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Norman Chad: With exit velocity, launch angle in vogue, baseball players become astronauts

UPDATED: Tue., April 3, 2018, 6:14 p.m.

New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge  watches his first-inning, solo home run against Minnesota  on Sept. 18, 2017 (Kathy Willens / AP)
New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge watches his first-inning, solo home run against Minnesota on Sept. 18, 2017 (Kathy Willens / AP)

“Chicks dig the long ball.” – Greg Maddux, 1998

I’ve never understood this: Why would newly hatched fowl be naturally drawn to home runs? Then again, I used to have a pet alligator who did a body flip every time she saw a sacrifice bunt.

In a nation that loves to recycle its pop culture – “Roseanne” is back, with its cryogenically preserved cast – the home run has returned with a bang. If we ever build that wall, it’s a certainty that someone will hit a baseball over it.

In 2017, there were 6,105 home runs in Major League Baseball, 412 more than the previous record in steroid-induced 2000. Seventeen of 30 MLB teams hit at least 200 homers last year. Wow. That’s 200 homers over a 162-game season, which sounds like more than one a game, according to my admittedly rudimentary public-school mathematical training.

The power surge is epitomized by the New York Yankees. In the middle of their lineup, the Yankees have Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez, who combined for 144 homers in 2017. Heck, their batboy slugged 48 dingers two years ago with the Goodlettsville, Tennessee, Little League team.

(Longtime Yankees broadcaster John Sterling has introduced a new home-run call. When Stanton went deep Opening Day in his first Yankees at-bat, Sterling exclaimed, “Giancarlo, non si puo stoparlo!” Inexplicably, this is Italian; loosely translated, it means, “Giancarlo, I sound ridiculous right now!”)

To better comprehend this homer-happy era, we have Statcast, MLB’s high-speed, automated data tool developed to analyze the movement of every ball and every player.

Apparently, these days it’s all about “exit velocity.”

(The Trump administration uses a similar metric for its senior advisers.)

Here are three sample Statcast hitting categories:

    Launch angle is the vertical angle in which the ball leaves the bat. If launch angle were around in the 20th century, NASA probably gets to the moon 15 years earlier.

Note: Improper launch angle nearly ended my second honeymoon.

    Vector classifies the horizontal launch direction of the batted ball into five equal zones of 18 degrees each; Wisconsin’s voting districts are divided along these same precepts.

    Projected HR distance calculates the distance of the projected landing point on over-the-fence home runs. This is comparable to “actual HR distance,” just not quite as accurate.

Frankly, everything after launch angle is statistical debris. Launch angle is the key to hitting homers. Launch angle keeps increasing. It’s the cryptocurrency of baseball.

When I was courting Toni, aka She is the One (And Then Some), I wooed her with a two-pronged approach: mushroom risotto and launch-angle data.

In its 2018 baseball preview issue, Sports lllustrated devoted 12 pages to a launch-angle story by Tom Verducci. SI – always a cutting-edge company – reportedly is considering replacing its 2019 swimsuit issue with a launch-angle issue.

Verducci wrote, “Last year players struck 41 balls at a 13-degree launch angle with at least 90 mph exit velocity.” I wrote this down – I didn’t think I could memorize it – rushed out to a singles bar and got two dates within 30 minutes.

(This understandably upset Toni, but advanced analytics indicates that pleasing two people while displeasing one results in “positive emotional value,” or PEV.)

Launch angle confirms something my fourth-grade friend Victor Littman told me in 1968: If you hit the ball in the air, there is a better chance of it leaving the park than if you hit the ball on the ground.

(Victor, I believe, now is assistant director of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.)

I just want to know if Statcast data tracks Jose Bautista’s bat flips.

Ask The Slouch

Q: As a result of MLB’s efforts to speed up the game, I need creative ideas for what I can do with the extra three minutes. Suggestions? (Bob Isitt; Spokane)

A: Three minutes is an eternity – I generally go with instant ramen noodles and have Daisy lick my face.

Q: A pilot had to make an emergency landing recently when a fight broke out after a passenger refused to stop passing gas. What is the proper etiquette at the poker table? (Jim O’Brien; Racine, Wisconsin)

A: Just go all in.

Q: Why would a five-star recruit who has no interest in academics elect to play in the NBA G League rather than go to Syracuse? (John Oetting; Columbia, Maryland)

A: As the proud stepdad of a soon-to-be Le Moyne College grad, I salute you.

Q: Why haven’t I ever seen you on ESPN’s “Around the Horn”? Aren’t you pretty enough for television? (William Mahl; Indianapolis)

A: I’m not even pretty enough for a podcast.

Q: Since POTUS kicked the 60 Russians out of Seattle, how much room does that clear under the Patriots’ salary cap? (Bill Cornwell; Spokane)

A: Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!


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