Who’s Hitting Too Many Ground Balls?

For the most part, there’s some truth to the fact that you have to get em up to get em out: The average ISO for the twenty guys hitting the most ground balls per fly ball this year is .090 — far below the league’s .145 average. That isn’t to say that it’s as easy as “Hit More Fly Balls = Hit More Homers.” There’s probably an ideal batted ball mix for each hitter.

But, if you have an established hitter that is suddenly hitting a lot more ground balls, and their power is down, it seems reasonable to worry about that power. After all, the guys putting the most balls in play have reached the threshold for stability, and these batted ball stats are more reliable with every day.

So let’s take a look at the guys who are hitting more ground balls this year. In the table below, you can find the 30 hitters who have hit the most ground balls compared to their 2013 rate.

Name GB/FB 13 GB/FB GB Change ISO ISO CH
Ben Revere 6.23 3.39 184% 0.029 -0.019
Elvis Andrus 4.48 2.51 178% 0.082 0.022
Curtis Granderson 1.30 0.77 169% 0.137 -0.041
Joe Mauer 3.05 1.85 165% 0.069 -0.084
Justin Morneau 1.76 1.07 164% 0.258 0.106
Allen Craig 2.62 1.60 164% 0.128 -0.014
Evan Longoria 1.35 0.83 163% 0.123 -0.107
Dexter Fowler 1.97 1.23 160% 0.127 -0.018
Carlos Gonzalez 1.46 0.94 155% 0.210 -0.079
Emilio Bonifacio 3.09 2.01 154% 0.062 -0.026
Justin Smoak 1.16 0.76 153% 0.186 0.012
Jean Segura 3.76 2.52 149% 0.088 -0.041
Matt Kemp 1.69 1.15 147% 0.193 0.068
Prince Fielder 1.64 1.13 145% 0.113 -0.065
Howie Kendrick 3.48 2.41 144% 0.120 -0.022
Jonathan Lucroy 1.48 1.03 144% 0.122 -0.053
Domonic Brown 1.71 1.22 140% 0.094 -0.128
Jason Kubel 1.12 0.80 140% 0.085 -0.015
Everth Cabrera 4.40 3.19 138% 0.094 -0.003
Robinson Cano 2.03 1.49 136% 0.088 -0.114
Chase Utley 1.20 0.89 135% 0.212 0.021
Yadier Molina 1.67 1.24 135% 0.135 -0.023
Matt Joyce 1.14 0.85 134% 0.134 -0.050
Albert Pujols 1.22 0.91 134% 0.269 0.090
Daniel Murphy 1.56 1.17 133% 0.133 0.004
David Murphy 1.53 1.15 133% 0.149 -0.005
Kurt Suzuki 1.20 0.92 130% 0.104 -0.001
Brett Gardner 1.52 1.17 130% 0.122 -0.021
Martin Prado 2.05 1.58 130% 0.063 -0.072
Andrelton Simmons 1.40 1.08 130% 0.155 0.006

Ben Revere. Wow. If someone is ever going to put up a negative ISO, this is the place to start looking. Dude is hitting SIX grounders for every fly ball. Probably what you want out of a guy that might not hit a homer every three years, actually. And really, the first two guys on the list fall into the category of “Yup, Don’t Care.” Even a little lower on the list, a guy like Jean Segura — if he hits seven homers instead of nine, that’s not why you own him. In fact, the added boost to his batting average that might come from hitting more grounders could be beneficial to his overall line (eventually).

Below the Revere/Andrus duo is a trio that represents the aging slugger component. Ground ball rate starts to climb after age 30, so the fact that Justin Morneau, Curtis Granderson, and Joe Mauer are on this list is not surprising. The amount of change is a little larger than you’d expect, though. Half again as many grounders as last year. And, really, we should put Allen Craig on this list. He’s turning 30 and hitting way too many ground balls. You’d have to call this a list of possible sells — low in most cases, but high in the case of Morneau, who adds injury risk to regression risk.

Evan Longoria is the first slugger that’s under thirty and showing a large ground-ball tendency this year. It’s hard to know what to do with him, exactly. He’s about 30 balls in play short of the stability point, so a few more fly balls in the next week or two would be a welcome and meaningful sign, maybe. You know that you can bank on his age to some extent, and his track record is fairly steady when it comes to isolated power — over .213 in every season of his career. I’m less worried about Longoria than any other name on this list.

Matt Kemp and Prince Fielder show us the pitfalls of this approach. Two guys with decent power histories changed their batted ball mix almost exactly the same amount — and one ended up increasing his power, while the other decreased. Well, we shouldn’t focus too much on the isolated power numbers, really. Those are results, and they take forever to stabilize. If anything, their inclusion on this list suggests that perhaps Kemp’s power gain is less believable than Fielder’s power loss.

