It sounds like something from NASA. Launch angle. Yet, it is all the rage in Major League Baseball.
Sluggers are clearing fences like never before. There were 1,101 home runs during June, breaking the previous record of 1,069 in May of 2000, which was at the height of the so-called steroid era.
One of the explanations given: Hitters deliberately upper-cutting the ball and trying to lift it in the air.
“No grounders,” Toronto third baseman and perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson was quoted in the Washington Post. “Ground balls are out. If you see me a hit a ground ball, even if it’s a hit, I can tell you it was an accident.”
In the same article, the Dodgers’ Justin Turner, who has transformed from journeyman into one of MLB’s best hitters, said: “You can’t slug by hitting balls on the ground. You have to get the ball in the air if you want to slug, and guys who slug, stick around, and guys who don’t slug, don’t.”
One of the first hitters to embrace this approach: Tigers’ outfielder J.D. Martinez.
So hitting instructors, who teach the game at the grass roots level, must be scrambling to change their philosophy, right?
Not necessarily, said Chris Newell, the area’s foremost hitting instructor. The former Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes High School player and Oakland University hitting coach manages the Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers in the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica. His primary occupation is as a youth hitting instructor. His most famous pupil is former Birmingham Brother Rice High School star D.J. LeMahieu, the Colorado Rockies’ second baseman, who won the 2016 National League batting title.
Newell isn’t teaching launch angles. He avoids them like the plague, he says. “Thinking about hitting the ball in the air only is the worst possible thought for young hitters,” Newell said. “To me, it’s a joke. There are no bad…