Is Bill James Right about Ground Ball Pitchers and Injuries?

When Bill James speaks, many in the baseball committee listen intently–as they should. James, while certainly not always correct in his theories (and, really, who is), can always be counted on to provide the larger community with excellent food for thought.

In this most recent case, James claimed that ground ball pitchers have essentially been overrated. Per Rob Neyer:

Any analyst can give you a long list of reasons why ground ball pitchers should be the best pitchers. The problem is, they’re not.

Make a list of the best pitchers in baseball. Make a list of the best pitchers in baseball, in any era, and what you will find is that 80% of them are not ground ball pitchers. They’re fly ball pitchers.

What I have never understood about ground ball pitchers, and do not understand now, is why they always get hurt. Show me an extreme ground ball pitcher, a guy with a terrific ground ball rate, and I’ll show you a guy who is going to be good for two years and then get hurt. I’m not saying this about Chien-Ming Wang and Brandon Webb; I was saying this before Chien-Ming Wang and Brandon Webb. They’re just the latest examples. Mark Fidrych. Randy Jones. Ross Grimsley. Mike Caldwell. Rick Langford. Lary Sorensen. Clyde Wright. Fritz Peterson. Dave Roberts. They’re great for two years, and then they blow up. Always.

Now, there is a lot that can be teased out here, but I want to focus on the last part of James’ claim–that ground ball pitchers are more injury prone. Are ground ball pitchers (specifically, extreme ground ball pitchers) more injury prone?

We can look at this a few ways. First, let’s take the top 25% of ground ball hurlers since 2002 and compare their rate of injury against the other 75%. The 75th percentile for GB% over this time period is 48% for all pitchers with a minimum of 40 IPs (with no discernible differences by starter/reliever, but I did restrict to pitchers in the same role the year prior). Thanks to Jeff Zimmerman, we have injury data going back to 2002. Looking at starting pitchers with ground ball rates over 48% in a given season from 2002-2012, we see that actually their odds of injury appear lower than those with less than a 48% ground ball rate (14% vs. 20%):

Type of Pitcher Odds of Arm Injury
>= 48% GB% .17
< 48% GB% .25

What about even more extreme ground ball pitchers? Say, those in the top 10%? Turns out the 90th percentile for GB% over this time period was 52%. Even when restricting the data based on this number we don’t see any strong evidence for ground ball pitchers being more injury prone. In fact, the results are almost identical (15% vs. 19%):

Type of Pitcher Odds of Arm Injury
>= 52% GB% .17
< 52% GB% .24

In the interests of being comprehensive, maybe the issue isn’t just on of throwing ground balls but really of pitch type. Sinker ball pitchers tend to induce more ground balls, so let’s see if anything changes when we replicate the analysis based on PITCHf/x data.

Here, I looked at all pitchers with the same role two years in a row with at least 40 IP. The first set of numbers includes all pitchers, regardless of role, using a sinker percentage of 44% as the cut-off for extreme sinker ball pitchers:

Sinker % Odds of Arm Injury
>= 44% 0.16
< 44% 0.18

Again, no confirmation of James’ hypothesis. What if we just restrict to starting pitchers?

Sinker % Odds of Arm Injury
>= 44% 0.12
< 44% 0.22

Still nothing. And, again, it appears the effect works in the opposite direction. Starters that throw a higher percentage of sinkers have less risk of arm injury than those that don’t.

UPDATE: Some have asked whether it isn’t about the frequency of injury, but the severity. Very fair question. I looked at the frequency of large numbers of days missed due to arm injuries and compared them to ground ball pitchers in the 75th percentile, 90th percentile, and those below the 75th percentile. Whether we look at the percent of arm injuries that resulted in over 100 days lost or over 150 days lost there really doesn’t seem to be a “penalty” for extreme ground ball pitchers:

>= 75th P-tile >= 90th P-tile < 75th P-tile
Arm Injuries: % >99 days missed 28% 29% 31%
Arm Injuries: % >150 days missed 17% 14% 17%

Furthermore, if we just compare the rate of extreme arm injuries between pitchers with ground ball rates above and below the 75th percentile we see that extreme ground ball pitchers only account for 14% of such injuries, whereas those below the 75th percentile account for 86%.

Bottom line, this initial look does not suggest that extreme ground ball pitchers are more prone to catastrophic arm injuries compared to their counterparts.

Now, this wasn’t a comprehensive study–it was a quick look at the data on a Saturday afternoon. Others should certainly jump in and both replicate this quick look and delve into other aspects of James’ hypothesis. But, for now, the initial evidence doesn’t appear to support the injury risk claim.




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Bill works as a consultant by day. In his free time, he writes for The Hardball Times, speaks about baseball research and analytics, consults for a Major League Baseball team and appears on MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential. Along with Jeff Zimmerman, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Tumblr or Twitter @BillPetti.


131 Responses to “Is Bill James Right about Ground Ball Pitchers and Injuries?”

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  1. Roll Fizzlbeef says:

    Probably no way to properly test for this, but perhaps it’s expecting a ground ball that gets these particular pitchers injured?

    To elaborate: maybe the anticipation of a ground ball forces these guys to find ways to jump into a fielding ready position as quick as possible, which may put extra strain on things like the hips, legs, and maybe the arms if they have to whip back to get set.

    Just a spitball.

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    • Nick says:

      This comment borders on ridiculous….

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      • Maverick Squad says:

        It was just an idea,not an assertion. If you’re expecting more balls to be hit at you you mightcut your follow-through short a bit. Actually it would be more interesting to look at someone like Brandon McCarthy this spring and see if his follow-through is shortened.
        Also that comment is far less ridiculous than the godfather of the sabremetric movement making a statement as fact based on no statistics.

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        • Brad says:

          I would think a pitcher would be less worried about cutting his follow-through short if he is expecting a ground ball to be hit instead of a line drive

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        • channelclemente says:

          Could it be a consequence of the choice of pitch to obtain a GB? For instance 2 seam, vs cutter, vs. slider, etc. The propensity of a pitcher to select one of those pitches has changed over the years, witness Duncan and Righetti’s approaches at St. Louis and San Francisco.

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      • WebTechAds says:

        I think the comment above could have validity (movement of pitcher after thowing/positioning) .

        A similar theory that was posted last year was the same reflex time and damage that occurs with second basemen, and how it attributes to dwindling athleticism after age 31. Forgot the article name, but it analyzed the Ian Kinsler contract.

        A look at GB/FB ratio you may want to take a look at the cut-fastball and the ratio too. Some pitchers are jammers with the cut (Beckett, Mariano) while others might induce a pull-groundball with it (Lester, Ricky Romero) and maybe the way these pitches induce a grounball/flyball you can find something in how it affects injuries.

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      • melotticus says:

        This comment makes me ashamed of sharing the same name.

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    • Baltar says:

      Well, since the article just proved that “these particular pitchers” do not in fact get injured more than others, then any theory of why they do get injured more is, in fact, ridiculous, just as the much-flamed Nick said.

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      • Doug says:

        I think you missed the point of the last paragraph Baltar. Bill’s work was quick and dirty. It didn’t find any evidence for James’s assertion, but he definitely sees room for more analysis and discussion. Discussing alternative thoughts is not “ridiculous.”

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  2. Caveman Jones says:

    My initial instinct is that this is exactly what you would find. When I think of a groundball pitcher I think of a guy like Derek Lowe who, if not a model of durability, has been able to log a lot of quality innings year after year by pounding the zone with sinkers and mostly limiting walks. The kind of guys I think of who get hurt a lot are the flamethrowers trying to strike everyone out with higher walk rates who end up throwing a lot of pitches in fewer innings. It just seems like these guys would put more strain on their arms just by the nature of their approach. Would love to see this topic explored further.

