Launch angle is one the terms being tossed around by nearly every hitting instructor, coach, general manager, and fan these days. Knowing how launch angle is created, though, is very important to understanding how to use it to your advantage.
There have been numerous articles and blog posts regarding what launch angles create the greatest opportunity for success. Anyone who has spent more than a few days around the game, though, can tell you a whole lot more goes into it than simply elevating the baseball. The success comes from a combination of numerous factors, centered mostly on the combination of launch angle and exit velocity.
If you look at the graphic below, you can see the varying effects of launch angle at different exit velocity. The figures that went into this graph were batted balls at different exit velocities that had a launch angle of 25 degrees (+/- 3 degrees), which is commonly considered a desirable launch angle. You can see that when the exit velocity places the ball behind the infield and in front of the outfield, or when it is hit hard enough to get over or evade an outfielder, than this is a great launch angle. However, when the exit velocity doesn't pair well with the launch angle, then it isn't nearly as effective.
Exit velocity has a tremendous impact on the likelihood of doing damage at the plate, but in order for it to be effective it has to work in tandem with the launch angle. When you stop and think about it, it just makes sense. If you were to hit a ball with incredible exit velocity with a severe negative launch angle, you would simply be hitting an infield chopper. If you were to create a positive launch angle with great exit velocity, you will likely find greater success. Simply looking at the chart above shows you that.
So far, none of this is earth-shattering news, and any hitting instructor worth his salt would understand the connection between exit velocity and launch angle. There are a number of coaches teaching players to elevate the ball, and that is great if they can create the necessary bat speed to generate damaging exit velocity.
How do we do it, though?
Where we start to see some missteps, is in tee work...
A pitched ball has an angle of descent, which is its path to the plate after leaving the pitcher's hand. The descent angle works with the attack angle and the offset to create launch angle. This is one of the factors that effects launch angle that we don't often hear about; the way it comes together.
When we are training on a tee, the ball has no angle of descent, so the launch angle is essentially created by a larger off-set and a greater attack angle than what would be optimal for a pitched ball. This is actually training the hitter to be less effective than he or she otherwise could be.
By looking at the table below published in an article by Dr. Alan M. Nathan in 2015, you can see what I am saying:
I am definitely not trying to discourage people from trying to hit the ball farther... I like home runs as much as the next guy. What I am trying to impress upon anyone who hasn't already embraced it, though, is that training attack angles that work well for the individual player, and their personal exit velocity potential, needs to take precedence over launch angle as a standalone metric. Launch angle is resultant effect of multiple variables, whereas, given a consistent point of contact in training, we can replicate good attack angles.
The thoughts from this post are mine, but much of the data and research was taken from an article written by Dr. Alan M. Nathan in November 2015 for the "Hardball Times".