019’s biggest decline in launch angle tightness. Is this the byproduct of his injury or true performance decline? Last year’s .303 BABIP, more than 30 points lower than his career mark, might be earned and not at all an aberration.

A Table for José Altuve
Hitter Name 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
José Altuve 26.7 24.7 26.5 26.4 30.2

(It’s worth noting a downward trend could be a hitter selling out for power, although the examples are few and far between. Namely, Eugenio Suárez and Christian Yelich. Maybe Yuli Gurriel beneath the cutoff, if you squint.)

3) The act of combining the tightness of a hitter’s launch angle with his average exit velocity might denote a hitter’s overall quality. In theory, a tight launch angle and a high average exit velocity would indicate repeatably high-quality contact. (Indeed, Hammit’s finding suggests as much.) Below is a table of hitters with at least 180 batted ball events (BBEs) in 2019 with select commentary as curated by yours truly. In ascending order of tightness:

  • Is there an argument to be made that J.D. Martinez is the best pure hitter (in terms of bat-to-ball outcomes) in the sport? It’s a loaded question, but there are no questions about his production. Since the start of 2016, his .312 average ranks 5th of 292 and his .288 ISO ranks 3rd. Only Mike Trout is comparable (.307 AVG, .303 ISO).
  • Domingo Santana is a really interesting entry here. It’s a shame his launch angle is so shallow. It stands to reason if he simply tried to make more contact, even at the expense of power, good results would follow.
  • Exhibit A, why I’ll take Aaron Judge before Giancarlo Stanton.
  • If J.D. Martinez isn’t the best pure hitter in baseball, then “Michael Tauchman” is. For real, Mike Tauchman always possessed an above-average hit tool, long before he ever developed power. (He used to be a speedy high-average guy!) It’s reassuring, then, to see how well he graded out here. My love for him knows no bounds.
  • I have alleged before that Cavan Biggio possesses an above-average hit tool; this seems to confirm it. His only deficiency is his extreme passivity. I recently compared him to Jeff McNeil, but at the polar opposite end of the passivity-aggression plate discipline spectrum. Even with a low average, he has high-floor talent with 20/20 potential.
  • Yordan Alvarez. ‘Nuff said.
  • I’m sorry, does J.D. Davis compare favorably to Trout? Even before seeing these results, I loved what I saw from Davis this year. He never got nearly enough love from fantasy owners, and his early National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) average draft position (ADP 173) suggests more of the same.
  • Perhaps the most fascinating takeaway: among 127 hitters with 350+ BBEs in 2019, Moncada ranks 13th — and no one above him possesses a better average EV. If he becomes more aggressive — something I think will benefit him — he could become a monster.

Flipping the table over…

  • If you’ve been holding out hope for Maikel Franco all these years… maybe stop?
  • I’ll admit, I drank the Andrelton Simmons Kool-Aid — not to the point of it being detrimental, but as an incredibly cheap target for the last several years, I found myself targeting him in late rounds as a low-upside volume play. His launch angle tightness has steadily declined, though, and there might be a premature demise in productivity looming.
  • Buxton. Woof, pal. At least the average exit velocity is good. However, this Baseball Prospectus write-up called Buxton’s hit tool “more advanced” with “a chance [to be] plus-plus.” (I’m not picking on BP. Everyone loved Buxton, obviously. I just needed a concrete scouting report to point to.) Like in the case of Margot, I think a lack of launch angle tightness explains a great deal of Buxton’s incredibly underwhelming production in nearly 400 MLB games. In fact, Buxton owns the “loosest” launch angle of anyone with 800+ BBEs in the Statcast Era. That’s really bad! That is simply not a plus, or even above-average, or even regular-average, hit tool.
  • Is it any wonder why Rougned Odor can’t post a consistent BABIP to save his life?
  • The most interesting names here, to me, are Gary Sánchez, Matt Chapman, and Mike Moustakas. In essence, the only thing preventing them from being Odor or Myers is contact skills — and that’s fine, because contact skills are really important. As long as they sustain their efficacious batted ball quality, they should continue to mash. They were all highly productive despite low BABIPs anyway — maybe that’s the full extent of it. That said, they could be skating on thinner ice than others from a long-term perspective.

Enjoy. (As always, click headers to sort!)

