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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ivan Bezdomny’s Baseball Blog: Incomplete thoughts on ground-ball pitchers

Or…why the hell did I expect a “Kevin Brown season” out of Brian Matusz?

I’ve been out of the baseball loop, focusing on my basketball project. But I still slavishly read Bill James’s site, and he brought up a point relevant to my research on pitcher types. In answering a question about Brandon Webb, Bill said:

  I’ve said it a thousand times, but. . .I don’t believe in ground ball pitchers. I don’t trust them, I don’t want them, and I don’t believe one should ever invest money in them. In theory, a ground ball pitcher with a good strikeout rate is the best of both worlds. But the problem is, there just aren’t any pitchers like that who are consistently good; they all either get hurt or they lose home plate. The only pitcher like that who has had a great career in the last 30 years was Kevin Brown. The overwhelming majority of the consistently good pitchers are the guys who live off of the high fastball—Clemens, Schilling, the Unit, Pedro, Santana, King Felix, Verlander, Sabathia, etc.

When I left off my baseball research, I left off with a classification of pitchers by the type of pitches that they throw. Dave Allen pointed out that I should look at pitchers who throw two-seam fastballs, as those pitchers have become the subject of much sabermetric discussion. Two-seam fastballs induce ground balls like no other pitch, and the value of ground balls for pitchers has become a hotly debated topic. (By hot, I mean that multiple analysts are competing to show how much value ground balls really have for pitchers.)

I created a new category of pitchers, centered around those that throw a high percentage of two-seam fastballs. Indeed, this category of pitchers had very high ground ball rates (something like 6% higher than average), but also lower strikeout rates (about 0.5 K/9 less than average). I was going to write an article about whether or not this “tradeoff” is worth it.

But Bill James brings up a better point. Who are the great two-seam fastball ground ball pitchers out there?

Repoz Posted: August 25, 2010 at 11:44 AM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, projections, sabermetrics

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   1. xdog Posted: August 25, 2010 at 12:21 PM (#3625114)
Tim Hudson. Derek Lowe. Adam Wainwright.
   2. Dr. Vaux Posted: August 25, 2010 at 12:44 PM (#3625125)
Well, two of those have been consistently good. One has had good years, but also sucked a lot, which I guess is James's claim of what can be expected from such pitchers. Hudson had one bad year, and Wainwright hasn't been starting that long.
   3. Dan Lee prefers good shortstops to great paintings Posted: August 25, 2010 at 01:07 PM (#3625136)
Who are the great two-seam fastball ground ball pitchers out there?

Looking at the all-time career WAR leaderboard for pitchers, Maddux. Reuschel. John.

Sure, Reuschel and John aren't great pitchers in the conventional sense of the word, but they were very, very good for a long time. Reuschel won 214 games with a career ERA+ of 114, John 288 and 111.

But isn't this something we already knew? If you have less strikeouts and more balls in play, you'll give up more hits and runs and have more variance in your results? Doesn't this just restate what DIPS has been telling us?
   4. Pingu Posted: August 25, 2010 at 01:44 PM (#3625166)
But the problem is, there just aren’t any pitchers like that who are consistently good; they all either get hurt or they lose home plate.

Not sure that injuries can be attributed to throwing a 2 seamer or sinker, which is a pretty benign pitch. The quoted passage doesnt exactly claim that, but I dont also see where a "groundball" pitcher would be any more likely than another pitcher to get hurt. Less likely even (despite the Webb counterexample) because the groundball pitchers tend to throw 2 seamers or sinkers for a majority of their pitches (Lowe, Pelfrey, Webb, etc), which is probablly much less strain on the arm than throwing a true junk pitch in 10-20% of pitches.

They might have less control, maybe. A 2 seamer has more movement than a 4 seam FB so its inherently more difficult to locate. I'm not buying that though. Getting to the majors is a natural selection process for control much more so than it is for pitch type. If you get guys out it doesnt matter what pitch you throw. If you cant control your pitches, you're not likely to make it in the first place. You will, however, get more looks if you have a power arm.

I had, at times, thought something tangentially related. Unfortunately I never sat down to see if it was actually true or not.

