Washington Nationals: Wilmer Difo the latest launch angle benficiary

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NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 26: Wilmer Difo #1 of the Washington Nationals follows through on a ninth inning RBI single against the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 26, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. Players are wearing special jerseys with their nicknames on them during Players' Weekend. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 26: Wilmer Difo #1 of the Washington Nationals follows through on a ninth inning RBI single against the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 26, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. Players are wearing special jerseys with their nicknames on them during Players' Weekend. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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Wilmer Difo hit his fourth homer since inheriting the second base job for the Washington Nationals. He’s flourishing thanks to a new launch angle.

When the Washington Nationals dealt Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs at the start of their fire sale, they knew they wanted an extended look at Wilmer Difo. So far, he’s been extremely impressive in full-time duty at the keystone.

In 14 games since taking over from Murphy, Difo is hitting a modest .255 but he does sport a notable .890 OPS. The reason for the high OPS? He’s discovered his power stroke, lacing 7 of his 13 hits in that span for extra bases.

There’s even reason to believe that he’s been unlucky in the last two weeks as well. He has a BABIP of .237 in that time, which is way below his career figure of .307, so there could be average and OPS gains still to come.

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Now, we know that Difo has generally fared better as a starter comapred to coming off of the bench throughout his career. He bats just .181 and owns a .457 OPS off the bench, compared to hitting .268 with a .706 OPS when he starts. But even those numbers are way below the pace of the last two weeks, despite the small sample size.

So where has the offensive improvement come from for Difo? Well, it appears that he’s taken a page out of the Ryan Zimmerman handbook and has increased his launch angle to get better results.

In his at-bats in 2018 before August 21st, when Murphy was dealt, Wilmer Difo had a launch angle of just 12.2 degrees, according to Baseball Savant. That ranked 315th in the major leagues and combined with his 81.9 mph average exit velocity was resulting a lot of outs in the infield.

But now since that date, he’s increased that launch angle to 17.6 degrees which ranks 125th in the majors in that time. In that time, his average exit velocity has also only slightly increased to 84.2 mph, so it’s clearly the launch angle having a positive effect.

It could be a case of working with hitting coach Kevin Long on improving this, as he is a big believer in launch angle. His work with Murphy that paid off big time for the Mets and subsequently the Nats is his most notable success for this.

Long also worked with Andrew Stevenson in the offseason, who we previously spoke to about the changes they made. For the record, Stevenson had six professional home runs before this season, but after his work with Long, he’s hit seven this year between the minors and the majors. So it looks as if he may have unlocked the same type of power with Wilmer Difo now that he’s a starter.

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Whether Wilmer Difo can keep up this power outburst for the Washington Nationals is debatable. But if the changes to his launch angle can increase his power output from where he was previously, then he could be a viable option at second base long-term.

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