2019 Tight Launch Angle Leaders
Hitter Name BBE stdev(LA) EV
J.D. Martinez 442 22.2 91.1
Domingo Santana 282 22.3 88.5
Harold Castro 274 22.7 86.2
Stephen Vogt 193 22.7 89.7
Omar Narvaez 333 22.8 85.1
Aaron Judge 238 22.9 95.6
Shohei Ohtani 278 23.0 92.4
Michael Tauchman 190 23.0 88.3
Victor Reyes 214 23.1 86.4
Freddie Freeman 472 23.1 89.6
David Bote 212 23.1 89.3
Justin Turner 396 23.2 89.8
Joey Votto 405 23.2 88.5
Cavan Biggio 233 23.3 88.3
Bryan Reynolds 373 23.4 89.0
Tim Anderson 391 23.4 87.4
Dawel Lugo 217 23.5 86.3
Jose Martinez 254 23.5 88.4
Yordan Alvarez 221 23.5 91.6
Miguel Cabrera 389 23.6 89.6
Brandon Belt 403 23.6 86.3
Eduardo Escobar 516 23.6 87.2
J.D. Davis 315 23.6 90.9
Michael Brantley 513 23.6 88.4
Alex Gordon 463 23.6 88.0
Evan Longoria 346 23.7 89.6
Mike Trout 354 23.7 90.2
Luis Arraez 300 23.7 86.5
Logan Forsythe 218 23.8 88.7
Howie Kendrick 290 23.9 91.4
Chris Taylor 258 24.0 85.1
Yoan Moncada 361 24.0 92.6
Nick Castellanos 475 24.0 88.6
DJ LeMahieu 517 24.1 91.3
Tony Wolters 299 24.2 84.7
Javier Baez 377 24.2 90.0
Jeff McNeil 436 24.2 88.3
Whit Merrifield 559 24.2 86.0
Giovanny Urshela 359 24.2 89.8
Anthony Rizzo 429 24.3 88.3
James McCann 303 24.4 89.9
Miguel Rojas 427 24.4 86.5
Trevor Story 417 24.4 90.7
Andrew Benintendi 409 24.6 88.1
Jorge Alfaro 279 24.6 90.2
Stephen Piscotty 271 24.6 88.5
Kyle Seager 309 24.6 88.6
Mookie Betts 505 24.6 90.6
David Dahl 271 24.6 87.6
Benjamin Gamel 209 24.6 87.9
Tommy La Stella 264 24.6 87.3
Dansby Swanson 365 24.7 89.3
Scott Kingery 313 24.7 87.9
Eugenio Suarez 392 24.8 89.0
Garrett Cooper 272 24.8 88.4
Ronald Acuna 439 24.9 90.2
Luke Voit 288 24.9 89.4
Ozhaino Albies 532 24.9 88.3
Daniel Murphy 368 24.9 86.1
Shin-Soo Choo 399 25.0 91.3
Ji-Man Choi 309 25.0 90.7
Ryan McMahon 322 25.1 91.1
Anthony Rendon 468 25.1 89.8
Gleyber Torres 424 25.1 88.6
Niko Goodrum 287 25.1 88.7
Brandon Lowe 184 25.1 90.4
Jose Abreu 492 25.2 91.6
Max Muncy 342 25.2 89.3
J.T. Realmuto 423 25.2 89.8
Neil Walker 261 25.2 85.7
Charlie Blackmon 481 25.2 88.1
Nick Markakis 361 25.3 90.9
Matt Carpenter 293 25.3 87.1
Harold Ramirez 331 25.3 88.2
Yadier Molina 366 25.3 86.8
Tommy Edman 265 25.3 86.8
Keston Hiura 208 25.4 90.8
Steven Duggar 186 25.4 84.2
Brandon Crawford 387 25.5 87.0
Danny Santana 328 25.5 90.6
Raimel Tapia 326 25.5 86.4
Victor Caratini 188 25.5 88.9
David Fletcher 534 25.5 83.1
Leury Garcia 452 25.5 86.2
Paul Goldschmidt 434 25.5 89.5
Jesse Winker 278 25.5 88.6
Jose Peraza 320 25.5 84.5
Lorenzo Cain 460 25.5 89.0
Kris Bryant 400 25.6 87.0
Dexter Fowler 350 25.6 84.8
Rowdy Tellez 257 25.6 90.4
Christian Vazquez 386 25.6 88.3
Jonathan Lucroy 245 25.6 86.4
Hanser Alberto 480 25.6 82.6
Ryan O’Hearn 231 25.6 90.1
Brock Holt 205 25.6 86.9
Colin Moran 353 25.7 87.6
Jason Heyward 406 25.7 88.4
Christin Stewart 272 25.7 86.6
Adam Frazier 484 25.7 85.9
Amed Rosario 497 25.7 88.6
Jorge Polanco 524 25.7 86.8
Bryce Harper 399 25.8 91.7
Curtis Granderson 221 25.8 87.6
Cody Bellinger 455 25.8 90.3
Austin Meadows 399 25.8 90.1
