Up in the Air

As is probably apparent, I am routinely interested in individual pitch stats for pitchers. I’ve looked at which pitches generated the highest rates of swings and misses for instance. I am also pretty keen on ground balls rates. It’s time to combine those two into a look at which pitcher’s pitches were the best and worst at causing ground balls.

Ranking pitches (a minimum of 200 thrown) by the percentage of ground balls out of all batted balls leads to some predictable results. For one, fastballs dominate the low end of the spectrum. Pitchers ten to throw fastballs up in the zone when gunning for strikeouts so it is no shock that fastballs get ground balls about 10% less on average than your typical breaking ball.

Curveballs, changeups and two-seamers, or sinker, average around 48% ground balls once the pitch is batted. On the other hand, four-seam fastballs turn into a ground ball just 39% of the time on average. Sliders are about halfway between the two at 44% or so.

Still, Russ Springer (15%), Juan Cruz (15%), Craig Breslow (17%), Bruce Chen (17%) and Chris Narveson (18%) deserve special recognition for having the five worst pitches in all of baseball at getting a ground ball. Given that all five pitches in question are four-seam fastballs and fastballs are usually a pitcher’s most common pitch thrown, it should be no surprise to find out that all five of the listed pitchers suffer from rather low ground ball ratios overall.

It’s amazing that Springer and Cruz have managed to have significant success with such rates. Both used superb strikeout rates to offset the extreme fly ball rates. As Cruz showed last year though, that’s a volatile line to walk and when the strikeouts dip you can get yourself into trouble in a hurry.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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Eh, its interesting data, and the curveball and cahnge were suprises, because most guys who are primarily changeup guys tend towards flyballs. I guess even though they throw a dispraportionate amount of changes they still don’t account for a high % of total changeups, and guys who throw harder overall should get batters rolling over more often.

I’d be interested to see the overall weights for those pitches you mentioned as worse. I wouldn’t be suprised if Wagner’s fastball was pretty close to theirs in flybal rate, just because a certain combination of deception and velocity should cause an inordinate number of IFFB and non-threatening outfield flies. Do you correct for IFFBs or is the data a straight split including all batted balls?