Zimmerman turning to analytics to improve

Nats' first baseman taking cue from Murphy to boost launch angle

February 23rd, 2017

WASHINGTON -- loves talking about hitting. He is constantly studying the craft, watching video and making adjustments. He joked that his teammates think he's crazy. He is a self-professed geek who reads articles on Fangraphs.com and learns what he can from analytics.

During the offseason, Murphy came across articles using Statcast™ data to explain 's rough 2016 season, where he hit a career-worst .218/.272/.370 with a 69 OPS+, despite having an Exit Velocity among the best in the Majors last season. A lot of his struggles can be explained by his low Launch Angle, as outlined previously by MLB.com's Mike Petriello. Murphy, whose swing adjustments led to his breakout '16, believes he can help.

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"If I can take the already elite skill of bat-to-ball and Exit Velocity off the barrel, but get it at the right angle, now we're really starting to do some serious damage," Murphy said. "So I'm excited to see how he works this year, because he hit the ball extremely hard last year. It's really hard to hit the ball on the barrel in this league. He's already doing the hard part."

Zimmerman had an average Exit Velocity of 93.7 mph last season, 12th best among batters who had at least 100 tracked balls in play last year. It was often cited as the reason the Nats believed Zimmerman would eventually break out last year, and shows that at 32 years old, his bat speed has not deteriorated. However, on balls in play that were hit at least 95 mph, Zimmerman had an average Launch Angle of just 7.9 degrees -- good for 150th in the Majors -- and ranked 175th in batting average out of 187 qualified players. Even though he hit the ball hard, too often his contact resulted in hard groundouts.

On top of that, he hit way too many weak grounders, too. Of the 401 players who were tracked by Statcast™ as having at least 50 batted balls of 95 mph or less, Zimmerman ranked 399th with a .129 average.

When Murphy remade his swing midway through the 2015 season while still with the Mets, he began emphasizing pulling the ball and hitting the ball in the air. It resulted in one of the most memorable postseason performances in recent memory. Murphy carried over the adjustments to the '16 season, leading to a second-place finish in the voting for the Most Valuable Player Award.

"It's cool because with all the data we have now, we've kinda been given some of the answers to the test," Murphy said. "If you get it at this certain launch angle at this exit velocity, it's damage. So for me personally, I try to practice that. Off the tee, front toss, pretty much any time I hit the ball, I want to get it in the air."

Zimmerman said he found the numbers helpful. He is not someone who takes analytics as gospel, but also does not totally dismiss them. He found the information useful and although he does not plan to completely change his swing, it can help him adjust his approach.

"This is a game of adjustments," Zimmerman said. "The ones who can make them the easiest are the ones who are usually around the longest and succeed the most."