The term launch angle and exit velocity bring to mind one thing to a lot of coaches. "leg kicks, and fly balls". Now this is not true for everyone, but for the majority of coaches when someone starts to talk about launch angle they immediately shut it down, or say "Hit a hard ground ball, make the defense earn an out". Those are positive ideas as well, but when you get late in the season, or deep into playoffs not every team will be as susceptible to making errors on routine ground balls. But nobody can take away a line drive base hit. I have spoken to plenty of coaches about this idea before writing this article and most of them say something along the lines of "at this level that doesn't matter". But to me if we start saying that for new ideas, or thought processes at what point do we get left behind when it comes to the ones that do relate to "this level". Which is also why I wanted to write this article to try and help to find a way to integrate this idea into your program.
What is launch angle
Launch angle is the result of a batted ball. Every ball put in play has a launch angle. Let me repeat that. There is no ball that is hit that doesn't have a launch angle. This is an easy thing to dismiss since the term launch angle has gotten such a negative connotation. Launch angle is the angle that the ball is hit. If you could picture a batting cage and a tee and placed a laser directly through the middle of the ball to the end of the cage that launch angle would be 0. Now a straight line to the end of the cage is a line drive base hit, but we have to take into account that a batted ball always falls to the ground, which is why exit velocity comes in and must also be measured, but we'll get to that. If a ball hit with a launch angle of 0 is a straight line then a ball with a positive launch angle would increase height. (line drives, fly balls) And a ball hit with a negative launch angle would decrease height. (ground balls). Now common sense tells us that a line drive is a good hit, or a good swing and the result of a line drive is feedback for that. (Most line drives are a 10-15 degree launch angle) These launch angle numbers are just a way for us to objectively say that ball was hit at a 14 degree launch angle. We as coaches know that it was a line drive, this is just a way to provide measurable numbers for that information.
What is exit velocity, and how do I measure it?
Exit velocity is the velocity at which the ball is flying off of the bat. We all know that a ball has a velocity, usually we only think of the pitcher as having velocity, but the ball off the bat has a velo as well. This metric is usually a lot harder to measure. Rapsodo, trackman, hittrax all do it for you, but one easy cheap way I've seen is by using a radar gun. Now the measurement of a radar gun on a ball batted into the top part of the cage is not always accurate. Which is why these numbers have to be validated by yourself, or a coach that has a general idea of what the hitter is capable of. But for our intents and purposes a radar gun will provide enough information to get a rough estimate of what the hitters average exit velocity is. This will take some time. I have used a tee to measure it, but I usually like the ball moving when taking an exit velo think front toss. Mainly because hitters have a harder time making a mechanical adjustment when the ball is moving, but when on a tee, that swing may coil a bit further. Try and get 30 swings in and take an average exit velo, as well as a peak. There is some very important information that can be used to help diagnose swings, or issues with these numbers. Often a huge difference between numbers can be a mechanical issue, or an issue of "mishits" to which can help you program different drills for this issue.
What does it mean?
Having taken an average exit velo and getting a hitter in the cage we can then use this information to help them get to be the most successful for themselves and your team. Every kid wants to be able to hit homeruns, and until they are objectively told their role offensively it may be hard for them to understand that. The first thing a kid will do when you tell them they are not a homerun hitter is lift that leg kick higher, and try and prove you wrong. Even if it comes at the risk of a lack of success. Homeruns have a launch angle and an exit velocity that is usually pretty high (95+ mph EV and 20+ LA). If you look at the chart here you'll see that distance of a ball and hang time of a ball is both a product of launch angle and exit velocity. Using that information is where we get kids to be successful. If you have two hitters one of which is an average EV of 95 MPH and another with an average of 75 MPH on your team, and they are concentrated on "launch angle" only, it is your responsibility to educate and coach these kids into success. Using These Charts let's look at some numbers.
Hitter 1: EV of 95+ Launch angle of 10 degrees Ball distance is 194 feet. LA of 20 is 324 feet and 30 is 359 feet. These numbers and the chart I used can be found here.
