May 1, 2017


Cards' hitters take to the air as defenses neutralize ground game (Derrick Goold, 5/01/17, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

This past winter, as he readied for his first true crack at an opening day roster, Cardinals rookie Jose Martinez and friend Martin Prado, a Miami infielder, tried to solve what part of their swings kept them from taking flight. Prado was one of the league leaders in hitting into double plays, and Martinez felt his pinch-hit groundballs stifled or ended rallies.

Along with another player and a coach, they started zipping through video of hitters, from shortstops and small hitters to strapping bashers, and they noticed a trend.

"They all had the same swing," Martinez says. "The question for us was, 'Why are we trying to hit groundballs when no one else is hitting like that?' We kind of had to bring around our way of thinking. In the big leagues right now, players having success -- they swing up."

Popularized by players like former MVP Josh Donaldson and last year's NL MVP runner-up Daniel Murphy, a trend is losing ground in the majors. Air force is back in fashion. Or, as Donaldson posted on Twitter, "Just say NO ... to ground balls." Of the 15 National League teams, a dozen, including the Cardinals, have had their flyball rate climb from 2015 to this season. This season, baseball's groundout to flyout ratio is the lowest it's been since 2010. The driving influences behind players looking for a lift are the believers like Donaldson and their success stories, plus new technology and tart new stats (launch angles! exit velocity!) are providing more intricate measures of hitting than ever and supporting old philosophies (Ted Williams!). Oh, and, shifts.

As defensive shifts have become the norm throughout the game, hitters are learning they cannot get through them for hits and can't go around them for extra-base damage.

They must go over them.

"If you hit a ball on the ground it's an out," Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter says.

"There are not going to be many times when I hit the ball on the ground and it gets caught that I'm still going to be safe," says Cardinals cleanup hitter Jedd Gyorko. "Most of the time when I hit the ball on the ground, it's going to be an out, and a lot of times with the guys that are hitting in front of me it's going to be two outs. I'd rather take my chances by hitting the ball in the air."

Posted by at May 1, 2017 6:05 PM