Maikel Franco Less Focused on Launch Angle and His Swing Has Improved

In the time since MLB's Statcast technology emerged in 2015, several new terms have been added to the baseball lexicon. Exit velocity. Launch angle. Route efficiency.

It's given teams and baseball fans new ways to measure a player's worth. But the developments haven't been all positive. One of the new obsessions around the league is with launch angle, which measures the trajectory of a ball after it leaves the bat. Players who have higher launch angles tend to hit more deep flyballs, which is obviously the most likely path of a home run.

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As a result, we've seen home runs skyrocket around baseball ... along with strikeouts.

Enter Maikel Franco. You'll recall that when Phillies GM Matt Klentak spoke at the end of May, he cited exit velocity and launch angle as reasons why Franco had been a little bit better than his traditional stats indicate. 

Franco has finally come around over the last month, hitting .276/.340/.528 with 11 doubles, seven homers, 13 walks and 12 strikeouts over his last 141 plate appearances. So it was interesting that when manager Pete Mackanin was asked Friday how Franco has been able to finally drive the ball consistently, he brought up Franco's getting away from the launch angle obsession.

"I tell you what: I noticed it in Milwaukee and it just kind of slapped me in the face. He's not upper-cutting the ball," Mackanin said. "He has a nice, level swing. Matt (Stairs) had him shorten his stride and that helped in that regard. But he is working above the ball rather than underneath the ball. 

"There's this trend for hitters to want to lift the ball and they do it wrong. They don't understand the whole concept of getting the ball in the air. And a nice, level swing will get the ball in the air. You hit just under that equator of the ball, that's where you get lift. Anyway, his swing path is really much better.

Mackanin could sense Franco was going to have a big series in Miami.

"Just watching him take BP, I was watching him and I said, 'That's a different swing than I've been watching, even for a couple years,'" Mackanin said. "And to me, it's conducive to success, what he's doing now. And I even told (Bob) McClure before the game in Miami, 'You know what? If he carries BP over to the game, he's going to have a good game.' And he got three hits, hit the home run. So I am kind of cautiously optimistic about this. If he continues to do what he's doing, he's going to have a good second half, I believe."

Then came the question: Are players today too concerned with those kind of metrics? Can it be detrimental to their natural development?

"I think so," Mackanin said. "Somebody was talking to (Daniel) Murphy and Murphy made the comment that there's four infielders and only three outfielders, so he doesn't want to hit ground balls, he wants to get the ball in the air. So players start thinking about launch angle. To them it means swinging up on the ball, which is counterproductive. It's like when you're golfing. If you swing down, you hit the ball up with a nine iron, let the club do the work.

"I was talking to somebody over in Washington and they said Murphy wants to elevate the ball but he does it by hitting the bottom of the ball with a level swing. He looks for the bottom of the ball to hit with a level swing. If you hit the equator it's a line drive. If you hit just under it, you get that backspin. That's what he tries to do. 

"So it is misinterpreted. It's like (Josh) Donaldson came out and said, "When coaches tell you to hit ground balls, don't listen to them. Don't hit them. You've got to elevate the ball.' Well, if you watch Donaldson's swing in action, he doesn't swing up on the ball. He's got a nice level swing."

Right now, so does Franco, and the Phillies badly need this last month to be more than a mirage.

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