On Sunday, Brandon wrote about former Tampa Bay Rays 1B/DH Logan Morrison signing with the Minnesota Twins for one year and $6.5 million with a vesting option for 2019.
Brandon did a great job providing an overview of his 2017 season and how it differed from the rest of his career, so I don’t want to get into that.
Rather, I want to look at his approach at the plate and the changes he made in his swing. As is the new trend in baseball, hitters are going boom or bust.
Hitters are sacrificing batting average, on-base percentage and strikeouts to increase their slugging percentage and home runs.
Interestingly enough, Morrison was a bit more selective in 2017 as his percentage of swings on pitches outside and inside the strike zone were down compared to his previous two seasons, and he set a career-high walk rate.
Nonetheless, he posted career-highs in the percentage of pitches he swung and miss on (chase rate) and strikeout percentage, but also in hard-hit and fly ball percentage. In other words: boom or bust, orr “elevate and celebrate” — as Brandon and the Twitterverse put it.
One thing that didn’t change for Morrison was his struggles against lefties, which isn’t abnormal for a left-handed hitter. I think this makes him more of a platoon guy with the Twins rather than an everyday player like he was in 2017.
To summarize, you will see Morrison be a selective hitter who waits for “his pitch” on the outer half of the plate, and he’ll give you all or nothing when he swings.
We’ve heard a lot about players increasing their launch angle, but now let’s look at what that means to Morrison.
A couple years ago when the trend was just hitting stride, FiveThirtyEight author Rob Arthur published an article titled “The Science of Hitting.” In it, Arthur defines launch angle as “the vertical direction of the ball coming off the bat; a launch angle of 0 would be a flat line…”
With the help of Baseball Savant, Arthur found that a 25-degree launch angle — give or take a few degrees — is the “sweet spot” for homerun hitters. This combined with an exit velocity of 90 mph or greater comprise the two biggest factors in home run hitting. Morrison has always hit the ball hard — right around that 90 mph mark — but as you’ll see below, the difference was in his launch angle over the last two years:
With the help of Baseball Savant and a little editing, you can use the eye test to see that Morrison really did change his swing in 2017.
For ease, I have added an approximation of where the launch angle is 25 degrees. Notice in 2016 that very few of Morrison’s batted balls and literally none of his hits were above the 25-degree mark. But in 2017, roughly half of his batted balls were above this mark as well as some of his hits.
This, coupled with an average exit velocity of 88.5 mph, led to him almost tripling his home run total from 2016 to 2017.
Now let’s see a couple action shots of what this looks like. Below you see two pictures of Morrison’s swing from each season on a pitch in the middle of the plate that result in two different outcomes:
When looking at launch angle, understand that a matter of a few degrees can be a world of difference but a few degrees can be difficult to see with the naked eye. To help with this I have tried to highlight Morrison’s bat using a red line.
Yes, he has an uppercut swing in both pictures, but the significant thing to notice is where he is making contact with the ball. In his 2016 at bat, he makes contact with the middle of the ball.
In 2017, he gets underneath the ball — providing a better launch.
This is the key when looking at launch angle. For years, players were taught to “swing down on the ball,” but the new era of hitters are doing the exact opposite.
I think this is why Twins fans can be confident in the deal they got with Morrison. His 2017 wasn’t a random fluke. It was a purposeful change in approach and mechanics that lead to some great results. Personally, I am expecting much of the same in 2018.