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  3. Brad Johnson says:

    I’d like to see FIP used in the next step to distinguish between good GB pitchers and the Aaron Cooks of the world. In essence, I wonder if mediocre GB pitchers are extremely durable and skewing the results.

    I have no theory as to why a good GB pitcher should be less durable than a mediocre GB pitcher. But that is an element of James’ comment that went untested.

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  4. Rob says:

    I’ve heard that sinkers can be tough on the arm, but I don’t see why people find this to be true. You use the action as a circle changeup with the extra pronation before ball release yet people don’t think circle changeup pitchers are injury prone.

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  5. Tom B says:

    My theory is that a sinker is just really hard to throw… and throw well enough to induce ground balls.

    Pitchers that rely on it seem to have a harder time coming back from injuries that keep them out more than a few months.

    Like the knuckle ball, maybe it’s just a difficult pitch to master?

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    • Baltar says:

      Another theory trying to explain a hypothesis that has just been proved false. Do any of you actually read the article before commenting?

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      • TKDC says:

        When the author of the post doesn’t believe he’s proven something false, you probably shouldn’t make that leap.

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      • Tom B says:

        Baltar, what I am talking about its not discussed in this article at all. Did you read it? You clearly didn’t understand it.

        I would need to see breakdowns of recovery time for different pitchers to answer this question. I believe that studying “injury rate” is looking at the wrong thing.

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        • Baltar says:

          There was a table by length of injuries.

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        • Tom B says:

          No, the author is still doing it differently. Limiting this study to arm injuries defeats the purpose of my premise. Look at a guy like Wang. Broke his foot, which caused him to miss months. Then he hurt his shoulder while rehabbing almost 10 months later. He’s been out of the majors for 2 years trying to “find” his sinker again, where I believe a pitcher who relied on a less difficult pitch would have returned to the majors sooner. This is what I’m referring to.

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  6. Schu says:

    Does injury data account for lost seasons?

    Or what about career longevity as a variable?

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  7. pcm says:

    I think the more important number is not how many arm injuries ground ball pitchers have vs. fly ball pitchers, but rather how bad those arm injuries are. The kind of arm (or shoulder, I guess) injury that Webb had is a lot worse than your average arm injury. I wonder if there’s a way to measure if ground ball pitchers have more severe arm injuries, even if they may have fewer arm injuries overall.

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    • Pat G says:

      this was my initial instinct as well… is there a certain pitch type that leads to extreme groundball rates, and is that extreme groundball rate (possibly paired with a lower boundary strikeout rate as well to push the pitcher into elite territory rather than someone who is good dependent on defense and luck) a cause for sustained DL stints, or injuries that fundamentally alter the way they throw or the subsequent value they produce

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      • Darien says:

        Also worth noting is that both Wang and Webb were exploded by shoulder injuries in particular; I don’t know how the specific injuries break down by pitcher type, but I suppose it’s possible that something about throwing a sinker puts significantly greater stress on the shoulder than you’d get from the typical fireball, thereby leading sinkerballers to go down with fewer total injuries, but a greater number of shoulder injuries, whereas the power guys tend to get more elbow problems.

        I have no evidence that this is the case, but it’s a possible factor. It is rather well-established that shoulder injuries are far worse for one’s future pitching career than are most other injuries, and there are certainly some high-profile sinkerballers who got eaten by them, so perhaps it’s worth exploring.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Adding in Brad Johnson’s remarks in the above comment, one would want to look at a) how good a pitcher a ‘ground ball pitcher’ was, also b) how serious his injury was, and c) what kind of injury he had.

      James really made three (or two and a half) assertions in the quote given, all of them testable, those being 1) >80% of ‘good pitchers’ are fly ball pitchers, 2) all ground ball pitchers get hurt, with the implied corollary that 3) all good ground ball pitchers get hurt pretty quickly and are never good again. The first of James’ assertions strikes me as the most interesting. It seems true on the face of it thinking of historical examples, though the truth could be established. However, that may be a function of there simply being more fly ball pitchers than ground ball pitchers if that is in fact the case.

      Assertions 2) and 3) regarding injury are more the subject of the post here. The data thus far seems to disprove assertion 2 over the last decade anyway in that pitchers with high ground ball rates _as a group_ don’t seem especially injury prone. OTOH thinking offhand regarding really good pitchers who were ground ball pitchers, it’s hard to think of one who didn’t get hurt. One could add Kevin Brown and Tim Hudson to that list, and low and behold Doug Fister managed to get hurt also. James’ two-years-and-out statement is clearly too short, but still a bunch of guys do go down. Hmm.

      One problem with a category of ‘ground ball pitchers’ is that it’s hard to conclude that they get their results the same way, and thus hard to know how to compare their outcomes. For example, I actually got to watch both Fidrych (what a great guy) and Langford in person in multiple starts. Neither was particularly noted as throwing a sinker. What both of them had was outstanding control, and with that they located what seemed more of a four-seamer consistently in the bottom of the strike zone. Tim Hudson is exactly the same way. The ball doesn’t seem especially to dive in flight because of how it’s gripped as the fact that these guys hit what they aim at and they’re aiming at four inches on the bottom of the zone. The batters had to swing because it was nearly always a strike, but they couldn’t do anything but beat the ball into the ground. Then there are guys like Webb and Brown who both threw a true sinker. It’s tempting to think of most of these extreme GB guys as hard throwers—except some of them weren’t. Fidrych and Randy Jones didn’t have more than major league average velocity, and at least until mid-2011 that was true of Doug Fister as well. Freddy Garcia and Felix Hernandez both had blazing hard 95 mph sinkers (though both threw four-seamers as hard or harder) which were crazy GB-inducing pitches. Garcia wore down physically in just a few years, like Kevin Brown only faster, while Felix the Freak has been very durable . . . although his velocity has come down. Hmmm.

      The point is it will be hard to analyze ‘GB pitchers’ as a category since they seem to have so few true similarities across the entire cohort beyond the fact that balls put into play by opposing batters tended to big the infield dirt. Still, the argument is interesting.

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      • Balthazar says:

        More anecdotals, mostly pulled from the thread:

        A. J. Burnett, power sinker, bad control, much time lost to injuries, though came back
        Derek Lowe, true sinker all the time, has lost his command at times, very durable
        Mike Hampton, true sinker, perfect command of it, arm blew up
        Greg Maddux, had a sinker and much else, perfect control, extremely durable
        Roy Halladay, throws a cutter and true forkball with good control, used to throw hard doesn’t now, lost some time but came back better than ever

        It’s very hard to make _any_ generalization about that cadre of high GB% guys, and so any perceived similarity is as likely to be illusory as substantive. Which may be the real finding . . . .

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    • Baltar says:

      Jeesh! The article also showed that groundballers’ injuries aren’t more serious. Am I behind the looking glass today?

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  8. Jeff Zimmerman says:

    I have looked in the past and found pitchers who threw 120 were likely to end up on the DL 41% of the time.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/starting-pitcher-dl-projections-part-1/

    I looked at pitchers with a GB% over 55% and 60% in a single season and how often they went on the DL the next season.

    55% GB%
    Total samples = 88
    Number on DL the next season = 35
    DL% = 43.2%

    60% GB%
    Total samples = 27
    Number on DL the next season = 9
    DL% = 33.3%

    Not a huge difference.