Elvis Andrus 514 25.8 87.9
Asdrubal Cabrera 351 25.9 88.4
Mitch Moreland 226 25.9 90.4
Alex Verdugo 300 26.0 88.7
Jorge Soler 415 26.0 92.3
Buster Posey 336 26.0 87.9
Josh Reddick 445 26.0 85.4
Willy Adames 382 26.0 87.6
Trey Mancini 464 26.0 89.7
Josh Bell 416 26.0 92.0
Phil Ervin 175 26.0 84.8
Joey Wendle 194 26.0 87.0
Jose Osuna 217 26.1 88.6
Khris Davis 329 26.1 89.8
Brandon Dixon 259 26.1 89.3
Josh Phegley 255 26.2 83.6
Greg Garcia 231 26.2 83.8
Marwin Gonzalez 328 26.2 89.9
Jose Iglesias 437 26.2 83.8
Kevin Newman 434 26.2 84.0
Juan Soto 416 26.2 90.6
Yan Gomes 231 26.2 87.1
Wilson Ramos 407 26.3 89.5
Martin Prado 207 26.3 85.5
Willians Astudillo 186 26.3 85.5
Christian Walker 375 26.3 90.4
Chad Pinder 248 26.4 89.9
Ramon Laureano 315 26.4 89.3
Kole Calhoun 392 26.4 88.9
Jeimer Candelario 237 26.4 87.6
Nick Senzel 275 26.4 87.0
Nicky Lopez 332 26.4 83.4
Matt Adams 196 26.4 88.0
Matt Beaty 216 26.4 88.9
Michael Conforto 405 26.4 88.4
Marcus Semien 548 26.5 88.2
Justin Smoak 309 26.5 89.7
Starlin Castro 534 26.5 88.0
Kyle Schwarber 379 26.6 92.4
Starling Marte 451 26.6 86.8
Avisail Garcia 367 26.7 89.1
Robbie Grossman 334 26.7 87.4
Jonathon Berti 184 26.7 85.9
Thomas Pham 445 26.7 90.2
Rhys Hoskins 403 26.7 89.1
Yonder Alonso 224 26.8 87.5
Dee Gordon 332 26.8 82.8
Mike Yastrzemski 268 26.8 88.5
Joe Panik 397 26.8 85.3
Eric Thames 258 26.8 90.5
Gerardo Parra 218 26.8 85.4
Nomar Mazara 327 26.8 88.6
Xander Bogaerts 498 26.8 90.0
Robinson Cano 324 26.8 90.2
Peter Alonso 417 26.9 90.2
Jason Kipnis 381 26.9 86.7
Ketel Marte 485 26.9 89.6
Enrique Hernandez 321 26.9 87.9
Nelson Cruz 326 26.9 93.0
Ryan Braun 357 26.9 91.0
Christian Yelich 374 27.0 92.9
Eloy Jimenez 336 27.0 90.8
Jordy Mercer 199 27.0 86.6
Brian Goodwin 288 27.0 86.9
Hunter Dozier 380 27.0 90.5
Adam Jones 387 27.0 85.5
Marcell Ozuna 372 27.0 91.7
Austin Nola 177 27.1 86.8
Dan Vogelbach 315 27.1 88.6
Alex Bregman 479 27.1 89.0
Freddy Galvis 415 27.1 88.1
Yolmer Sanchez 389 27.1 85.1
Eric Hosmer 461 27.1 90.0
Hunter Renfroe 292 27.1 89.2
Jesus Aguilar 240 27.1 88.7
Kurt Suzuki 247 27.1 85.5
Jay Bruce 223 27.1 89.2
George Springer 370 27.2 89.4
Wilmer Flores 235 27.2 87.0
C.J. Cron 353 27.2 90.2
Yasmani Grandal 379 27.2 89.7
Ian Desmond 327 27.2 90.4
Jacoby Jones 206 27.3 90.3
Paul DeJong 440 27.3 86.1
Jean Segura 507 27.3 87.2
Jose Ramirez 414 27.3 88.4
Robinson Chirinos 248 27.3 85.7
Tucker Barnhart 235 27.3 85.3
Trea Turner 410 27.4 89.9
Cheslor Cuthbert 242 27.4 88.1
Michael Chavis 220 27.4 87.2
Kevin Pillar 529 27.4 84.9
Stephen Wilkerson 224 27.5 85.6
Carson Kelly 236 27.6 88.1
Corey Seager 395 27.7 87.9
Matt Olson 340 27.7 91.4
Rafael Devers 531 27.7 91.7
Renato Nunez 402 27.8 89.4
Vladimir Guerrero J 375 27.8 88.9
Hunter Pence 219 27.8 90.7
Tim Beckham 195 27.8 86.4
Eric Sogard 339 27.8 84.4
J.P. Crawford 268 27.9 83.8
Willie Calhoun 258 27.9 88.6
Yandy Diaz 250 27.9 91.0
Miguel Sano 222 27.9 94.3
Luis Rengifo 268 27.9 86.3
Dan Jansen 270 27.9 88.2
Roberto Perez 273 28.0 88.6
Martin Maldonado 250 28.0 87.1
