Mike Bryant Explains Everything, Pt. 1: Dispelling Myths About Launch Angle Revolution

Even if he’s only a borderline superstar, Kris Bryant may well be the perfect player for modern major league baseball. He’s won some of his sports’ highest accolades while playing all over the field and sitting for photo and video shoots, and he’s done it inside the fishbowl of one of the most pressurized environments in baseball.

And what’s more, Bryant has made unprecedented improvements in contact rate since his debut, cutting his strikeout rate by 15 points from the 30.6 percent he posted as a rookie. Patrick Mooney wrote that “it has become clear that Bryant essentially serves as his own hitting coach,” but that’s not entirely true.

Sure, his growth as a hitter has allowed him to better discern where and with what a pitcher will try to attack him, but the foundation for that knowledge was built 20 years ago in the batting cage. That’s where Bryant’s mechanics were honed over millions of swings as a child, and it’s where he continues to improve with the tutelage of a man who gives all the credit for his modern teaching philosophy to Ted Williams.


READ MORE: Full text of last year’s exclusive interview with Mike Bryant on how Kris has evolved as a hitter


Mike Bryant is no shrinking violet and he’s not a man you’ve got to coax information and opinions from. Some of that is probably the New England in him, though he’s not just some stereotypical Masshole just trying to mansplain everything from atop his high horse. Far from it, actually.

Having a conversation with the Papa Bryant is like interacting with one of those novelty plasma globes, except this particular bottle actual has lightning in it. His frenetic energy is scarcely contained and you can just feel the excitement and pride spilling from him like the contents of an armored car that has opened on the freeway, leaving you to try to scoop up as much knowledge as your brain’s pockets can hold.

The man hailed by SI’s Tom Verducci as the “Sage of the Cage” spends his evenings instructing a new wave of sluggers, but his first generation of students is leading the charge of the ballyhooed Launch Angle Revolution. And while that movement includes far more than just the practitioners of Bryant’s translation of the Splendid Splinter’s techniques, the general idea is the same: Hit the ball hard and hit it in the air.

Where terms like launch angle and exit velocity were once defined only in descriptors like “moonshot” or “frozen rope,” we now have real-time measurements popping up during game broadcasts. But as with any new technology or terminology, there’s an adjustment period as the new paradigm aligns with our previously acquired knowledge.

Stat-head prophets start spouting metrics like new translations of baseball’s gospel, meeting resistance from the orthodoxy of the sport that decries the ideas as apocryphal or even heretical. There’s danger in both of these methods, whether it’s a tendency to present data without context or to refute new methods simply because they’re different.

With that in mind, I wanted to sit down with one of the godfathers of the launch-angle movement in order to fill in some of the gaps between what is being portrayed in the media and what these hitters are actually trying to do. Are we really seeing an increase in strikeouts because guys are trying to hit it in the air? How has the Cubs third baseman been able to improve so rapidly at the same time overall MLB trends are going in the opposite direction?

In this, the first of our three-part conversation, Mike offers more context to the concept of launch angle and dispels some of the misconceptions the practice.

Cubs Insider: Launch angle, exit velocity, all the Statcast stuff. It’s right there, real time, and those are kind of the buzz words, but everybody has run with them and I don’t know that there’s enough context. We hear it in the media and fans talk about it, but I don’t think they really get it. They almost make it seem like hitters are intentionally trying to hit the ball at a certain angle, like they’re studying their launch angle of their hits more so than they are their results.

Mike Bryant:​ Yeah, you’ve got to put it in context. There’s not one major leaguer that goes up to the plate thinking that he’s gotta produce this launch angle and this exit velocity. We have to establish an absolute right off the bat. Now Ted Williams talked about this 60 years ago. I mean, this is how far ahead the guy was. Do you hit the ball in the air or do you hit it on the ground? Do you swing up or do you swing down?

Everybody is always trying to create gray areas to justify what they’ve been teaching in the past. You know, you don’t take the knob to the ball. Kris articulated it very well with (Alex Rodriguez) on the ESPN Game of the Week on Sunday. And A-Rod identified it. Kris said that you want to get that bat in the zone as early as possible and keep it in the zone for as long as possible. I think that’s a given.

And how you get there is very definitive. If you come down to the ball, you’re not in the zone as long. The whole key is a positional hitting technique called the arm slot. When — lefty or righty — your back elbow is anchored to your rib cage, the bat will be parallel to the ground at a 90 degree angle off of your top hand. And [the bat] should be pointing behind you at about a 45 degree angle; not directly at the catcher, but more behind you. Then you’re entering the hitting zone very early from that point.

[W]hen your top hand and your back elbow is anchored to your rib cage, the bat will be parallel to the ground in a 90 degree angle off of your top hand.

What A-Rod was saying [about old-school teaching methods] was the bat was up and the knob was down. What we’re saying is the bat is flat and the knob is initially parallel to the ground, and then going, pointing up to the pitcher’s hat. So that’s the big move that everybody’s talking about right there. That’s the move that Kris had early; (Josh) Donaldson, Justin Turner, they all got this later in their careers.

