New Twin Logan Morrison didn’t just have an injection of power last season, he had a full-on defibrillation into his bat.

Morrison was averaging 12 home runs over seven seasons in Major League Baseball before 2017. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Morrison clobbered 38 home runs.

Thanks to the preponderance of performance-enhancing drugs that invaded baseball over the past three decades, fans may become jaded when they see such a power spike in someone who was 29 years old last season. But Morrison, who signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal Monday, insists his 2017 was no accident. With the help of the Rays, Morrison changed his swing, specifically so he could hit more fly balls in an attempt to hit more home runs. It worked.

Morrison developed an uppercut swing in order to change the launch angle of balls coming off his bat. According to MLB.com, balls came off Morrison’s bat at an average of a 12.6-degree angle in 2016. In 2017, it was 17.4 degrees.

A launch angle of less than 10 degrees usually means the batter hit a ground ball, 10-25 degrees generally means a line drive and fly balls are 25-50 degrees.

Morrison told the advanced statistical website FanGraphs that his philosophy changed when he saw how other top players were approaching their at-bats.

“I’ve heard guys say if they fly out three or four times a night, that’s a good night,” Morrison said last April, before he hit most of his home runs. “When you’re struggling, what are you told to go to? You go back to basics and try to hit a ground ball up the middle. I get shifted [by the defense], so that would mean I’m out. So now, my ‘back to basics’ is to try to hit a fly ball up the middle. Valuing that side of it — launch angle and all that stuff — has helped me out a lot.”

Morrison tries to work pitch counts in his favor, with the goal of seeing and hammering more fastballs in the middle or high in the strike zone — favorable pitches for hitting fly balls.

This approach resulted in him striking out 149 times last season. But he slugged higher than he ever did (.516) while having the second-highest on-base percentage (.353) of his career. It makes the $6.5 million the Twins are paying him seem like a big bargain.

“A lot of it is just getting the best pitch you can to hit, right?” Morrison told FanGraphs. “Give me something in the middle of the plate, and if my swing is good enough that day, it’s going to do damage. I know that. Barrel the ball in the air, and I’ll do damage.”

It took more than brute strength for Morrison to do the kind of damage he did last season.

 

Chris Hine is the lead writer for North Score, the Star Tribune’s new sports analytics beat. Find his stories at startribune.com/northscore.