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Fan Projection Targets: Ground-Ball Pitchers

The 2011 Fan Projections are proceeding apace, but there are plenty of players who need more ballots cast. Today I’d like to highlight some of the starting pitchers who had the highest ground-ball rates of 2011 for your predictive attention.

[Note: Percentages in parentheses are 2010 ground-ball rates.]

Old ground-ball warhorses like Tim Hudson (64.1%) and Derek Lowe (58.8%) already have plenty of projections (but definitely add your own if you haven’t already!), and King Felix (53.9%, ever heard of him?) is over 80 ballots as I type this. I won’t cover every 2011 ground-ball machine here, but here are a few intriguing ones for 2011.

Cleveland’s Justin Masterson (60.3% 2010 ground-ball rate) definitely kept it out of the air in 2010 and managed a decent strikeout rate. He also walking a few more batters than than one like to see. While his ERA looked poor at 4.70, both his FIP (3.93) and xFIP (3.98) indicate that he might have been the recipient of some bad fortune. Will his ERA catch up with his peripherals in 2011? Will he be able to overcome, work around, or improve his platoon split?

The A’s Trevor Cahill (56.0%) was sort of an anti-Masterson in 2010: his ERA (2.97) greatly outstripped his 4.19 FIP and 4.11 xFIP. I didn’t think Cahill would be any good, but he showed just how “valuable” my opinions often are. Just how good is he? Will he regress significantly in 2011, or is he one of those pitchers with a knack for outperforming his defense- (and “luck-“) independent stats?

Jake Westbrook (56.4%) has been around a lot longer than either Masterson or Cahill, but is interesting because he hardly pitched in 2008 and 2009 due to injury. Westbrook bounced back in 2010, and was traded to the Cardinals (with whom he re-signed). Like Cahill, he’s got the classic ground-ball pitcher’s skill of keeping the ball play: not many strikeouts, but not many homers or walks, either.

Continuing our theme of current and former Cleveland pitchers, Fausto Carmona (55.6%) needs more fan ballots. After a tremendous 2007 season, Carmona had fairly disastrous 2008 and 2009 seasons during which he just couldn’t seem to stop walk hitters, which is never a good thing, but especially not for a guy with poor strikeout rates. While his 2010 strikeout rate was still low, he greatly improved his walk rate, and had his best season since 2007. Carmona might be trade bait for a rebuilding Cleveland team, but will he keep his value up by maintaining his 2010 renaissance into 2011?

Other 2010 ground-ball pitchers who have a decent amount of projections (but can always use more) are Blue Jays southpaw Ricky Romero (55.2%), Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (55.3%), and Twins Cy Young candidate Francisco Liriano (53.6%). However, there are two more pitchers who got plenty of ground balls last season that I really want to push for more projections on because of their youth. The first is the Cardinals’ 2010 rookie Jaime Garcia (55.9%), who had an impressive rookie debut in just about every category. The question is whether or not he can keep it up, and with the small amount of major league data we have for him, the opinions of informed observers are very valuable. The second is the Tigers’ Rick Porcello (50.3%), who just turned 22 last month. Porcello’s overall peripheral line in his sophomore season wasn’t all that much worse than his rookie year, but his dreadful start saw him get sent down to the minors. What can we expect from him in 2011?

What do you think? Click here to enter your 2011 projections for the pitchers mentioned in this post.