Nolan Arenado 503 28.0 88.6
Jackie Bradley 344 28.0 89.4
Joc Pederson 341 28.0 90.5
Albert Almora 284 28.0 84.7
Brian Anderson 348 28.0 89.1
Eddie Rosario 482 28.1 88.5
Francisco Lindor 507 28.1 90.0
Jake Bauers 260 28.1 87.0
Edwin Encarnacion 316 28.1 89.4
Greg Allen 183 28.2 85.1
Johan Camargo 190 28.2 86.3
Pablo Sandoval 210 28.2 88.8
Corey Dickerson 207 28.2 86.8
Melky Cabrera 338 28.2 87.1
Willson Contreras 260 28.2 87.4
Billy McKinney 182 28.3 85.4
Tony Kemp 203 28.3 83.9
Derek Dietrich 178 28.3 86.3
Brandon Drury 308 28.3 86.2
Cesar Hernandez 516 28.4 84.8
Adam Eaton 472 28.4 86.3
Nick Ahmed 456 28.4 87.1
Brian Dozier 312 28.4 87.6
Tyler Naquin 212 28.5 89.7
Mark Canha 304 28.5 88.6
Delino DeShields 267 28.6 83.5
Josh Donaldson 396 28.6 91.8
A.J. Pollock 238 28.7 89.7
David Peralta 296 28.8 89.2
Aledmys Diaz 188 28.8 87.5
Orlando Arcia 393 28.8 87.1
Carlos Santana 467 28.9 91.0
Todd Frazier 341 28.9 87.8
Brett Gardner 386 28.9 86.6
Carlos Correa 208 29.0 88.1
Oscar Mercado 365 29.0 86.7
Jonathan Villar 472 29.0 87.1
Fernando Tatis Jr. 227 29.0 88.8
Jurickson Profar 379 29.0 86.2
Albert Pujols 431 29.0 87.9
Jonathan Schoop 318 29.1 86.8
Billy Hamilton 234 29.1 78.0
Kevin Kiermaier 345 29.1 88.1
Yasiel Puig 426 29.1 89.0
Mitch Garver 226 29.2 90.6
Didi Gregorius 273 29.2 87.7
Max Kepler 429 29.2 88.9
Franmil Reyes 345 29.2 92.8
Travis d’Arnaud 272 29.3 89.6
Josh Naylor 190 29.3 89.2
Manny Machado 462 29.3 90.7
Austin Romine 180 29.3 87.4
Yulieski Gurriel 505 29.4 88.9
Anthony Santander 298 29.4 89.1
Mallex Smith 372 29.5 83.6
Victor Robles 417 29.5 80.5
Brian McCann 230 29.5 88.2
Raul Mondesi 292 29.5 87.2
Juan Lagares 186 29.5 86.2
Kolten Wong 406 29.6 83.5
Ian Kinsler 205 29.6 83.0
Randal Grichuk 425 29.6 88.2
Pedro Severino 235 29.7 86.3
Lourdes Gurriel 232 29.7 89.7
Jarrod Dyson 317 29.7 81.7
Teoscar Hernandez 265 29.7 90.1
Mike Moustakas 427 29.7 88.7
Matt Chapman 431 29.7 91.9
John Hicks 211 29.8 86.8
Dwight Smith 280 29.8 88.2
Garrett Hampson 215 29.9 83.3
Gary Sanchez 272 30.0 90.1
Wil Myers 269 30.0 88.9
Rougned Odor 346 30.1 89.2
Rio Ruiz 285 30.1 87.2
Richie Martin 206 30.2 80.7
Jose Altuve 422 30.2 85.7
Byron Buxton 206 30.3 88.7
Harrison Bader 233 30.4 86.3
Austin Hedges 206 30.5 85.4
Ronny Rodriguez 198 30.5 86.4
Andrelton Simmons 361 30.7 87.2
Ildemaro Vargas 178 30.8 86.6
Manuel Margot 313 30.9 85.8
Elias Diaz 251 31.1 86.7
Maikel Franco 331 31.8 87.9
Jake Marisnick 200 32.6 84.6

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Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant. Reigning FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year and 5-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Now a Tout Wars competitor.

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RonGT
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RonGT

As a Mets fan, it is extremely depressing to read that table right after the Mets traded for Marisnick. Also, perhaps not a surprise that Milwaukee (Hammitt) made the trade for Omar Narvaez.