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  9. Anon21 says:

    I think this is a bit of a problem with James’ style of analysis–or maybe the subset that only comprises his casual, nonstatistical analysis. He knows an enormous amount about baseball history and clearly has an excellent memory. Thus, if he has a hunch that something about baseball is true, he will immediately be able to summon tons of examples that illustrate his view (as above). But when it comes to something like this, rattling off a list of ground ball pitchers who gets hurt really tells you next to nothing without establishing the baseline, as Petti does here. I see James do this all the time in his “Hey Bill” section–a reader will posit something, and James will either agree and rattle off a dozen examples, or disagree and rattle off a dozen examples. It comes off as pretty convincing, but it’s not at all rigorous.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      Someone with a subscription to James’ site should probably speak up here. Rob Neyer didn’t quote anything from the rest of the article, but readinga couple of comments by people on other sites who read all of it, James actually somewhat recanted his opinion about groundballers. Just reading Neyer’s excerpt isn’t going to give you the full picture of the article.

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      • Breadbaker says:

        He’s not well-served by the immediacy of the internet. When he published once a year and he had an idea like this, he’d go out and do a study (or hire someone, like very young Rob Neyer) to do a study, and then report back, whether the idea panned out or it didn’t. So to take this example, if this were 1985, we’d get an article or an entry under the name of some groundball pitcher, saying something like this: I had this idea that groundball pitchers got injured more than other pitchers. Look at Webb, look at Wang. So I asked X to look it up, and it turns out I was completely wrong, there is no correlation. Another idea for the scrap heap.

        Instead, this article, but not because James has changed, just his publishing schedule. Like everyone else’s.

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    • wahooo says:

      It must be great to be Bill James. Make an off-handed comment and people rush to do the research for him. He was probably thinking–”I wonder if groundball pitchers are more injury prone–I’ll find out”

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  10. Trader says:

    reading the James quote itself, I didnt think in terms of getting hurt more often, but instead having an injury which limited their success outside of a roughly 2 year peak.

    I think the annalist should be done for Peak Length, post-peak drop % and see how many of such players actually sustained an injury which caused said post-peak period

    I would also like to point out that while reading this, I basically (incorrectly, it turns out) expected he might be specifically talking about Jake Westbrook – he is my minds epitome of Extreme Grounder success for couple years, injury drastically shortening peak years, diminished or inconsistent success after.

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  11. Ruki Motomiya says:

    This article has me confused, seeing as the stats you put up seem to suggest GB pitchers DO get hurt more often?

    Am I reading the stats wrong?

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  12. Ben says:

    I wonder if there’s some sort of selection bias where groundball pitchers burn out and don’t reach the majors at proportionally greater rates? Doesn’t really pass the smell test, but it’s always possible I suppose.

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  13. Richie says:

    You’re choosing the part of James’ claim that most interests you, while ignoring the point he’s actually making. Really successful GB pitchers don’t last, compared to really successful FB pitchers. Or so he says.

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    • mr33 says:

      This one could test easily, I’d think. Sort for all pitchers with something like >15WAR over a 3 year period, then for pitchers with more than one such period, take only the earliest. Then, see what happened to those pitchers for a period of x years after that successful initial period.

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      • Tim says:

        Or alternately just count the number of total periods you end up with and divide by the proportion of groundballers.

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  14. Greg Tellis says:

    Many right-handed pitchers who keep the ball down place more pressure on the left side of the ball(or move the pressure left)l while turning their wrist counter-clockwise…that’s the way I threw at Cal, keeping the ball low…the baseball often dives into the ground of the bat…that twisting motion could have cumulative effect on the elbow and shoulder over time and a lot of innings…I think pitchers who vary their release, throwing sliders, curves and slurves(placing their fingers on the right side of the ball or moving the pressure right to on top), would have a longevity advantage over someone who turned the ball(counter-clockwise) over on almost every pitch.

    Greg Tellis

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    • Vin says:

      With respect to elbow, though, pronation (thumb down) is good. Your body knows this. Put your hand in the thumb-down position and forcibly extend – easy, painless. You can do it all day long. Now put your palm up. I bet you can’t make yourself forcibly extend – and if you do, it’s gonna hurt like hell.

      I can’t speak for the shoulder aspect of it; but strictly with respect to the elbow – sinkers and changes are less damaging than sliders and curves.

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      • ElToroStrikesAgain says:

        i was thinking this, with regards to wrist pronation. Not only concerning sinker/2-seam throwers, but also those who throw a “rising” fastball (that seems to run up and away from a left handed batter from a RHP) i.e. Strasburg, John Maine before he blew out his arm, etc..

        Maybe the strain on the elbow is less, assuming what Vin says is true, I’m no expert, admittedly. However, perhaps going from throwing risers and sinkers to throwing a slider and slurve can have an effect on the arm. Just thinking out loud here.

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  15. MikeS says:

    Any analyst can give you a long list of reasons why ground ball pitchers should be the best pitchers. The problem is, they’re not.

    Make a list of the best pitchers in baseball. Make a list of the best pitchers in baseball, in any era, and what you will find is that 80% of them are not ground ball pitchers. They’re fly ball pitchers.

    This is the part I found interesting. I believe it has been shown that the single best thing a pitcher can have is velocity. Pitchers who throw harder tend to be fly ball pitchers. So maybe that’s why 80% of the best pitchers in any era are fly ball pitchers. The causation for quality isn’t really with batted ball type, it is with velocity and THAT correlates with batted ball type. Perhaps if you control for velocity, a pitcher with a higher GB rate will be superior to a pitcher who allows more fly balls no matter how hard they throw?

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    • DCN says:

      Let’s try this for the era of ground ball data, 2002-2012.

      League average was around 44% for ground balls (not sure how to get the exact numbers, eyeballing a list of league averages for those years)

      Here are the top 20 pitchers by WAR – if they’re above 48%, I’ll label them G (strong groundball), between 44-48% g (weak groundball), between 40-44% f (weak flyball), below 40%, F (strong flyball). Each additional 4 gets a plus (so >52 = G+, 56 = G++, etc.)

      Halladay – G+
      Sabathia – g
      Santana – F
      Oswalt – g
      Buehrle – g
      Lee – F
      Vazquez – F
      Beckett – [neutral]
      Verlander – f
      Hudson – G++
      Haren – f
      Hernandez – G+
      Lowe – G+++
      Pettitte – G
      Lackey – f
      Greinke – f
      Peavy – f
      Johnson – f
      Millwood – f
      Burnett – G

      In no way do we have “80% flyball pitchers”. We’re 10/9/1 on the binary groupings, with the more extreme cases being groundballers. And the top 5 tilts more toward groundballers than the top 10, which is more groundballer-heavy than the top 20.

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      • Travis says:

        This is a great comment. Perhaps we’re just in a mini-era where the elite pitchers aren’t as GB heavy? Some of the elite guys now are also younger (Kershaw, Strasburg), so are excluded from this list.

        Could just be a temporal bias at play here.

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      • Bip says:

        Well of course the average of that group is about an average fly ball rate. You’re labeling a pitcher as a ground ball pitcher if he produces ground balls at a rate higher than average. By definition “ground ball pitcher,” you’d expect most groupings based on something that doesn’t have a high correlation with GB% to have about an even number of GB vs. FB guys. Maybe James meant something different by “fly ball pitcher.”

