IN THIS CORNER, WEARING THE BLUE TRUNKS, Dept.
Josh Donaldson is a committed launch-angle evangelist. "I've done a lot of research," he says. "... I believe in it [high launch angles]. And as 80%, 90% of you are aware, Mitch Haniger is a Josh Donaldson disciple. You're talking about a guy who was nowhere* for 25 years, tried it Donaldson's way, and is now an 8-WAR player. ... :- )
We've got the prospect of Ben Gamel doing something similar. Do we? I can tell you this much, kids, if Haniger is a 5-6 WAR rookie and Gamel is a 4-WAR rookie, this team is going to be GOOooooood. For a long time. We remember the 1970's Red Sox winning their share of baseball games.
It is true FOR SURE that if we STIPULATE a hard-hit ball, especially one that is pulled, that we would much rather have it be in the air. But what if we're talking about a distribution of soft-hit balls, medium-hit, hard-hit, and infield pops? Then it gets more complex.
Again, a "Back Leg Special" is uncontroversial. Pull it in the air hard? That's the holy grail. That's why Boomstick makes the big bucks.
AND IN THE OTHER CORNER, Dept.
Bill James Online, still only $3 per month, "just to keep out the riffraff" as James once put it. He steps back, views the issue from the top of a mountain crag, and opines that he has "seen a thousand of these things come and go:"
Faul talked to reporters several times about what hypnosis had done for him. He became an evangelist for hypnosis, and, in the spring of 1966, hypnosis was a hot button topic. Several other young pitchers also tried it, and some talked about it.
But asked about this, Pete Rose, then a young star, said something like, "I don’t believe in none of that stuff." This quote is taken from memory and the memory is more than 50 years ago, so, you know. . .it ain’t word for word. "I don’t believe in none of that stuff," Rose said. "You are what you are. You can’t cheat this game. Yeah, he’s pitching great now, but let’s see where he is in July." Faul won only one game in the rest of his career.
I thought about that, and, because Rose had been proven right—and, as I recall, Rose was virtually the only baseball person who was willing to call bull on it—and because he was right, I tried to understand what he was saying. You have to be careful about it, because it is a truth that stands next to some ugly falsehoods. But what I think he was saying, in our language, was something like this. What counts, in the long run, is the entire structure of the man. He has some confidence now, and that’s great, but he has to have the work habits that go with it. He has to have the arm and the body that will hold up to 40 starts. . . 40 starts at that time. He has to have the athleticism to hold up to a long season. He has to have the psychological strength to handle the strains—and the temptations—of a long baseball season. He has to know how to prepare himself for his next start. He has to know where to go when somebody figures out he is going to throw the pitch over the heart of the strike zone. He has to have the ability to re-build his confidence when he falls into a slump. He has to have the knowledge of the game, the assortment of pitches. Intelligence, knowledge, a skill set, work habits, energy, psychological resilience, athleticism, arm strength. It’s a package. It is built over time; it requires time. If the package SEEMS to change suddenly. . .well, I don’t believe it.
Of course we want to be careful with this; I am not suggesting that there is no value in hypnosis, or that there is no value in launch angle. There IS value in these things, I am sure. But let’s see how he is doing in July. If he changes his swing path, does that create a hole in his swing? Does it make him vulnerable to something that the pitchers just haven’t found yet? Will the whole structure of the man sustain this level of success?
I know that Zimmerman has some ability that he hasn’t been able to get to for the last. . .well, three years, certainly, and maybe more than that. He was a good hitter for eight years. But I have seen a thousand of these things come and go. . . .carbohydrate loading, and hyperextension of the elbow, and goat gland implants, and . . .what was that silly circle that pitchers were wearing around their necks two years ago, that they claimed would help them with their balance? To me, launch angle is just the latest one of them. Some players will get something out of it. But you are who you are, and you can’t cheat the game.
What I do like about James' opinion is that --- > sabermetricians are all too eager to "welcome" in an idea of this nature -- one that gives sabermetricians a loud voice in what's going on tomorrow. You'll travel a long ways to find a non-athlete analyst who doesn't LIKE the idea of launch angle being revolutionary. You know the game. "With Savant Data, we are now able to establish that ..." intoned with a general air of announcing a life-friendly exoplanet.
Are we so friendly towards launch angle that we're biased in favor of its acceptance?
Of course, some things come and DON'T go. For example, fastball RPM that is higher or lower than the average range, that is a big part of pitching these days. Maybe 12-14 degree launch angles are to hitting what 1900 RPM fastballs are to pitching. Where does launch angle fit in?