What we’ve established here is that you swing up, you don’t swing down. Everybody is fighting this with such, I mean, it’s almost visceral now. You’ve seen it on the MLB Network, MLB hitters in there, and they’re arguing with Brian Kenny. And then Jared Diamond and all these guys, they’re talking about launch angles and exit velocity and stuff like that.

Basically, major league hitters are using these things as guidelines, not benchmarks. It’s not, “I’ve got to get to a 25 degree angle, I’ve got to get to 28.” Those things, they work themselves out and they become your swing. But [most hitting instructors] fail to establish the absolute that Ted Williams established, which is that you swing slightly up to the ball.

And now with the pitchers, they’re throwing more downhill than ever, they’re creating more depth in their pitches than ever before. They’re getting hitters to swing over the ball. If you’re swinging over the ball, you’ve got to increase the angle of the bat coming into the zone. You’re going to compensate for that.

Basically, major league hitters are using these things as guidelines, not benchmarks. It’s not, “I’ve got to get to a 25 degree angle, I’ve got to get to 28.” Those things, they work themselves out and they become your swing.

I don’t know what the big fuss is, it just drives me nuts. It’s like everybody is trying to discredit this. This is science. You can’t argue with the kinesiology, the movement, and all that. It’s inarguable. It’s not like the small guys like (Jose) Altuve are trying to hit the ball over the fence. No, they’re trying to hit the ball in the air. There’s a huge difference between that. They know that the hits are in the air, not on the ground. We know what the numbers are, and they fluctuate a little bit, but basically between 75 and 85 percent of all ground balls are outs.

We also know that 75 percent or more of balls hit in the air, especially when they’re hit hard, are hits. So what would a hitter want to do? Hit the ball in the ground or hit the ball in the air? I mean, I think it’s a no-brainer.

So what would a hitter want to do? Hit the ball in the ground or hit the ball in the air? I mean, I think it’s a no-brainer.

CI:​ Is it really a matter of an actual revolution in terms of changing what they’re trying to do, or is it more that we’re just applying different terminology to something that’s been, or that should have been, standard practice for a long time?

MB:​ I think major league hitters are just understanding the mechanics of the swing, where they didn’t understand them [in the past]. You know, back when I was playing in the 80’s, it was like, “Knob to the ball, hit inside.” They were all words that didn’t have teeth in them.

You didn’t have video to study back then, but the technology now is amazing. We can slow everything down so that you don’t see any spin on the baseball. You talk about 2,400 rpm spin rates that you could slow down so the ball looks like a knuckleball. It’s amazing what you can see, and you can see the movement in the swing and how the swing unfolds.

The hitters are learning how to feel the sensations in the swing now, and they’re learning to trust what they feel. It’s getting better, and the people that are holding on to the old stuff are going to be the ones that are going to be left behind.

The hitters are learning how to feel the sensations in the swing now, and they’re learning to trust what they feel. It’s getting better, and the people that are holding on to the old stuff are going to be the ones that are going to be left behind.

I’ve got kids that are seven years old, eight years old, nine years old, blasting home runs with regularity. It’s not that they’re trying to hit home runs. The home runs are the result of the process of them trying to hit it hard, hit the bottom of the ball, and hit it in the air.

Don’t talk backspin, it happens naturally. You don’t even have to try to impart backspin on it, it’s going to happen if you hit the middle of the bottom of the ball. Now if you hit the top of the ball, what’s going to happen? You’re not going to create backspin by hitting the top of the ball. You’re going to create topspin.

You see it all the time in the big leagues. If they hit the middle or slightly above the middle of the ball, they’re hitting hooking line drives. That’s topspin. It may be all well and good at some point, but you’re not going to hit home runs. You might hit more line drives in the infield that get caught. Like I said before, the big key is that the hitters are understanding the science and the mechanics in the swing that Ted Williams talked about back in the day.

It’s not that they’re trying to hit home runs. The home runs are the result of the process of them trying to hit it hard, hit the bottom of the ball, and hit it in the air.

CI:​ It seems that there’s been a lot of negative spin — you talked about backspin and topspin, but this is the more metaphorical spin — when they’re talking about all these guys trying to launch the ball and they’re trying to equate that to April being the first month ever that we saw more strikeouts than hits across Major League baseball.

MB:Isn’t that amazing?

CI:​ Right, is that fair to say? You know, is it a fair assessment that this launch angle phenomenon is cause of that, or are we looking at something bigger in just the way pitchers have changed and everything else across the game?

MB:Let me address that. Let me get cynical and start by saying, “Really?!” More strikeouts than hits because of launch angle? How about this: The reason there were more strikeouts than hits in the month of April, if we’re going to blame everything else besides the talent of the pitchers on the mound, let’s start with cold and rain and all that stuff.

Let’s just say pitchers, they throw 95 in 38-degree weather. They have downward tilt, they keep the ball down. It’s the pitcher’s fault that there are more strikeouts than hits. They’re getting good. They throw 95 for five innings, and then for the last four innings, they bring in four guys that each throw 98-100.