In terms of consistency, I'd take someone who lives off a 2 seamer or sinker over someone who lives off a curveball. If you are talking consistency, how many pitchers are able to throw a 12-6 CB or any slower breaking pitch consistently over a career. Guy like Barry Zito springs immediately to mind.
   5. Pingu Posted: August 25, 2010 at 02:17 PM (#3625195)
The overwhelming majority of the consistently good pitchers are the guys who live off of the high fastball—Clemens, Schilling, the Unit, Pedro, Santana, King Felix, Verlander, Sabathia, etc.

Its a bit disingenous to leave Maddux out of a discussion like this, or to say that Brown was the only example in the last 30 years.

Also, I wouldnt really count Pedro or Santana as guys who "live off the high fastball".

And Halladay comes to mind as another guy who lives off location, not the high fastball, and induces his share of groundballs.
   6. John DiFool2 Posted: August 25, 2010 at 03:02 PM (#3625246)
Its a bit disingenous to leave Maddux out of a discussion like this, or to say that Brown was the only example in the last 30 years.


"A bit"??!?
   7. RJ in TO Posted: August 25, 2010 at 03:10 PM (#3625257)
And Halladay comes to mind as another guy who lives off location, not the high fastball, and induces his share of groundballs.

1.20 GB/FB for his career, against a league average of 0.78 for that period.
   8. Nasty Nate Posted: August 25, 2010 at 03:27 PM (#3625278)
If you have less strikeouts and more balls in play, you'll give up more hits and runs and have more variance in your results?


Does this hold true for times in the past where there were many good pitchers who struck people out at only a quarter or third of the rate of good pitchers today. Did elite pitchers in the 30's-50's have greater performance variance than elite pitchers today?
   9. Tricky Dick Posted: August 25, 2010 at 03:28 PM (#3625280)
Oswalt is another pitcher who isn't usually pegged as a sinkerball pitcher, but who has always had GB ratios higher than league average. He is 1.25 GB/FB for his career. Although Felix Hernandez is listed as "living off his" 4 seam fastball, he has an extreme GB ratio of 56% for his career, and a GB/FB ratio over 2. Pitchers like Chris Carpenter and Andy Pettitte have very strong groundball ratios. Maybe they don't fit the "greatest" pitchers category, but they are pitchers who have been good for a long time. I like Bill James, but in this case, his conclusion doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
   10. Der Komminsk-sar Posted: August 25, 2010 at 04:04 PM (#3625330)
against a league average of 0.78 for that period.
Could you please source this? That sounds low (though how we count LD affects things).
   11. RJ in TO Posted: August 25, 2010 at 04:16 PM (#3625340)
Could you please source this? That sounds low (though how we count LD affects things).


B-R. For Halladay, it's available here. The description indicates it includes line drives as fly balls.
   12. geonose Posted: August 25, 2010 at 04:19 PM (#3625345)
I'm not sure that ground ball pitchers should always be dubbed two-seam fastball guys...some of the "power pitchers" listed in the article have pretty good ground ball rates themselves. Without looking all of them up, King Felix springs immediately to mind.
   13. sptaylor Posted: August 25, 2010 at 04:41 PM (#3625370)
In the interest of full disclosure:

The original question posed by Bezdomny was
BIll your thoughts on Brandon Webb. Yes he did have a short career but he did dominate to an extent. You can't hold a guy at fault for an injury unless he did something stupid to cause it. If he never throws another pitch again do you think he deserves some sort of recognition/respect from the HOF/MLB? Not saying he deserves his name on a plaque in Cooperstown but the guy was on the way to having one.


James's response was
1) I believe that you're exaggerating what he has accomplished. There are a dozen pitchers who have careers like that in every generation. 2) In terms of special recognition, he would rank far behind Saberhagen, David Cone, David Wells, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser and others. They were more dominant than he was, and they lasted longer. 3) Let's not assume that Webb is finished. 4) I've said it a thousand times, but. . .I don't believe in ground ball pitchers. I don't trust them, I don't want them, and I don't believe one should ever invest money in them. In theory, a ground ball pitcher with a good strikeout rate is the best of both worlds. But the problem is, there just aren't any pitchers like that who are consistently good; they all either get hurt or they lose home plate. The only pitcher like that who has had a great career in the last 30 years was Kevin Brown. The overwhelming majority of the consistently good pitchers are the guys who live off of the high fastball--Clemens, Schilling, the Unit, Pedro, Santana, King Felix, Verlander, Sabathia, etc.


