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Did Sinkers Make the Comeback That Was Promised?

Back in mid-February — a truly different time for all of us — I applied to work at Statcast as an intern, a position that was unfortunately canceled in mid-March. However, I wrote an answer to a question that I intended to turn into an article at some point during the season. At the time, I figured I might write it in May, but a delayed season meant a delay to my piece as well.

Who would like to consider the curious case of Alex Presley? His career was relatively muted; he played for five teams in eight seasons as a fourth outfielder, only once cracking 100 games played and only once posting an OPS over .800. His Baseball-Reference page has him sporting a White Sox hat despite never having played a regular-season game for the team. He had a .620 OPS across 55 minor league games in 2018 and was released before he could make his way into July. He has the ignoble mark of having the second-lowest career WAR of any MLB player born in Monroe, Louisiana, finishing sixth out of seven players (Chuck Finley laps the field, and Presley finished above only Wayne Cage’s 0.1 career WAR). But Alex Presley was never supposed to be a star; rather, he was the now-forgotten harbinger of the launch angle revolution.

In the past several seasons, launch angle has absolutely been all the rage. Being able to capture new data has made an impact on the scene due in large part to fascinating statistics such as pitch movement, exit velocity, improved defensive statistics like OAA, and launch angle. During that time, teams have been changing their exit velocity drastically as well. In 2015, the earliest year with Statcast data, the measured average launch angle for all of baseball was 10.1. By 2019, it was 12.2.

In 2014, Pirates pitchers, the leaders of the sinkerball revolution, allowed an average launch angle of only 6.9 degrees. Since then, only three teams have been below 7.0 (the Rockies twice and the Cardinals once), and in 2018 and 2019, only three were under 10.0 and none were under 9.0. Additionally, even though the Pirates led the league in Barrel% by over a percentage point in 2014, the top teams in Barrel% in 2019 were much closer to a league-average launch angle. The data makes it clear: Launch angle is certainly going up. Read the rest of this entry »