Nolan Arenado has been one of the elite hitters in avoiding the ground in his career with a GB rate of just 36% which is well below the league average of around 44% during that time frame. Especially impressive is his pull LA on low pitches of 9.3 degrees vs the league of 3.6 degrees. Those are the pitches the league rolls over when it tries to pull it and he drives just straight through them and pulls them in the air without hooking or rolling over.
The question is how does he do that. First, he does have a slight uppercut through the zone like most good hitters but it is not an extreme upswing.
Overall his swing is pretty flat, maybe a 10-degree positive attack angle or so, there are definitely swings with more uppercut out there. Also, his posture is rather vertical in the front to back direction. He does tilt his upper body over the plate but he doesn’t lean back toward the catcher.
This is different from many big uppercut hitters. The swing is generally pretty perpendicular to the spine thus the tilt over the plate changes the bat angle and the lean toward the catcher creates more uppercut in the plane as the natural direction faces up while a guy using just lean over the plate will have the bat going flatter and then up in the end out front compared to flatter barrel guys who will have the swing often getting flatter in the end when they roll over. In this picture, you see him vs Bellinger. Bellinger leans back much more and thus has a natural built-in lift. However, you can also see that Cody’s bat angle is flatter and his bat is already starting to roll over here. This might be why Cody- while an elite launch angle guy has a low pitch pull LA of 6.6 vs 9.3 for Nolan, who doesn’t have as much uppercut but is better in avoiding the rollover on low pitches even if he is fooled and out front.
So how does he still create elite lift rates? One thing he does is having a very steep almost Ferris Wheel like bat angle. Even on high pitches his bat is pointing down and he swings more under the shoulders rather than around them.
Most other hitters will flatten the bat out more on high pitches like Pujols on a similarly high pitch
Here is another comparison Arenado vs Beltre on a pitch away and slightly above the belt
Beltre also has some shoulder tilt but the bat and shoulders rotate on a much more level plane while Nolan has a lot of side bend in the spine and has the hands extremely high with the barrel pointing down (you can’t even see his face) while Adrian has the hands about lower chest high and the barrel just under the hands.
Because of this Arenado has a very straight direction through the ball and almost never rolls over. At the end of the swing the bat of every hitter will roll over to the other shoulder and if you hit balls out front there is a chance that you catch the ball during that rollover. That is the reason why pulled balls are hit on the ground more often https://www.fangraphs.com/community/the-effect-of-batted-ball-direction-on-launch-angle/ the rolling over creates a top spin.
Arenado due to his steep bat angle, however, delays that roll over extremely long. In this picture you can see that he almost is at full extension and the barrel is still below his hands and from the front, you can also see it still slightly points toward the other batters box, so it hasn’t started to roll over yet. So Arenado can be very out front and still not roll over, even in some swings where he loses his posture and lunges.
I wrote in this article how this is an important skill that holds some hitters back on low pitches
So Arenado does have a slight uppercut but the thing that makes him elite is that he rarely rolls over as his bat comes straight through the zone from below and not across the ball. He really gets the most out of his attack angle by rarely rolling over and across the ball but driving through it and either hit it straight or backspin instead of topspin.
There is a slight cost of this of course, on very high pitches this Ferris Wheel bat path is hard to do. Arenado does have a slight weakness very up in the zone https://www.fangraphs.com/zonegrid.aspx?playerid=9777&position=3B&ss=2018-01-01&se=2018-12-01&type=5&hand=all&count=all&blur=1&grid=10&view=bat&pitch=&season=2018&data=pi
However the first video of the article shows that he is able to pull this off until about belt high, so there is not much room for the pitcher up.
Overall this is an interesting and slightly unusual swing with some great strengths and weaknesses mitigated by great flexibility (especially in the spine) and the ability to contort himself to still get to the high pitch with a steep bat angle. This swing allows him to lift low pitches and make contact way out front without rolling over what most can’t do. There is a small space to attack him up in the zone but the margin for error is not high.
Overall, of course, we know that Arenado is an elite hitter. While I would not recommend his style for pitches belt high up it is definitely interesting how he refuses to roll over baseballs and drives them in the air consistently especially against lower pitches.