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Controlling Launch Angle To Limit Damage

Successful pitchers limit damage by minimizing the quality of contact they allow. How they can best do that remains up for debate, as pitchers tend to focus on some combination of deception, movement, and location to try and miss barrels. I propose that the most important pitcher-influenced variable to quality of contact is Launch Angle, and understanding and influencing it ought to be a priority for all pitchers. It is clear that Exit Velocity is the single most important predictor of a batter’s success, but that relationship cannot be manipulated much, if at all, by any pitcher. Across baseball, batters’ Exit Velocity distributions are much tighter than their Launch Angle distributions. This means pitchers are likely better able to directly influence Launch Angle than Exit Velocity, which is quite “sticky” around the mean for a given hitter. No amount of talent on the mound can rob Giancarlo Stanton of the strength that produces 120+ mph homers, but that doesn’t mean his production cannot be neutralized. Alex Chamberlain of RotoGraphs recently explored this idea at great length, coming to much the same conclusion.

This, to me, demands a new pitching approach centered around what I call “Launch Angle Deflection,” or the attempt to induce weak contact and get outs by “deflecting” batted balls to extreme (and therefore suboptimal) launch angles. A recent thread by Tom Tango illustrates this quite well, where each line represents an 8-degree “group” of launch angles. At either end of the launch angle spectrum, batted balls closer to the edge produce lower wOBA at all Exit Velocities. Read the rest of this entry »