Domonic Brown‘s inclusion here is one of the most worrisome to his owners, but if we gave Longoria a pass for being young and short of stability thresholds, we should give Brown at least some of that benefit of the doubt. He’s even ten more balls in play behind Longoria, and younger. That also means he has a shorter track record and his owners are more worried. I’ve actually bought Brown in some dynasty leagues, but I can’t recommend it.

And last, a note about the guy with the second-biggest ISO increase on this list: Albert Pujols. Given that he showed up on Mike Podhorzer’s list of guys with surprising results given their flagging batted ball distance, the fact that he’s also hitting more ground balls can’t be a great sign either. Career worsts in GB/FB and batted ball distance don’t seem to suggest a resurgence. This might be your last best time to sell Pujols in dynasty leagues. In redrafts, maybe the ground balls start turning into hits and you get value from him even with fewer home runs. He’s got a loooong track record when it comes to batting average, after all. It always depends on the return.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


20 Responses to “Who’s Hitting Too Many Ground Balls?”

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  1. sjcstavros says:

    Great piece Eno! And spot on on Pujols. What effect do you think dominates when a player is hitting more GBs, but the fly balls he hits are going further? Morneau for example has added 20 feet to his HR,FBs…

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    • I’ll jump in here and say it’s riskier. The decline in FB% is probably a real change, whereas a big boost in distance more likely to regress toward career averages. So it’s a risky approach for power.

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      • exxrox says:

        I sold Pujols during the winter in a dynasty for Iwakuma (before injury) and Polanco. It’s not looking like I did great at the moment but I’m hoping it turns around by the end of the season.

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  2. Bucfan21 says:

    Allen Craig … be afraid, be very afraid. He is a horrible RF’er, Taveras is on the way, Craig is now a 10 HR guy with his groundball tendency, and he may well wind up on the short-side, R-handed side of a platoon with Adams at this rate.

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  3. Sandy says:

    Can’t help but note Carlos Gonzalez near the top of that list. His flyball rates are right at career averages, and sure enough, his ISO is only slightly below his career average. But his line drive rate is way down, and his average and BABIP are below career norms as a result. But, by way of comparison, Joe Mauer’s line drive rate is slightly above career norms, while his flyball rate is way down. As a result, not only is Mauer suffering from a batting average decline (though not a BABIP decline), his ISO is half of his career norm. So perhaps the better comparison, for the purposes of fantasy value, at least, is FB/LD rates, as opposed to GB/FB.

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  4. chris says:

    Are Fielder’s issues related to the herniated disk in his neck?

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    • Cybo says:

      No. Word is its a broken hymen.

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    • Satoshi Nakamoto says:

      He doesn’t have a herniated disc in his neck.
      He’s just lazy and that’s what the team is saying so they don’t look dumb for taking on his huge contract.

      Dude is fat.

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    • Joe says:

      I think it’s the fact that Prince isn’t a great hitter in Arlington, based on his career splits at Texas (career .218 hitter in 134 AB’s). My guess is that he doesn’t see the ball well there…If you look at his 2014 road vs. home splits (.307 vs. .187) it carries this forward. Just my $0.02.

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      • Satoshi Nakamoto says:

        That’s a good point Joe but he’s not hitting for power Away either. I think he doesn’t want to run that much, so a slow dribbler to second and he can go sit down on the bench again.

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  5. Cybo says:

    I’m looking forward to the next FG 1B rankings to see if Pujols has dropped out of the top 2 yet.

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  6. stonepie says:

    lucroy, like fielder, has this horrible combination of more ground balls and a lower avg FB distance.

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  7. Not Greg says:

    So, is there just no hope for Allen Craig? He’s had a couple nice moments over the past couple of weeks, but nothing crazy.

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  8. Blootzkloof says:

    Offense is in a sad state these days, has been since 2013. It seems like every major hitter is declining, without any new hitters coming up from the minors. How many guys are gonna get 30/.300 seasons this year? Tulo? Puig? Even Trout and Cabrera look vulnerable this year ugh

    Hold on tight to memories of 2011 and 2012 folks, and brace yourself for a decade of boring-azz 1-0 games. You can thank the elephantine strikezones that now extend from the knees to the Harlem River, the infield shifts where the Second Baseman becomes the “Guy Who Stands in Right Field”, and specialized bullpens. We already have LOOGYs, next thing you know the managers are gonna have specialized pitchers who come into games to throw one pitch.

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  9. Jay says:

    Where are these people on RG coming from talking about players with “broken hymens” and assuming that the strike zones are the reason for depressed offenses?

    You guys do realize this is not ESPN.com…right?

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  10. JMo37 says:

    Has Billy Butler been trending GB rates this high since last year? WOW!

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  11. zer0grav says:

    Longoria’s batted ball distance is way down. Although it still hasn’t stabilized, I’m still concerned.

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