Hitter 2: EV of 75 Launch angle of 10 degrees Ball distance is 131 feet. LA of 20 is 218 and 30 is 254 feet.
Evaluating these numbers you can instantly see that Hitter 2 probably doesn't have the power to hit many homeruns. While hitter 1 does. Now that doesn't mean that Hitter 1 needs to put the ball on the ground 100% of the time. 131 feet is most likely a base hit. But when you start to get to 25+ on LA hang time starts to play a part, and that distance and hang time is probably a caught fly ball. Every hitter is individual and should be coached in order to utilize this information to best suit their skillset. Hitter 1 probably can have a little more leniency when it comes to putting the ball in the 15-30 degree range. He may have success of hitting the ball out the park. Hitter 1 on the other hand needs to understand that by hittinng the ball in that 30 degree range they will have limited success, and probably a lot of fly outs. While staying in that 10-15 range will bring a lot of line drive base hits.
By adjusting the way we coach something new to us we can create buy in, and belief in the system we use. Educating kids on the benefits of staying in the 10-15 degree range, and teaching kids that this will create much more success for their Batting average will also create more success for your team. (10-25 is the measured range for "line drives". with Less than 10 being a ground ball, and 25+ being a fly ball. These numbers also depend on exit velocity, which is why the charts are so important to understand.) More base hits equals more runs. The information I've used and will share with my team regarding launch angle and distance as we as the chart that shows hang time for balls hit by the same information of launch angle and exit velo can be found here. An article from fangraphs shows information based off of hang time, and how often balls hit with that amount of hang time equal outs. (https://tht.fangraphs.com/all-fly-balls-are-not-created-equal/ ). Now this is a major league study, but at the same time, the same concept can be applied to high school, or college baseball ball flight.
How do I implement?
Launch Angle Strings
In the cage, In order to utilize the "launch angle" idea you have to have 2 things you need to be able to measure. The first is launch angle. Now if you have something that measures that for you, that's great. A rapsodo, a trackman or hittrax that's awesome, but if not you're probably looking for a budget way to find and something that also doesn't take a lot of time to set up. What I've found is an easy way to measure launch angle, and also is an easy way for your kids to be able to see this feedback is to set up some launch angle strings. I used this chart in order to find the right distance these strings will need to be hung. The strings are hung up in our cages, and provide immediate feedback for our athletes. I chose the angles 10, 15, and 20 These are in our cage, and hitters can use the information and their exit velo on the ball hit in order to instantly know distance and hang time. Hitters using their average EV are given ranges that they should try and stay in. Hitter 2 is in the 10-15 degree launch angle. While Hitter 1 can push it to 20 and still be in what we want to achieve offensively.
On field Launch angle Limiter
On the field I have recently seen an interesting one. Most of us use a rollaway cage of some kind. In order to promote not getting too high of a launch angle I saw a net that was hung over the top of the cage at an angle of 25+. The balls hit 25+ were instantly in the net. If I find the picture again I will post it.
On field Launch angle Promoter
About 3 years ago the Tampa Bay Rays used every block screen they had on the infield, and created a wall in order to promote a launch angle to get the ball off the ground in the infield. This was a really interesting idea because a couple of months later our kids did it, but with no nets, instead every infielder lined up on the grass cut, and called themselves "the wall". It took 0 dollars, and our infielders got some good ground ball work. Our hitters ended up getting frustrated by not getting the ball past the wall, and instead started hitting more line drives and getting over "the wall", which is exactly what we want. It was an ingenious idea by our players, and I think it was just to simply keep the ball in the infield.
By constantly trying to find ways to get kids motivated to be successful in their skill set we are building an offensive weapon. Kids want to be successful, but we must educate them about their skillset, and stop trying to just say the same thing to every kid. They are individuals, and want individualism. We can promote an identity for our athletes, and at the same time find a way to make our offense more successful. There is a time and a place for hit the ball hard on the ground, but it shouldn't be the only thing we say, practice, or do. Hopefully this article helps, and if you liked this one, check out my piece on "Green Light Groups" and how they promote an identity, and ownership with your team.