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Scott Schebler improved by lowering his launch angle

How to improve as a hitter by swinging for less power.

Cincinnati Reds v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

“If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” - Your parents, probably.

Peer pressure can be dangerous, even in baseball. The launch angle revolution has swept through every clubhouse, leading to unprecedented home run levels as well as their accompanying strikeouts.

In 2017, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Scott Schebler got caught up in the movement. He became the archetypal hitter for this era: lots of homers and strikeouts, low batting average, and a smattering of walks. He slashed .233/.307/.484 with 30 HR, 23.5% K-rate, and a perfectly average 100 wRC+.

In 2018, Schebler has stepped up his game even further. He’s sitting on a 127 wRC+. However, he’s actually lowering his launch angle, hitting fewer home runs, and taking fewer walks!

Improving with Less Power

Schebler’s ISO is .058 lower than last season, which does not compute with a huge wRC+ increase. In fact there are only five qualified players in baseball with a wRC+ increase of at least 15, in spite of a decreased ISO.*

Smaller ISO, Bigger wRC+

Player 2018 ISO 2017 ISO ISO Difference (2018-2017) 2018 wRC+ 2017 wRC+ wRC+ Difference (2018-2017)
Player 2018 ISO 2017 ISO ISO Difference (2018-2017) 2018 wRC+ 2017 wRC+ wRC+ Difference (2018-2017)
Scott Schebler 0.252 0.194 -0.058 100 127 27
Andrelton Simmons 0.143 0.130 -0.013 103 142 39
Nicholas Castellanos 0.218 0.178 -0.040 111 135 24
Odubel Herrera 0.171 0.151 -0.020 100 119 19
Nolan Arenado 0.277 0.238 -0.039 129 144 15

Only Andrelton Simmons (currently on the disabled list) has improved more than Schebler despite a lesser ISO, and Simmons’ ISO only decreased a little bit.

A Man Reinvented

Obviously, hitting for less power isn’t a good thing, but Schebler has more than made up the difference by totally transforming himself as a hitter.

Scott Schebler, New and Improved

Year Slash Line BB% K% GB% FB% LD% PU% Exit Velo Launch Angle
Year Slash Line BB% K% GB% FB% LD% PU% Exit Velo Launch Angle
2017 .233/.307/.484 7.3 23.5 46.2 24.4 19.8 9.6 88.8 11.3
2018 .288/.354/.482 6.3 18.0 54.0 16.1 24.8 5.1 91.0 6.3

His average launch angle has decreased by five degrees. This has led to fewer fly balls and popups, while creating more line drives and grounders. By itself, that doesn’t mean much, but the 1.5 mph increase in average exit velocity is a big deal.

Last year, Schebler realized he could be an OK hitter by selling out for home runs. This year, he’s learned to become a really good hitter by going in the opposite direction. He’s hitting the ball harder by squaring up line drives instead of trying to elevate.

This approach has led to fewer home runs (though he does have eight of them) and walks, but he’s striking out less as well. That’s another critical piece of the puzzle. He’s putting the ball in play significantly more often than he did last season. Combined with the higher exit velocity and line drive rate, and you get an explosion of base hits.

For Example...

On June 7-8th, the Reds played consecutive extra inning games. Schebler went 7-12 with three doubles and no home runs. That could never have happened last year, in which 57 of his 110 hits went for extra bases. His slash line for those two games was .583/.583/.833.

Of course, one home run is equivalent to four singles for calculating slugging percentage. Perhaps the 2017 version of Schebler would’ve hit a home run during those two games, but he probably would’ve cost himself those singles. Let’s say we turn one single into a long ball, and the other three into outs (a strikeout, a fly out, and a popup, all of which were more common for him last season). Now his slash line becomes .333/.333/.833. That’s still a very nice stretch of PA, but not nearly as good as what happened in real life.

This partially hypothetical example summarizes Schebler’s new approach. Last year, he singled in only 10% of his PA. This year, he hits singles 17% of the time. Of course, singles aren’t as good as home runs, but he’s more than made up the difference by sacrificing quality for quantity. Besides, he’s still on pace to hit 20 home runs!

The launch angle revolution has transformed lots of slap hitters into major power threats. It worked to an extent for Schebler, but hitting line drives works even better for him. By embracing the counterrevolution, he’s reached a new level.

*Schebler doesn’t actually have enough PA to qualify in 2018. He’s 13 PA short through Saturday’s action. He’ll get there pretty soon though.

Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at Tweets @depstein1983