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Red Sox JD Martinez Says Launch Angle Is Not Ruining Baseball, Pitcher Evaluations Are

Red Sox slugger JD Martinez claims launch angle isn’t ruining baseball. He instead points to another issue: pitching evaluation.

It may not a popular take, but I’ll help explain why he may have a point.

“A lot of people are very quick to blame launch angle, ‘Oh, the launch angle is ruining baseball,’ but I don’t think that has anything to do with anything,” he said. “I think the media has to dive into how the game has changed. How pitchers have pitched differently in the last couple years.

“This is a ‘stuff over command’ league.”

And that’s why he believes strikeouts are up

That actually makes sense. All old school baseball fans want players to drive the ball the other way, bunt, and steal like they used to, but is that a productive way to play in today’s climate? Is it as simple to drop a sacrifice bunt against the average fastball today as it was in the past? Science says it isn’t. The average fastball in 2021 has creeped a shade over 93 miles an hour. Just ten years ago, the average heater was barely scratching 91.

Those who have played baseball know that’s a major jump in velocity, forcing hitters to make adjustments and boxing them into a corner: hit homers or sink.

Martinez was asked about his tenure in Houston and how he propelled himself into a “slugger.”

“I’m not a slugger,” he said. “I don’t consider myself a slugger, I consider myself a hitter that can drive the ball. I think a lot of guys have that same identity here. You know a lot of guys believe in that. We don’t have any guys who are up their swinging for the fences. I think that’s a tough way to produce runs on a consistent basis. You’re pretty much defending on long balls. To me, I’m a firm believer in it. I think you’ve got to be a hitter before you’re a slugger.”

A little counter-productive to his argument, right?

So he says he doesn’t believe in slugging before you can master the craft of “hitting.” I would say most reading this article can buy that statement. It’s frustrating to watch a bunch of 6-foot-four meatheads swinging for the fences and striking out every other at bat. It’s also ineffective, which Martinez acknowledges.

But maybe MLB players are, in fact, swinging for the fences because it’s too hard to string hits together against the increase in velocity, or “stuff”, as Martinez calls it? Velocity obviously means the pitch gets to the catcher’s glove faster, and more importantly, forces the hitter to make a decision sooner.

The old adage of three tenths of a second to make a decision is dwindling every year as velocity rises, which really makes Driveline hitting so unique. Did their program insist on crafting “sluggers” before hitters because they disagreed with Martinez’s theories on hitting, or are they simply countering power pitching?

I believe the three-time All-Star means to say that it’s more difficult to master hitting than it is to master slugging. And it is. How many Tony Gwynn and Pete Rose-type guys do you see around the league today? They don’t grow on trees because you can’t teach that, and now their technique is nearly non-existent in today’s baseball.

Here’s what baseball is doing to fix this problem:

Major League Baseball is testing new rules, like moving the mound back in the Atlantic League, to see how they affect the game. It’s possible that they force pitchers to rely on location rather than “stuff,” which, in theory, helps hitters ditch the home run approach.

And while I agree that Martinez may focus on mastering “hitting,” it’s hard to believe his entire roster is doing the same. Teams like the New York Yankees walk up to the plate and swing like they’re trying to bust a piñata, so it’s likely they’re thinking about the long ball.

We’ll see how baseball changes over the years, but for now, it’s on a collision course with disaster and desperately needs tinkering.

Written by Gary Sheffield, Jr

Gary Sheffield Jr is the son of should-be MLB Hall of Famer, Gary Sheffield. He covers basketball and baseball for OutKick.com, chats with the Purple and Gold faithful on LakersNation, and shitposts on Twitter. You can follow him at GarySheffieldJr

7 Comments

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  1. Tony la russa and Billy beane are what’s ailing baseball. Tony’s A and cards teams with 10 pitchers used every game. Made starters less relevant. Now everyone wants velocity even down to 13 u ball. (See perfect game youth baseball organization and already using a speed gun on 13 u kids). No one actually teaches kids location or count situations. They never learn the art of pitching. They inly want velocity, size and change of speeds. And Billy with his crappy sabermetrics. Shifts/lauch angles/spin rates/fip/babip/contact percentage all bring up similar hitting and pitching styles without much flare. Not many characters more automatons. Less fun to watch.

  2. This is a difficult topic to try to pinpoint. Baseball has so many variables it’s really hard. I would say compared to 15 or 20 years ago, the general attitude towards striking out has softened from coaching and teaching perspectives. Why that is? Tough answer. Sabermetrics + Money Ball + technology + agents are the likely contributors imo. When you can go watch a pitcher’s previous inning in the dugout on your iPad or laptop and learn everything you need to know about a guy’s velocity, location, movement, patterns, off speed, etc before you even get to the plate it takes a lot of the skill out of the game. The approach shifts more toward guessing or sitting on one pitch than skill. Pitchers do the same with hitters. They can watch tons of tape and find patterns on what pitches hitters are sitting on and what they can’t hit, so it turns into nerd ball: a battle of technology and analytics instead of actual baseball skill.

    Also it’s a loosening of the bad reputation that went along with Ks. I remember media freaking out over Jose Hernandez striking out 180+ times in the early 2000s. Then Adam Dunn came along. I look at him as sort of the pendulum swing. He was the 40/100 guy who struck out 190 times every year, and people just lived with it. He made a ton of money hitting .240. Now it’s nothing for “good” hitters to strike out 100-150 times a year. Oh well. That used to be the mark of shame. No one really criticizes hitters for striking out anymore, so there’s less pressure on them to avoid it.

  3. As a former baseball player and student of a great hitting coach….you know what we never ever ever discussed….LAUNCH ANGLE….Do you know why??? Because you aren’t supposed to be thinking about anything at the plate besides the count you are in. So sorry JD launch angle has heavily contributed to the K rate and analytics at large have truly infected the game at every level.

  4. Baseball is really tough to watch. As a Yanks fan, it is almost unbearable. They can win 90 games every year and not make it through a 7 game series. Too much hitting against avg pitching swinging for the fence in regular season and then dreadful hitting against the leagues’ best in the post season. Year after year after year. Will be the same this year.

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