Does Lifting the Ball Have a Ceiling?

Elevating is en vogue; everyone wants to do it and it seems like every hitter who does it can become a power hitter, especially with rumors about a new ball. There have been many examples of successful hitters of that mold: Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner and Jose Altuve, among others. Is there a limit to this? Could we see hitters with a 25% GB rate in the future? 20% 15%?

One thing that seems to cap this is BABIP. There is a pretty positive correlation of BABIP and GB rate, i.e. GB hitters tend to have a higher BABIP. That seems logical since FBs tend to have a lower average, and even if they are hits they often don’t count for BABIP as they are often home runs.

This table shows the relation of BABIP and GB rate between 2008 and 2017. You can see that BABIP does go down with lower GB rates, but wRC+ is actually better with lower GB rates. Still, you could see a point being reached where the lower BABIP eats up the advantages.

GB rate >0.35 0.35-0.4 0.4-0.45 0.45-0.5 0.5-0-55 >0.55
BABIP 0.287 0.290 0.299 0.304 0.314 0.320
wRC+ 106 102 101 95 90 93

Average launch angle shows a similar picture:


av. LA <8 8 to 10 10 to 12 12 to 14 14 to 16 16 to 18 >18
BABIP 0.318 0.314 0.305 0.298 0.300 0.289 0.274

It seems that once you get past a certain launch angle or GB rate, a drop in BABIP is inevitable. However, an exception might be possible. I looked up guys with a lower than 35% GB rate and a FB rate of lower than 45%, and their BABIP was 0.304. Those guys were pretty rare between 2008 and 2017, but it is possible. You just need to get the ball off the ground and avoid both pop-ups and high outfield fly balls above 25 degrees. Not an easy thing to do, though, as the bat is a round object, and batted balls will always be distributed rather normally around the average LA, meaning that a higher average LA usually will mean more high outfield fly balls.

However, it is possible to imagine a super-hitter who has such good bat control that his band is very narrow. The best example of this might be Daniel Murphy, who managed to have a 34% GB rate with just a 40% FB rate (meaning a very high LD rate), and subsequently a very high (.345) BABIP over the last three years.

So we could indeed imagine a kind of “super Murphy” who hits 25% grounders with lower than 45% FBs. However, to date, we have not seen a guy sustaining such high LD rates; that guy would probably have to have superhuman bat control (which probably eliminates almost all >25% K rate guys). But with modern training methods, who knows what might happen.

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Being able to sustain a high line drive rate is of course a good thing for major league baseball players. Problem is, few guys seem to be able to do it. Murph, Lemahieu, Votto, Miggy, Freeman–these guys have been doing it for a while so it feels sustainable.
Looking at LD% leaderboards for the past few years, Domingo Santana’s name pops out. His career 26.8 LD% would rank top 10 all time! Not a huge sample, but very interesting. Is he going to be a guy we talk about as having a sustainably high LD%? Or will his career #s so far prove to have been fluky?
His FB% on the other hand is much lower than Murph’s (~30% vs ~40%). Murph always had the good LD%, but after he started putting up more FBs, his production numbers across the board skyrocketed. Maybe Domingo should consider following suit.
Nick Castellanos has a similar LD%/FB% profile as Murph. But something is still missing from NC. Maybe his more than double SwStrk% compared to Murph is to blame?
Finally, Jed Lowrie had quite a resurgence last year. He had nearly the same LD%, a higher FB%, and similar SwStrk% as Murph. The only big difference? Lowrie had half as large of a HR/FB% (13% vs 7%) and 30 pts lower on BABIP. Could Lowrie sustain these skills and become a solid middle of the order bat with high 20s/ low 30s HRs and a 300 AVG? He’s only 33 (Murph is 32). Lowrie had a lower IFFB% and similar hard% and pull% numbers to Murph. Statcast has them with similar #s for exit velo and launch angle. Lowrie hit a lot of doubles last year, I think this year he could turn some of those into more HRs.

Jim Melichar

It’s almost time for my annual Nick Castellanos article! I love him so much. He’s stuck being the Brandon Belt of the AL in that park though.

I’ve found looking at 3 year line drive rates is the best – it eliminates the noise and allows you to find the real LD studs. You names a bunch of them but also in that group is Mauer, Posey, Belt ….