DENVER — When hitting prospects are called up by the Giants and they visit the home batting cage for the first time, they’re confronted by a strange sight: a yellow rope running alongside the side of the cage. The rope is meant to show the best launch angle for hitting home runs at AT&T Park based on data collected by the front office and dissected by the coaching staff.
The Giants are not blind to the fact that the game seems to have passed them by. It’s a home-run-happy sport this season, and the Giants have just 112. They’re 24 homers behind the next lowest team, the Pirates.
There’s only so much you can do with veterans. Buster Posey has made adjustments to tweak his fly ball percentage, and he has seen his slugging percentage jump accordingly. Brandon Crawford has made subtle changes lately and the results in the second half are dramatically different. For the most part, however, these Giants hitters are who they are.
But can the next generation be different? Can the Giants join the home run craze, even in the most restrictive ballpark in the majors?
Austin Slater will be a good test case, and Ryder Jones, Christian Arroyo and others are right behind him. When Slater went on the DL, hitting coach Hensley Meulens took a deep dive into the numbers and found a very low average launch angle that was 12 degrees below league average.
In an interview that ran on this week’s Giants Insider Podcast, Meulens talked about adjustments some of the younger hitters need to make.
“He’s way behind on launch angle compared to all major league hitters,” Meulens said of Slater. “We talked about that. He worked on it when he was coming back. I’m hoping that he catches on. He’s a bright guy.”
Slater, a Stanford product, said he’s already trying to make changes.
“It’s clear there’s room for improvement,” he said. “My (three) homers were all low line drives. If I get my launch angle up, you might see more consistency.”
For Arroyo, Meulens said any swing adjustments will come after a change of approach. Arroyo showed some power during a hot start but he slumped to a .192 average.
“He was swinging out of the zone a lot and they kept throwing it out of the zone," Meulens said. "Now, as he’s thinking about things as he’s (recovering from surgery), the adjustment he needs to make first is to get the ball back into the zone. And then he can work on other things mechanically.”
A hand injury has kept Arroyo from getting at-bats this month, but Jones has soaked many of those up. He has two homers, two triples and five doubles in 111 at-bats, with several long foul balls to right that he wishes he could straighten out. AT&T Park is death on lefties, but it plays fair right down the line, and Jones is a pull hitter.
“He’s got long arms to begin with and he’s a tall guy but he’s got a quick top hand, which jumps ahead of the bottom hand, and that’s why you see some of the balls hooking at the last minute and not staying fair,” Meulens said. “That’s the quality he has, that he can pull the ball. We’d like to see more guys come up and be able to do that because of our ballpark — that’s the shortest distance to hit home runs. Now he has to work on making sure that that top hand is not rolling over as he’s hitting the ball, or before. Keeping that top hand underneath all the way through and extending through the ball (will) keep those balls back-spun and straight.”