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        • DCN says:

          I think it’s likely that he did. But the poster I was responding to interpreted it to mean that flyball pitchers outperform groundball pitchers, and I was responding to that idea.

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      • Baltar says:

        Excellent cursory study. Another black mark on James’s claims.

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      • Ben Hall says:

        I’m guessing that James would not think of these as a good sample of the best pitchers in baseball. There are a couple of guys in here who have been consistently good but not dominant: Lowe and Buehrle definitely fit that category. I’m not sure that would change things much, but I’m guessing James would do something like multiple 6+ win seasons, or something. I think he means dominant pitchers.

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      • TiggerBounce says:

        “Let’s try this for the era of ground ball data, 2002-2012.”

        This obviously makes sense because 2002 is the first year we have GB% data available on fangraphs. Using both SP and relievers (qualifiers), the total data set is 496 pitchers. If we set the threshold as a 50% GB rate and over is a groundballer, we have a total of 76 groundball pitchers in the mix.

        Guess what guys, that’s just over 15%. So IF we had even 20% groundballers in the ‘elite’ group groundballers would be over-represented. And they ARE. In fact, it’s just about dead-on 20%

        It does make a slight difference using different rankings (ERA or tERA or xFIP, etc) but they all follow the same basic pattern. A higher percentage groundballers in the top 25 or top 50 than are in the total field. And a lower percentage at the bottom of the rankings.

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        • Balthazar says:

          So TiggerBounce, that is a valuable observation regarding James’ first contention, i.e. ‘who is great, GB or FB?’ What was missing both from James’ off the cuff and the post itself was the ratio of GB to FB pitchers. You are the first to set a criteria and sort the sample, so now the picture comes into focus. Grounballers are outnumbered almost 6:1 but are over-represented amongst the best pitchers in the game. So even if the large majority of great pitchers are FB pitchers, e.g. >80%, GBers are likely to be better than average. That doesn’t speak to injury distributions, the other two of James’ points, but puts the entire discussion on firmer ground.

          I suspect that the skew in the ratio of GB to FB pitchers has a lot to do with the difficulty of consistently throwing a quality sinker. It has never _seemed_ to me that it was harder than a four-seamer to throw following usage and discussion, yet one would suppose that more guys would throw one if they could, given the ball stays in the yard. As an hypothesis, I’d guess the difficulty in throwing it is picking up the strike zone reliably rather than maintaining velocity or something. Guys have the ball moving around, don’t get the strike call, and lose confidence in the pitch rather than work to master it. Just a guess . . . .

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  16. DCN says:

    Can we respond anecdotally with a list of long-lasting ground ball pitchers?

    In the years since we got groundball data, we’ve got Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, and Roy Halladay all throwing over 2600 innings with better than 54% grounders (Lowe is over 62%, Hudson’s over 58%) and they’ve all put up considerable WAR (with Hudson being probably underrated because he so consistently beats FIP).

    Jake Westbrook isn’t on so high a level, but he’s 1600 innings deep still putting up middle-of-the-rotation numbers with 54%.

    Felix Hernandez is going as strong as anyone, already 1600+ innings deep at the age of 26 and putting up 6 WAR on the regular. (54.4% for his career).

    Andy Pettitte is a less extreme 48.8%, but that’s still around 80th percentile or so, and he’s hung around forever. Already over 3100 innings in his career.

    AJ Burnett is 2100 innings in, and had a resurgence last year. 49.8%.

    Of course, this is just to illustrate how thin anecdotal evidence like that is. But if he had said “I was saying this before Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson,” it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense.

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    • Trader says:

      With the exception of Lowe (who was late to the starting game) and Felix (who isnt there yet), you just gave a list of pitchers who had injuries at or before the age of 30. (…and Hernandez has seen a drastic loss of velocity recently, which could indicate an upcoming injury)

      Its also interesting to note that most of them (Halladay, Westbrook, Pettite & Burnett) came back from said injuries throwing fewer, to drastically fewer, Grounders

      Overall the group has varying decrees of injury, consistency and durability issues, and for the most part could probably be used to strengthen the point that Ground ball pitchers have a tendency to have short peaks before injuries derail (or at least threaten) their careers.

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      • DCN says:

        Is that true?

        Pettitte didn’t miss a lot of time until he was 32, and his grounder dropoff occurred in 2009 (well after the surgery, and at an old age – plus his 2012 was his highest GB% year ever.

        Halladay threw a huge percentage of grounders in 2005 (60.9%, a career high) and 2006 (57.3%), his first two years back from injury, and is still well above league average in grounders.

        Westbrook did drop off more significantly, but is still a major outlier with GB%.

        Burnett had a brief drop-off in 2009 and 2010 (age 32 and 33, well after the major injury) but also posted 2 of his top 3 GB% seasons after 2005.

        But the larger point is, I don’t think James was implying they’ll have occasional arm trouble and go on to have 2500+ inning careers. That seems fairly common for pitchers, and is better described as someone who “misses a season or two” than just “good for two years.” If you have that kind of service record, you’re beating the average for pitchers.

        It’s pretty rare for anyone to avoid injury over a long pitching career. Greg Maddux was the most durable guy in recent history. 51.5% ground balls during the post-2002 portion of his career.

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        • TKDC says:

          Just guessing that this would be a point or two higher if all his years could be counted.

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        • Trader says:

          Yes, it is true…

          Pettitte – the 2002 Elbow injury is the one he came back quickly from with the help of PEDs, but he came back throwing a lower percentage of Grounders (unfortunately, we just don’t have the GB% data from pre-2002 to show it). He did see another drastic drop in 2009 when he reinvented himself though, that is correct.

          Halladay – went from 58-60% GB% to 53% & below starting in 2007 – one year removed from his 04-05 arm fatigue plagued seasons.

          Burnett – injuries in 03-04 and again in 06-07 (6 trips to DL, all but one with Elbow injuries). Following those stints, he dropped from a 4 year span of 50-58% GB rate to 48% starting in 2008 (one year removed from the injury plagued season), and the following year saw it drop to low 40s.

          Westbrook – he has been a shell of his workhorse worm-burning self after his 2008 Shoulder injury

          and this is what James actually said:
          “Show me an extreme ground ball pitcher, a guy with a terrific ground ball rate, and I’ll show you a guy who is going to be good for two years and then get hurt.”

          …sure as hell looks like he is saying “short peak, injuries threaten career” to me…

          so while that wont be the case of every single pitcher to walk the planet, of course – it is the case here, even with a cherry-picked list of some of the better ground ball pitchers of our day still suffering the same career path James outlined. Sure, these ‘best of’ guys were able to have fairly lengthy careers after making adjustments for said issue; but they still had said issue just the same.

          The list you initially provided merely backs up the claim by James.

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        • Trader says:

          sorry, the 2008 Westbrook injury was to his Elbow, not Shoulder – he ended up receiving TJ because of it.

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        • DCN says:

          Trader – this is an evidence interpretation thing where you’re going to get confirmation either way.

          What I take issue with, here, is that I don’t think “threaten” is particularly meaningful in cases where the pitchers put up significant production post-injury. That’s not a bad career path. It’s a career path that could have been a bad one, but wasn’t.

          And I don’t think “short peak” is the right description for most of these guys.

          But my point wasn’t to disprove James – it’s to illustrate the weakness and confirmation bias inherent in anecdotal evidence. (And I think the availability heuristic comes into play as well). Another approach to that point would be duplicating the claim with flyball pitchers.

          I don’t have the strength of historical examples, but recently – Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Scott Kazmir. Flyball pitchers with early blowouts in recent memory.