Strikeouts are up because pitchers are getting better. It’s got zero to do with launch angle. Ted Williams was swinging up for his entire career, and he struck out less than anyone, for some reason or the other. I wonder why? Maybe he was just good.

Strikeouts are up because pitchers are getting better. It’s got zero to do with launch angle. Ted Williams was swinging up for his entire career, and he struck out less than anyone, for some reason or the other. I wonder why? Maybe he was just good.

When I heard that, I was like, “Uh-uh,” because I knew they were going to start saying, “Oh, see, launch angle. Oh, they’re trying to hit home runs.” No, they’re not trying to hit home runs. Let’s stop this nonsense right now. Let’s just say that the hard part about this is that a lot of people have been taught their whole life what has now proven to be really the wrong way to hit.

There’s no gray area here. Like I said, we’re establishing the absolute: You swing up. How much you swing up is going vary. You’re 10 degrees, you’re 15 degrees, you’re 20 degrees.

I think there’s a huge misconception as well. What they are measuring is the angle that the ball is coming off the bat, not the angle that the bat is coming to meet the ball. There’s a huge distinction between that. You can swing down and the ball can go up. It’s not going to go very far, but the ball will launch off the bat at a 35-degree angle with a negative attack angle.

I think there’s a huge misconception. What they are measuring is the angle that the ball is coming off the bat, not the angle that the bat is coming to meet the ball. There’s a huge distinction between that.

[Kris] is squaring up more balls and his contact percentage is going up, but it hasn’t really changed anything for him in terms of the numbers. He’s still hitting .290. If anything, you could argue that it’s because his launch angle has decreased that his power numbers are down. So he needs to hit the ball up more if he’s going to hit more home runs. I mean, he hasn’t lost any power.

You got all these things, talking about the launch angle revolution. It’s been Ted Williams since Day 1. He was amazing in how far ahead of the curve he was in what he knew, because he had that heightened state of awareness that we seek as hitters. That desire to learn, that burning desire to be better. He wanted to be the best. That’s what drove the guy.

There’s something to be said for the guys that are still driven in this era, to want to be good, the guys like Donaldson and Turner and J.D. Martinez. That’s the type of stuff that gets me going, that’s why I wake up every day trying to be better at what I do. I can imagine being in the major leagues and having success and waking up every day and just taking it day by day and trying to do something special and then wake up at they end of your career and who knows, man? Cooperstown might be calling.

It’s disheartening to me to watch MLB Network and they have a negative view of this launch angle revolution. It’s not that they’re skeptical of it, they’re just, “My way is better.” They’re not accepting of it. What would you do if you were taught all your life how to do something, and then another way comes along, and you’re going, “Hey, you know, that might have been wrong, you know, the way I was taught”?

CI: There’s this idea that these guys are just hammering the ball and trying to uppercut, and they’ve got in their mind this launch angle. But the whole thing is about creating a repeatable process, it’s not a matter of trying to generate a number. ​Establish the process and that will generate the results. Is that fair to say?

MB:​ That’s exactly right. You focus on the process, not the results. The numbers will come as the result of a process. That’s the way a kid learns. And it never ends because you’re always hunting. You’re always hunting for that feeling. Then you’re putting the actual things that you’re doing and how you’re swinging the bat and associating the result then with the feeling.

And then you’re constantly in that circle, repeating the swing and hunting for that repeatable swing. Because the game is seven out of 10 times you’re failing, and you’re still one of the best. You’re going to always be hunting.

Then you’re putting the actual, the things that you’re doing and how you’re swinging the bat, you’re associating the result then with the feeling. And then you’re constantly in that circle, repeating the swing and hunting for that repeatable swing.


Subsequent sections of our conversation will be significantly shorter than this, but I felt it was important to include as much as possible of what Mike had to say about the reality of all this launch angle business and how hitters employ it. I hope even those of you who have a strong working knowledge of the subject came away with something and that the novices among you feel more well informed.

What comes through loud and clear from even a short talk with the man is passion for his craft and his admiration for its greatest practitioner. Mike frequently gives credit to Williams when discussing hitting and rarely takes any major credit for the source of his current teachings. Sure, he’s proud of the results he’s been able to achieve with his students, but he’s never acted as though this whole idea of swinging up and trying to hit the ball hard was his own brainchild.

When it comes to his actual child, though, that’s where you see the pride really come out. Not only does the former Rookie of the Year and MVP share a pretty strong emotional connection with Mike, he’s also a walking billboard for Bryant Baseball Academy. The same things Kris learned in the cage as a youngster are the same things he’s using now in Chicago and they’re the same things Mike teaches the next generation of sluggers.

The next section will address how Kris has continued to hunt for that repeatable swing and how he’s been able to improve upon numbers that were already enough to win him those prestigious honors.

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Evan Altman

Evan Altman is the EIC and co-founder of Cubs Insider and has proclaimed himself Central Indiana's foremost Cubs authority. He is a husband, father, homebrewer, and award-winning blogger with entirely too much pop culture knowledge. Evan's greatest accomplishments include scoring 400 points in Magic Johnson's Fast Break, naming all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan in under 3.5 seconds, and winning the Meese Literary Award at Hanover College.

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