If you’ve watched a Major League baseball game on television over the last few weeks, or even watched a show about Major League baseball, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the phrase. Launch angle.

Launch angle is the newest way of explaining a swing with a slight uppercut. It’s nothing new, though. Hall of Famer Ted Williams spoke of the benefits of an uppercut swing decades ago. It’s simple physics, really. A pitched ball approaches the plate at a downward angle. A slight uppercut swing sends a well-struck ball back at a higher angle, with the goal a deep hit to the gap or a home run.

If you watch high school baseball in Maine this spring, however, do not expect to hear much, if any, talk of launch angle. In Maine high school baseball circles, small ball is still king.

“I’m still old school. Swing the bat level through the zone,” Valley baseball coach Scott Laweryson said.

Added longtime Richmond coach Ryan Gardner: “I don’t think we want to make things too complicated. We’re looking for contact. Get on base in any way.”

There are a few reasons Maine high school baseball coaches eschew launch angle as a hitting strategy, but it all comes back to one key reason: talent level. With so many small schools, putting together a roster is a challenge. Worrying about launch angle is graduate level baseball. A majority of players in the state are playing the game on a simpler level.

“I’ve got kids who’ve barely swung a bat before,” Laweryson, whose Cavaliers play in Class D with the state’s smallest schools, said. “I’ve been trying to get the kids to play small ball stuff.”

Pitching is typically ahead of hitting in Maine high school baseball, especially early in the season. Many players face live pitching for the first time once game begin. Each season, many teams don’t take a field until the games count.

“The first few weeks of the season, we see so few power gap hits,” longtime Erskine Academy coach Lars Janassen said. “We don’t score many runs early in the season, ever. We focus on contact hitting and going with the pitch.”

When pitching has the upper hand, coaches know they can’t slug their way to victory. The key to winning high school baseball games in Maine is simple. Put it in play, and make the defense work. Teams need baserunners. To that end, a grounder is more reliable than a fly ball. Errors are common for high school teams, even the best clubs will make one or two per game.

“When you put the ball on the ground, you’re getting on (base) a lot more than if you hit it in the air,” Nick Caiazzo, the owner and director of baseball operations at Portland’s Edge Academy baseball development facility, said.

A few seasons ago, a group of high school coaches compared their teams’ error data, Jonassen said. They found that 68 percent of errors made in games were throwing errors. That validated the coaching philosophy. Put the ball in play, and make the defense make a play. Once the runner is on base, advance with steals and bunts. Manufacturing runs proved more effective than hoping for a home run, Jonassen said. Last season, Jonassen coached the Eagles to the Class B North championship game. The Eagle swiped 32 bases on their run to the regional final.

“We scored our runs with strings of hits, walks, and errors,” Jonassen said. “Maine is conducive to small ball.”

With the pitch count rule that went into effect last season, Maine high school pitchers are more determined to throw strikes more than ever. That means hitters are more apt to get a pitch to put in play early in the count.

“With the pitch count, you want to make pitchers work, but you want to put the ball on the ground and make them make a play,” Gardner said. “We don’t the luxury of waiting for the perfect pitch.”

Caiazzo played collegiately at the University of Maine, and played professionally in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system. Simply putting the ball in play is the best approach to high school hitting, Caiazzo said. In a survey of Portland area coaches, he found that even the best defensive teams turned just a dozen double plays in a season. Ground balls lead to base runners, and base runners lead to runs. While Caiazzo works with some players who are advanced and hope to play college baseball, his advice to high school hitters is the same as area coaches. Worry less about driving the ball deep, and focus on hitting line drives to the gaps.

“Individually, we might change a kid’s swing to fit what they can do at the college level. If a guy is a bigger corner infield player and not very fast, we’ll fool around with launch angle with a guy like that,” Caiazzo said.

Another reason power isn’t as big factor in Maine high school baseball is the use of the BBCOR bats. In use for many years now, the BBCOR bats have a lower trampoline effect than metal bats used by earlier generations of hitters. Like wooden bats, BBCOR bats have a smaller sweet spot.

“You’ve got to hit that sweet spot. The ball will still fly, but you’ve got to connect,” Gardner said.

Jonassen said he sees more breaking pitches and offspeed stuff from high school pitchers than in the past. One Erskine opponent threw 72 pitches, 50 curveballs.

“The batter’s got to supply most of the power. I see an overuse of breaking pitches,” Jonassen said.

Home runs do happen in Maine high school baseball. They’re just not the most reliable way to score runs.

“I’ll take two walks, an error, and two singles over two home runs every time,” Jonassen said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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