          Then taking the flyballers from the list of successful guys:

          Santana missed serious time two years in a row before having his elbow scoped out and hasn’t been the same since.
          Lee missed a lot of time with a groin injury and had a completely ineffective year at age 28.
          Vazquez has been clean, but he’s the exception, like Derek Lowe
          Josh Johnson had very early TJ
          Dan Haren had a back injury causing a big drop in production
          Verlander is a freak of nature, and can’t really be counted among normal players
          Lackey had triceps pain in 2008, elbow pain in 2009, and TJ in 2011.
          Greinke missed almost the whole 2006 season with personal issues then hurt his ribs in 2011
          Peavy started having elbow problems at age 28 and hasn’t been fully healthy since
          Millwood – shoulder surgery in 2001, recurring injuries in 2004, 2005, 2011.

          And I haven’t been digging hard at all to look at injuries. I’m not saying flyballers get hurt more often, or anything like that. Just that with the ability to pick pitchers anecdotally, it’s easy to stage an argument for anything, and with the willingness to look only for confirmatory evidence, it’s easy to see what you want.

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        • Trader says:

          Its fairly simple as far as I see it – your initial sentence:

          “Can we respond anecdotally with a list of long-lasting ground ball pitchers?”

          With the exception of one pitcher (late to the game, Lowe) each name you provided suffered similar arm injuries before the age of 30 which jeopardized their careers and saw most all of them make serious adjustments to their games. (with the book still being out on Hernandez, of course, although he seems to be getting his arm fatigue now)

          These pitchers, despite being some of the few long lasting stars with this particular skill set, still fit the gist of what James was saying even though they are stars and ultimately survived it.

          So my point is what it has always been – find a new list of names because the ones you chose to initially supply honestly work to back up the claim you are trying to argue against by James. That is: short run, injury, post-injury failure (or in the case of these particular cherry-picked star pitchers, serious adjustments to allow them to stick around and succeed)

          And yes, they survived post career threatening injury because they are stars, that’s kind of the point. Non-stars on the other hand cant do that. Thats the results you get when you cherry pick the stars out of a list of mostly scrubs – the stars provide results typical of, you know, stars…

          I will also give a comment on your odd, new cherry-picked list though, and that comment is this – what the heck do any of them have to do with anything? The Groundballers you initially listed all had fatigue problems early in their careers. Your new non-grounder guys are all over the board with both skill-sets and injuries, with the injuries being everything from wear&tear (mostly from over-using Sliders) to pure freak incidents. Unlike the Grounder guys, your new guys generally have absolutely no common ground what so ever other then they are all pitchers.

          The Grounder guys (maybe not so ironically) all suffered from the same exact issue though – early arm fatigue & the number one result of arm fatigue, elbow injuries…

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  17. Zigs says:

    When I think of ground ball pitchers, I think of pitchers that do not necessarily strike out a lot of people, and I feel that these pitchers are many times underrated ( mostly due to war’s emphasis on strikeouts). Therefore, it is very interesting to me that James would call these pitchers overrated.

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    • Travis says:

      When I think of ground ball pitchers, I think of pitchers who get significantly more ground balls than league average.

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      • Joe Dimino says:

        IIRC in the article James talks about ground ball pitchers as pitchers who get the highest percentage of their outs from ground balls, excluding strikeouts and fly outs. Which makes sense. GB/FB ratio isn’t particularly relevant. It’s GB/outs. Which gets you a whole bunch more junk throwers who do tend to lose effectiveness after a couple of years.

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  18. marlinswin12 says:

    With “brilliant” information like this, I suppose it’s no surprise that the Red Sox suck as much as they do.

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  19. Stuck in a Slump says:

    I would assume without looking that instead of GB pitchers being more injury prone, it would be high strike out pitchers that are more injury prone. Pitchers with high K rates are more likely to have to throw more pitches to batters (after all, a GB or FB could happen on one pitch, but a K requires at least 3), and many high K pitchers tend to issue more BB’s.

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    • Travis says:

      The first part of your comment (high K guys throw more pitches) is false. From http://mankatofreepress.com/columnistetoma/x618367774/Counting-the-strikeouts-and-the-pitches

      “Bill James did a study in 2008 (published in the 2009 Gold Mine) that concluded that high-strikeout pitchers throw almost no extra pitches.

      One nugget from that study: The average strikeout takes 4.80 pitches, the average non-strikeout out 3.53. That difference gets washed out, James says, because the high-strikeout pitchers allow fewer baserunners.

      Again: Lots of strikeouts does not equal more pitches, no matter what the broadcasters say.

      Still, the leaders in total pitches thrown are always high-strikeout guys — not because they need more pitches to get outs, but because they get more outs, thus pitch more innings, thus throw more pitches.”

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  20. Blue says:

    I wonder the dependent variable is right. What I take from what James is saying is not whether the pitcher had an injury but rather whether the pitcher had an injury that derailed/ended his career. Not the same thing.

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  21. Metsox says:

    I agree that my first thought was that strikeout pitchers are more injury prone….

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  22. Donald Trump says:

    The injury odds are inconclusive, so who cares? What really matters is that ground ball pitchers suck.

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    • marlinswin12 says:

      Lol groundball pitchers don’t suck.

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      • Tim says:

        Now this is very anecdotal and intuitive, a lot like the comment that started it all, so take it with a grain of salt. But I bet if you googled “is a groundball pitcher” and similar variants you would get almost entirely names of pitchers who suck. Groundball pitchers who are good the media reports on as good pitchers. If they call you a groundball pitcher, it’s usually because they can’t think of anything good to say about you.

        So in that sense, yes, “groundball pitchers” suck.

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        • marlins12 says:

          That’s such a silly thing to say.

          Are you talking about groundball pitchers who don’t strike guys out? In that case, yeah, maybe. Then again, if you look up flyball pitchers who don’t strike guys out, you’ll probably see that they might suck even more.

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  23. Kinanik says:

    Baseball Prospectus did a study last month, on predicting pitcher injuries. Moreso than previous injuries, having a *low* home run allowed rate predicts elbow injuries, which supports Bill James’s hypothesis.

    “For elbows [injuries] (in order): Home run rate (lower HR rate guys have elbow injuries more often), whether you had an elbow injury last year, the number of batters you faced last year, the change in the number of innings you pitched last year (again, a bigger increase leads to a lower rate of injury), and ERA (the higher the ERA, the more likely you are to get hurt).”

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=19653

    (Am I allowed to link to BP articles?)

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    • Baltar says:

      That is very interesting and it does weakly support James’ hypothesis, though less than a direct comparison of injuries of GB’s vs. FB’s, which Bill has done. I’ll go with the later.

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  24. Kevin says:

    has anyone ever looked at whether side-armers have higher injury rates than over-the-top throwers? that was my only thought re: injury rates and groundballers. most of those guys appear to throw from a 3/4 delivery or lower, hence reduced backspin on the ball and more sink and run.

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  25. harryprayiv says:

    I’d like someone to check if slider pitchers are more injury prone.

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  26. Fredward says:

    I’ve been watching baseball for a long time, and it’s easy to see guys that sweat and grunt a lot get injured more often. Jake Peavy back with the Padres, Kevin Brown, Josh Johnson. I think it’s called “max effort”. If you run in the red too long you something is eventually going to blow. I know everything

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    • fredward says:

      Brad Penny Rich Harden

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    • Baltar says:

      This anecdotal observation is likely a case of unconscious selection bias. If a sweat-and-grunt player gets injured, you notice it; if somebody else does, you don’t.

