After working over the offseason to join the launch angle revolution, Juan Lagares is off to a blazing start this year, hitting .379 with a .424 OBP in his first 33 plate appearances. But if you want to know why, you have to look past launch angle. In fact, you’re better off not looking at launch angle at all.
Despite the new swing we heard about this winter, Lagares’s launch angle hasn’t gone up so far. His average sits at 7.47 degrees so far this year, lower than his 12.3 degrees and 8.5 degrees of 2016 and 2017, respectively.
So where is his success coming from through 29 at-bats this season? No metric stands out as a clear improvement, but a few stats do indicate areas in which he may be improving—all of which are still a small sample size.
Perhaps most notable is that Lagares seems to have improved his plate discipline this year. He is only swinging at 29.3% of pitches outside the strike zone, down from 33.6% last season and better than any rate he’s held in a full major league season. He is swinging at 69.2% of pitches inside the strike zone, which is also a career-best mark. It’s very early, and his three walks don’t mean much. But together with these improved rates and only three strikeouts thus far, they indicate that Lagares may be getting better at distinguishing balls and strikes.
There are some notable improvements in his batted ball stats, as well. He isn’t hitting the ball particularly hard, but he’s not burdened by a high soft-hit percentage, either. At 18.5%, it’s the lowest soft-hit percentage he’s held since 2015. More than half of his batted balls have been hit with medium strength. That’s likely to drop, but hopefully in favor of hard hits as opposed to soft ones.
Given his lack of power, it’s probably best that Lagares doesn’t hit the ball too high in the air, and so far, he has avoided doing so, with less than 20% of his batted balls being fly balls. His career HR/FB rate is a measly 4.8%, so the less he can hit the ball high, the better.
Lagares’s offensive success will almost definitely regress to a certain extent. But if any of these signs prove to be accurate as the sample size grows, he could be in for an improved season at the plate.