In a conference call with reporters after he signed a 1-year/$9M deal with the Washington Nationals earlier this month, second baseman Brian Dozier was asked if he was excited to get a chance to work with hitting coach Kevin Long. Dozier said he’s heard all the “launch angle” talk, but said he was an adherent before the so-called revolution had a name.
“It’s funny you say that,” Dozier said. “I’m a big fan of analytics, but I just feel that analytics, and a feel for the game, they have to coincide in order for the players to be good and for teams to be successful.
“With the launch angle and all that kind of stuff, when I changed my approach, I guess back in the end of 2012, going into 2013, there was no launch angle or any of that stuff, but looking back at it now, that’s kind of exactly what it was, we just didn’t have a name for it then, and that’s recognizing your strengths and doing everything that you can to be really good at your strengths rather than trying to tweak weaknesses and stuff, and one of those strengths is hitting the ball in the air to left field and left-center field and then once I kind of, I guess, got that part of it, I really enjoyed doing that.
“It’s going to be a fun year with a hitting coach that kind of sees the same thing, because I believe in whether your strength is getting the ball in the air, hitting the ball the other way, but really honing in to your strengths and running with that.”
Long, of course, has been on record saying the talk of a “launch-angle revolution” has been overblown.
“It’s been blown way out of proportion,” Long told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal in a mid-June 2018 Q&A with the reporter.
“I never really talked about putting the ball in the air. I know there’s an advantage, especially at the major league level with bigger, stronger, faster guys. But if you use your legs, and your swing works properly, you’re going to get the proper launch angle. When you start manipulating and really trying to lift the ball, it can be dangerous in a lot of ways.”
In an MLB Network Radio interview this winter, Long explained how Bryce Harper found out just how dangerous that sort of manipulation can be in the first half of the 2018 campaign.
“When I think about it,” Long explained, “I really believe that he, me, his father, everybody involved kind of got caught up in the launch angle stuff, and he was literally trying to hit the ball in the air way too much, and we started simplifying. We started calling them ‘Boring Line Drives.’”
The in-season adjustments Harper made helped him turn his season around and get back to swinging like the hitter the Nationals had come to expect.
“He went back to what he was and what he was doing prior to trying to lift the ball,” Long said, “and sometimes you try things to see if there is a better method. In this case it wasn’t, and I think Bryce is going to be better for it.”
So how does the Nationals’ hitting coach spread the message of simply hitting the ball hard in the air as opposed to getting caught up in the minutiae of launch angles?
“Listen, it wasn’t caught up in it as much as he had worked the whole offseason kind of getting that swing grooved for that,” Long told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Duquette and Mike Ferrin.
“I understand that the ball in the air, and hitting the ball in the air, there are some factors that will help your [slugging percentage], but at the end of the day if you’re changing and manipulating your swing to where you’re working uphill, good luck. It’s just, it’s not going to work. There has to be — you have to kind of meet in-between, and seriously, I think about it to this day, and a line drive is still the best thing that you can do. Hit something hard and hit it on a line and you’re in pretty good shape.
“I don’t think anybody is that good to change their ball flight a millimeter or a half a millimeter, it’s really if you hit a line drive and you’re a little on top, it might be a hard ground ball. If you’re trying to hit a line drive and you catch the bottom a little bit, hopefully it carries enough to get out of the park, but I’m with you, I’m not caught up in manipulating your swing and totally getting underneath the baseball.”
Philosophically, Long was asked, will the game get back to simply stressing hitting liners, making solid contact, and putting the ball in play?
“I guess for the opponents I want them to try to lift the ball and do all this stuff,” Long said, “because we’re going to have an advantage. Go ahead and face Max Scherzer and try to do that, see what happens, because the ball is going to stay on plane, and you’re going to swing and miss at it. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I can tell you that I’m not going to get caught up in it, I’m going to stay the course pretty much for what I’ve been doing my whole career and that’s we’re going to get in a good position to hit, we’re going to stay tight and connected, and we’re going to try to hit the ball hard on a line, and that’s worked in the past, and I don’t know why it wouldn’t continue to work.”