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    • Trader says:

      Peavy, Johnson & Harden all relied way too heavily on the Slider – that is the reason they fell.

      Brown had a relatively injury free career until the age of 37; not really sure why he even made your list. While Penny was just never great of a pitcher with constant injuries anyway who was merely getting by with drastic help from his home park.

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  27. KevinY says:

    Remember a sinker is a two-seam fastball. The degree to which you turn the ball over (inward like a screwball) varies greatly depending on the pitcher. Many sinkerballers say they simply throw their two-seam fastball on a downward tilt and the tailing action comes naturally. I don’t always believe them but in some cases it’s true. The most extreme groundball pitchers absolutely turn the ball over, even if they don’t realize they’re doing it. That’s not natural for the arm. However, since most groundball pitchers throw far more fastballs than usual (two-seamers) the fewer sliders/curves may offset the injury risk compared to the average pitcher. A hard slider is without question the most violent pitch for the elbow.

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    • Paul says:

      All pitchers pronate their arm after throwing the ball. It’s about when they pronate compared to release that matters, not if they pronate.

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  28. John Northey says:

    I wonder, what if you take the top 10% ground ball vs the bottom 10% – ie: extreme ground ball vs extreme fly ball vs the middle ground (guys between 40 and 60%). Are pitchers more likely to get hurt if they are at the extremes or if they are in the middle? I’d think the middle ground would be most dangerous as odds are they are using more types of pitches and repeatability is key in MLB – if you are using, say, 8+ different pitches (Miguel Batista for example) I’d think you’d have a harder time keeping the arm slot steady leading to a higher injury risk. Hrm, another study there, does injury risk increase with number of types of pitches thrown?

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    • TroutKingFisher says:

      This is something that would be awesome to test! I would love to get my hands on these data sets and run it through some statistical programming!! I agree with your hypothesis that the middle ground pitchers will have higher injury rates as well.

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  29. BbnT says:

    There are two types of theories:

    (1) theories that have been proven to be wrong, and

    (2) theories that have yet to be proven wrong

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  30. mgraves says:

    That would go to partially explain the Minnesota Twins: Joe Mays, Carlos Silva, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, etc., good for two years and then dooky. Even when Radke didn’t have a shoulder, he was still effective enough (105 FIP-, 97 ERA-), and he was notorious for flyballs and homeruns.

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  31. Ryan C says:

    Sinkers require you to probate your arm earlier which would cause extra stress on tge arm. Most sinkerballers compliment that pitch with a slider which is known to cause elbow injuries.

    Mechanics are the #1 cause for arm injuries so with so many varying deliveries it’d be tough to find tangible evidence for James’ hypothesis because of all the confounding variables.

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  32. HaxBot says:

    What happens if you control for, like, average pitch count? The super grounder guys often seem to burn through innings in very few pitches, where a Lincecum or other high K guys might go 110-130.

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  33. Sid says:

    What if you turned the analysis around and looked at the pitching style of guys with particularly long strings of being injury-free? If James’ thesis is correct, wouldn’t the list of (say) guys pitching 10+ years without an extended DL stint be dominated by fly-ball guys and underrepresented by ground-ballers?

    I don’t have that data handy, but if someone does I’d be curious what it shows.

    I think the most likely thesis is not that “most ground-ballers eventually get injured” as much as it is that “most pitchers eventually get injured”…

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    • Bronnt says:

      It’s hard to come up with guys who went more than ten years without a DL stint. I’ve got four, but maybe we can come up with some more:

      Greg Maddux
      Derek Lowe
      Tom Glavine
      Mariano Rivera

      Maddux and Lowe were groundball pitchers, Derek Lowe extremely so. Glavine was above average, but by little enough that we’ll call him neutral.

      Rivera’s a reliever, so I don’t know if the issue of longevity should put him in a different category than the starters-instinctively I’d say yes. Regardless, he’s also a ground ball pitcher.

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      • DCN says:

        Livan Hernandez is a mild flyballer and a workhorse. Not as good as those guys, though.

        I really think what’s operative, though, is that pitchers get injuries, and once you have a narrative that’s confirmed by pitchers getting injuries, it gets easy to believe.

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      • Trader says:

        The difference is how they get that injury though, and what the particular injury is.

        Sure, most all pitchers suffer injuries of some kind at some point in their careers. But ground-ballers seem to have a tendency to suffer the same exact injury after a roughly similar amount of time; that is early-career arm fatigue and the resulting elbow issues.

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  34. Nickatl says:

    Not sure what the premise is for James’ conclusion. I wonder if ground ball pitchers have to cover 1st more often and have a higher injury rate from that, hamstrings, ankles, collisions. Atlnick

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  35. TroutKingFisher says:

    I am quite disappointed with Mr. James for his foolish conclusions with no statistically significant evidence. Sometimes people make conclusions from looking at explanatory data without statistically significant evidence, and I thought this was bad. Bill James jumps the gun though and makes a conclusion from a small sample without even any explanatory statistics! He is definitely receiving an F in his elementary statistics course. However, he has opened up a great discussion for many acknowledged people. All the power to Billy for that at least.

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  36. Ender says:

    Bill James has all kinds of completely silly notions. He was a pioneer a long time ago but at this point he isn’t one of the top 40 baseball minds in the game so not sure why we are still hanging on his every word.

    I’d be much more interested in looking at individual pitch types effect on injuries than looking at it from a results standpoint though. A heavy fastball generating grounders is much different than a sinker or a dropping change up etc.

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  37. Midpoint says:

    The above “analysis” presented by the author has nothing to do with James assertion.

    “They’re great for two years, and then they blow up. Always.”

    All that was done was look at a huge pool and numerology. Find the set of the top GB pitchers in sequential years and then the injury rate in the third. Pitching performance varies, etc. Bury data in the noise and most assertions can be watered down.

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  38. DCN says:

    What about Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Scott Kazmir, all flyballers with short peaks and bad injuries? The most successful flyballer of our generation, Santana, also has hit an injury wall.

    Anecdotal evidence is everywhere.

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  39. DCN says:

    Dice-K, Chris Young, John Patterson. Major FB pitchers, big burnouts.
    Oliver Perez, Phil Hughes, Brian Matusz.

    These guys are near the top of the leaderboard for lowest GB% among starters. All have the big promise, early injury career arc.

    Again, it doesn’t mean much.

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    • Trader says:

      Again, you’re merely trying to bury the actual conversation with pure nonsensical noise.

      The latest list of players you provided have little in common and dont relate to the actual conversation at hand.

      The conversation is Ground Ballers and their tendencies to suffer similar early career injuries.

      Start showing Ground-Ballers who dont suffer early career arm fatigue/elbow issues and then you will be working towards actually disproving what James is saying.

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      • DCN says:

        The relation that they have is that they’re flyball pitchers with early injuries and short peaks. Along with Wood, Prior, and Kazmir (probably even higher-profile burnouts than Wang and Webb) they fit the career arc described by James just as well as a lot of groundball pitchers.

        If you’re going to look at the modern era (where his examples are Wang and Webb) it’s easy to find high-profile flyball pitchers who fit the same arc. Most of them are elbow and shoulder injuries (most pitching injuries are) and many are TJ.

        My contention isn’t that this is meaningful, but that the assertion that groundball pitchers get injuries is noise. It’s not “burying the actual conversation” – it’s proving by demonstration how easy it is to create the appearance of a conversation.

        “The conversation is Ground Ballers and their tendencies to suffer similar early career injuries.”