A response to James's comment was
...Derek Lowe is the obvious one who has had a good (not great) career being exactly that. Andy Pettitte would be in the running too. To say nothing of Roy Halladay. And does this mean that you would expect Adam Wainwright to not age as gracefully as other great pitchers? It's a very strong position that you are taking. Are you that strongly against non-fastballing groundball pitchers?


James's response to that was
Pettitte is a lefty, which is different, and neither Halladay nor Wainwright has ground ball rates comparable to Webb. The only top-flight pitcher in recent years who DID was Wang.
   14. John DiFool2 Posted: August 25, 2010 at 04:50 PM (#3625380)
Is Bill seriously using the No True Scotsman fallacy here, or am I reading this wrong?
   15. Maxwn Posted: August 25, 2010 at 05:16 PM (#3625415)
Is Bill seriously using the No True Scotsman fallacy here, or am I reading this wrong?

It looks that way to me.
   16. Pingu Posted: August 25, 2010 at 06:00 PM (#3625461)
Exactly.

1. I dont want groundball pitchers
2. What about these 5 groundball pitchers?
3. They arent true groundball pitchers


If a "groundball pitcher" to James means either Webb or Wang, then he doesnt have to worry about having one very often, because those are some pretty big outliers (although Lowe has been pretty close to Webb in GB/FB).
   17. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: August 25, 2010 at 06:18 PM (#3625474)
I remember Brandon Webb! Have not thought about him since removing him from my fantasy team last July.

Season     IP      ERA
2003      180.2   2.84
2004      208.0   3.59
2005      229.0   3.54
2006      235.0   3.10
2007      236.1   3.01
2008      226.2   3.30
2009        4.0  13.50 


That's pretty good work by him.

BB-ref doesn't consider him an active player?? Well, if he were an active player he would be tied for 8th in career shutouts (with 8).
   18. sptaylor Posted: August 25, 2010 at 06:53 PM (#3625532)
GB/FB, K/9

Brown 1.46, 6.6
Carpenter 1.01, 6.9
Halladay 1.20, 6.7
Hernandez 1.28, 8.1
Hudson 1.44, 6.0
Lowe 1.66, 5.8
Maddux 1.28, 6.1
Oswalt 0.93, 7.4
Pettitte (LH) 0.98, 6.6
Wainwright 0.99, 2.8
Wang 1.51, 4.2
Webb 1.82, 7.3
   19. Der Komminsk-sar Posted: August 25, 2010 at 06:58 PM (#3625538)
Wainwright should read 7.4 K/9, right?
   20. John DiFool2 Posted: August 25, 2010 at 07:11 PM (#3625565)
I swear, I love the guy to death, what he's done for my understanding of the game at least is incalculable, and I love his writing style, but frankly sometimes he says some of the stupidest crap which he had to have dragged straight out of his bunghole. He's had it in for Maddux before (perhaps it's a mental block), like when he refused to give him strike year credit in '94/'95 (in the NBJHBA), while freely doing so for war guys like Rizzuto ("prevented from playing in the majors for reasons beyond the player's control" my ass).
   21. Pingu Posted: August 25, 2010 at 07:27 PM (#3625584)
@ #17,

Webb was one of my favorite pitchers in the game to watch pitch, prior to his abrupt disappearance.

Such an outlier, and so damn good at what he did. He is to the sinker what Mariano Rivera is to the cutter.
   22. sptaylor Posted: August 25, 2010 at 08:17 PM (#3625664)
DK: It should, indeed. 2.8 is his K/BB rate. Read the wrong column.
   23. JoeC Posted: August 27, 2010 at 06:08 PM (#3627683)
Wait, Ivan Bezdomny has a baseball blog? Did MASSOLIT approve of this?

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