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Offseason Notes: A Graph of Pitcher Height vs. GB%

Today’s edition of Offseason Notes is a graph.

Because I’m painfully disatisfied with the present, I spend a lot of my time thinking about the future. And because I spend a lot of my time thinking about the future, I spend a lot of time thinking about baseball prospects. And because I spend a lot of time thinking about baseball prospects, I spend a lot of time reading scouting reports of baseball prospects — which form of literature (i.e. the scouting report) I consider more important than most of what else is available in the entire Western Canon.

In reading scouting reports, I freqently see it suggested — as regards pitchers — that height is important because it allows a pitcher to throw on a “downhill plane.” Frequently, in those cases where a pitcher throws on a downfill plane, it is also suggested that doing so will allow said pitcher to induce ground balls (and, in turn, prevent home runs) with more frequency.

I do not intend to dispute the logic of this reasoning — nor to suggest at all that this is a statement made by every author of the literary form known as the scouting report — however, knowing that right-hander Chris Young both (a) is 6’10” and (b) has a career ground-ball rate in the high-20%s, I grew curious.

Accordingly, I looked at both the the height and ground-ball rate of every pitcher with more than 150 batters faced (i.e. the sample threshold at which ground-ball rate becomes reliable), 2002-11.

Here is the result:

As one will note by the r-squared, there is basically no connection whatsoever between height and ground-ball rate (and some internet browsing reveals that David Gassko reached a similar conclusion at the Hardball Times in 2006). Of course, not every pitcher has the same angle of release: Tim Lincecum, for example, throws almost straight over the top, while Justin Masterson is the rare starter to throw from a sidearm angle. Generally speaking, however, while there might be some advantage to pitcher height and the ability to throw on a downhill plane, it isn’t showing up in ground-ball rates.

Thanks to Mr. Jeff Zimmerman for running the sweet query that provided the above date.