        Not yet, because “their tendencies to suffer similar early career injuries” hasn’t been established. We’re trying to find out whether it exists. The author addressed this objectively (and we can argue the parameters). I’m trying to address the remaining anecdotal argument, which I find to be weak.

        The way to sort something out from noise is to find it, objectively, in the data. If there is an actual conversation to be had about “why” something happens, it should start with objective evidence that it does indeed happen.

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        • Trader says:

          Yes, as long as you are ignoring common sense and randomly throwing out cherry-picked names with no direct correlation to eachother, you are creating pure useless noise.

          Similarly, listing Extreme Slider pitchers and then acting like they somehow shouldn’t have a need for TJ is just as much useless noise considering we know for a fact that extreme Slider pitchers will almost always need the surgery.

          As far as this newest random list yo provided:
          ~ Dice-K – extreme Slider
          ~ Chris Young – extreme Slider
          ~ John Patterson – extreme Slider
          ~ Oliver Perez – extreme Slider
          ~ Phil Hughes – few Sliders, but has only suffered completely unrelated Rib & Back injuries
          ~ Brian Matusz – minor Slider pitcher who suffered a completely non-related Back injury

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      • Simon says:

        Showing that all pitchers get injured at approximately the same rate would do that too.

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  40. Trader says:

    I, like others, really doubted this James claim until the above conversation I had with DCN. But then I started to realize that almost every Ground-Ball Specialist I could think of had some sort of major arm-fatigue related injury pretty early in their career.

    …so I took the time to do a rundown of the Top-20 Ground Ball (percentage) starters since 2002. This is what I found:

    Brandon Webb – 2009 Shoulder, 30 YO
    Derek Lowe – Shoulder stiffness in 03 & 06, but cant find older data
    Jake Westbrook – 2007-2009 Elbow, 29-31 YO
    Chien-Ming Wang – 2008-2010 Shoulder, 28-30 YO
    Sergio Mitre – 2007 Elbow, 26 YO
    Tim Hudson – 2004-2005 Elbow, 28-29 YO (again in 2007 & 2010)
    Aaron Cook – career plagued by Elbow & Shoulder injuries
    Zach Day – 2004 Shoulder, 26 YO
    Roberto Hernandez
    Kirk Saarloos – 2006 Elbow, 27 YO (again in 2009 & 2010)
    Justin Masterson
    Mark Mulder – Career plagued by Elbow injuries
    Roy Halladay – 2004-2005 Shoulder, 27-28 YO
    Jamie Garcia – 2005 Shoulder, 25 YO
    Kevin Brown
    Julian Tavarez – Shoulder stiffness in 04 & 06, but cant find older data
    Charlie Morton – 2012 Elbow, 28 YO
    Trevor Cahill – too young still
    Felix Hernandez – too young, but possibly suffering fatigue
    Rickey Romero – 2006 & 2007 Shoulder & Elbow, 21-22 YO

    Of the 20:
    ~ 13 had major Shoulder or Elbow injuries at or before the age of 30
    ~ 2 had at least stints of shoulder stiffness in multiple seasons (if not more, data harder to find prior to 2002.) Oddly, these are the two who were Relievers for huge chunks of careers
    ~ 4 are still well under 30 (Hernandez, Cahill, Masterson & Romero) but Rickey has already suffered major Shoulder & Elbow issues while Felix has seen a much publicized drop in velocity recently

    Kevin Brown and Derek Lowe seem to be the only two who have managed to escape major Shoulder or Elbow injuries despite large inning totals.

    Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) has also avoided Elbow/Shoulder injuries, from what I can tell, over his rather short, strange, inconsistent and mainly crappy career. He did see a rather odd out-of-nowhere roughly 10% drop in Grounders starting in 2009 though. Its possible he was suffering from fatigue during the 08-09 seasons, but who knows – maybe its just from the lower body issues he suffered in 2008 or even other adjustments too.

    The next 10 on the list include Brett Anderson, John Lannan, Jamie Wright, Rick Porcello, Paul Maholm, Greg Maddux, Aaron Laffey, Chris Carpenter, Sidney Ponson & Mike Hampton.

    Maddux, of course, joins Brown and Lowe as those avoiding major injury, but I can already spot more then a couple names off the list I know had major Shoulder or Elbow injuries. If someone wants to actually spend the time to look up years though, please feel free – I need sleep :)

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    • DCN says:

      For control, here’s the list of the top 20 flyball starters, by percentage:

      Chris Young
      Eric Milton
      John Patterson
      Kevin Slowey
      Scott Elarton
      Travis Wood
      Oliver Perez
      Jered Weave
      Rich Hill
      Rick Helling
      Darrell May
      Ted Lilly
      Scott Baker
      Phil Hughes
      Kevin Appier
      Bruce Chen
      Wade LeBlanc
      Claudio Vargas
      Brian Matusz
      Hideo Nomo

      Any test we can run on both lists (leaving as little room as possible for individual interpretation after the results are obtained) that could objectively determine if one is more injury-prone than the other.

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      • Trader says:

        Okay, the problem is, the list you just provided is basically a whose-who of extreme Slider pitchers. (only exceptions off the top of my head being Nomo & Rich Hill)

        Such a heavy reliance on the Slider means you are 85-90% more likely to need TJ Surgery.

        …so, creating a list of this group of pitchers injury histories would be absolutely pure pointless waste of time – if they didn’t suffer an Elbow injury they would be rare exceptions, as that is what throwing a Slider 15+% of the time produces.

        Make such a list without 15-30% Slider Pitchers then we will have an actual controlled environment to do the test you want.

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        • DCN says:

          But here’s my point, sir – this is an objectively generated list using the same methodology as your groundball pitcher list. If you’re able to isolate a cause, it doesn’t negate the correlation. Are flyball pitchers more likely to throw sliders? Maybe. Maybe groundball pitchers are more likely to throw sinkers.

          The way to remove noise is not by picking through the lists and arguing what results are or aren’t viable – this has a strong bias toward confirmation.

          The way to remove noise is to take a large sample and see if your hypothesis is confirmed by the results.

          I really haven’t seen evidence of overrepresentation of GB pitchers with injuries, or underrepresentation of GB pitchers with long careers (or the reverse for FB pitchers) – just a qualitative interpretation of them fitting some pattern, which anyone sufficiently committed to seeing that point of view can create. But if the existence of that pattern doesn’t reliably produce shorter careers, or predict something objective, it’s not a particularly meaningful or useful pattern.

          Anyway, because it’s easy, slider percentages of that group:

          Young – 13.5%
          Milton – 6.0%
          Patterson – 14.1%
          Slowey – 15.2%
          Elarton – 4.9%
          Wood – 5.8%
          Perez – 25.1%
          Weaver – 16.4%
          Hill – 2.2%
          Helling – 9.9%
          May – 14.7%
          Lilly – 15.8%
          Baker – 14.9%
          Hughes – 2.3%
          Appier – 1.9%
          Chen – 17.9%
          LeBlanc – 0%
          Vargas – 19.8%
          Matusz – 11.5%
          Nomo – 3.0%

          and the groundballers

          Webb – 0.3%
          Lowe – 15.8%
          Mitre – 3.7%
          Wang – 14.7%
          Westbrook – 8.0%
          Hudson – 15.0%
          Hernandez – 12.8%
          Cook – 9.3%
          Masterson – 19.9%
          Day – 14.6%
          Mulder – 7.9%
          Cahill – 7.8%
          Tavarez – 21.0%
          Saarloos – 12.5%
          Halladay – 0.6%
          Garcia – 0%
          Romero – 4.9%
          Hernandez – 11.9%
          Brown – 16.1%
          Anderson – 33.6%

          The samples look pretty similar in SL% to me. Just an illustration of how easy it is to see what you want to see.

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        • DCN says:

          Just to clarify – I do think there’s more than “maybe” a chance that GB pitchers throw more sinkers. And it would be interesting to check is sinkers in general are correlated to injuries (we know sliders are).

          But we still haven’t established that GB pitchers are actually more prone to injury.

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        • Trader says:

          Yes, I think we have clearly established that the most Extreme Grounder pitchers are more likely to suffer arm fatigue early in their careers – after all, I’m fairly confident the average pitcher does not run on a 2-in-20 chance of avoiding early career major elbow/shoulder injuries; and we are talking like the best of the best Grounder guys still seeing the same. The Grounder guys we are talking about generally even seem to suffer it on a recurring basis every 2-4 years

          Why is now the question.

          Now, because so many of the Ground-ball Pitchers also throw a high percentage of Sliders it does make things a bit more interesting.

          Also interesting though, the players with minimal Sliders off the Grounders list still suffer the same extreme rate of early fatigue injury. Specifically:

          Webb – 0.3% – Elbow 2006, Shoulder 2009, 2011
          Mitre – 3.7% – Elbow 2007, Shoulder 2011
          Westbrook – 8.0% – Elbow 2007-09, 11
          Cook – 9.3% – Shoulder injuries in 04/05, 09, 11
          Mulder – 7.9% – Shoulder/Elbow injuries in 03, 05, 06, 07, 08
          Cahill – 7.8% – too young
          Halladay – 0.6% – Major Shoulder injury in 2004
          Garcia – 0% – Major Elbow injury in 2012
          Romero – 4.9% – already Major Shoulder & Elbow injuries in 06 & 07

          Its a fairly small sample size, sure, but it is narrowing down quite nicely really, and we might be getting close to the bottom of this thing.

          To get even better results, I think we would need to expand the list of Grounder Pitchers who don’t throw 10+% Sliders and compare it against a very large list of non-Slider, non-Grounder pitchers. That will eliminate any possibilities of Slider-related injuries fogging the results.

          Care to work on lists?

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        • DCN says:

          Is there a good database for injuries? I think we could do a lot of interesting things with that. Most importantly, establish a baseline for injury rates – but I’d also be interested to see if pitch type correlates with injury type. Not sure what I’d expect to find.

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        • Trader says:

          Not a database that I know of, and shoot, even injury compiling sights themselves seem to be rather hit & miss as to their accuracy and depth. I’m having to double and triple check most records I am finding as some are wildly inaccurate.

          There does seem to be some correlation between the 2-Seamer and increased arm fatigue in starters though, and it will be interesting to see if this James comment sparks enough interest for people to investigate it to the extent they have the Slider issue.

          So far, from what I can tell, it seems grounder pitchers who use the Long-Toss, have more extreme training regimens and sport extremely solid mechanics are the only ones we’ve found with any possible real ability to avoid continued bouts of fatigue. Both Maddux and Brown were that, Lowe is to some extent (and he witnessed at least 3 seasons I can find where he skipped a turn or two because of “arm fatigue” so he might be more in-tun with his arm then most) and Halladays apparent ability to keep from re-experiencing it very well could be tied to a combination of the above plus the multiple stuff and mechanic changes he has made over his career to adjust.

          It really does happen (and re-happen) way too often to these extreme grounder guys to be a complete fluke though, and I’m honestly beginning to feel that in the future we very well could think the same about this as we do about Sliders.

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    • Simon says:

      This is pretty worthless without something to compare it with.

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  41. Nick says:

    I have a different theory: Bill James was talking out of his ass and we shouldn’t waste our time investigating everything he spouts.

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  42. tz says:

    For James’s first comment, I would love to know what the IF FB% was for the elite power pitchers of each era. Seems like if you can generate strikeouts and infield flies with your fastball, you will dominate 2 of the 3 “true outcomes” and rank among the best.

    For his second comment, I wonder if certain pitchers get additional “natural” sink on their fastball because of some quirk in their delivery, and the injury problem is correlated to that same quirk. If I look at the list Trader put together, the most successful and durable guys on the list appear to have the best mechanics (Felix,Halladay, K. Brown to a lesser extent). This is a bit tougher for my untrained eye to cull out, but I do think it could be partially tested by looking at PitchFX to see the velocity/movement combo on sinkers. If someone throws a lot of 87-90 mph sinkers with a ton of drop, that might be a warning sign. Just a hypothesis.

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    • tz says:

      Here’s the average fastball velocity for some of the most notable pitchers on Trader’s list:

      F. Hernandez 94mph
      Masterson 93mph
      Halladay 92mph
      Wang 92mph
      Lowe 90mph
      Webb 89mph

      This short list is an (sample size caveat!) indicator that my second hypothesis might mean something. I know that Wang threw harder when he first came up, but he was very limited in his secondary pitches compared to a guy like Lowe, who’s always had passable offspeed/breaking stuff

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  43. Carl says:

    i am curious if there is an increased injury risk for pitchers throwing split-fingered fastballs as the grip and release put far more strain on the forearm?

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  44. Carl says:

    I would like to propose that:
    1) Prior to 1970s, flyball pitchers were strikout pitchers and therefore Mr. James is observing a Three True Outcomes Effect.

    2) In the 1970s through 1980s when baseball was damaged by artificial turf parks, groundball pitchers were less successful and further, since that is when Mr. James began his writing career, likely to influence his current theory.

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  45. james wilson says:

    Tommy John? An another note, the Bird flamed out because he was averaging 9 1/3 innings per start in June of his Rookie season.

    The issue may be not sinkerball pitchers getting hurt at a rate greater than other pitchers, but rather that the normal dinging of starting pitchers arms affects the quality of their go-to pitch more drastically because they are so reliant on it for success. They are less likely to have two or three fastballs or to change elevation. So the sinker works for them while it is still cherry, and then it’s the cliff they go.

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  46. Average_Casey says:

    I just don’t understand how this theory would be possible from a actual baseball stance. The two seam fastball is thrown the exact same arm action as a four seam fastball. So how could holding the seams differently affect your arm? I don’t think it can.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      It might cause you to probate or supinate your arm more. Also, maybe a certain arm slot generates more movement. So lets say (and this probably isn’t true) that a 3/4 arm slot with a 2 seam grip and a slight pronation generates the most movement. That might be what causes the stress.

      I think separating elbow vs shoulder issues should be considered too. Lots of variables to control for.

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      • Trader says:

        Craig Wright states this:
        “I believe the big issue with sinkerballers is that most continue to have as good or even better sinking action when their arm is a little tired. That doesn’t happen with a normal fastball, which tends to lose effectiveness when the shoulder crosses the line of fatigue. As I’ve said many times, the key point in managing a pitcher’s workload is not about pitches or innings in general, it is about curtailing the pitches and innings when the shoulder is starting to stress from fatigue. We are inclined to be more careless with a sinkerballer in that regard. He is more likely to be left in a game when his shoulder is most vulnerable to being damaged. That’s the theory that I think makes the most sense.”

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  47. Antonio Bananas says:

    When I think of ground all pitchers, I think of Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe. Both durable. I’m guessing its a speed thing. Look at guys who throw hard and produce a lot of grounders. Course if you do that, you MIT run into multicollinearity.

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