It’s been a long time since I’ve read the book Pitching 101, but somewhere in the first paragraph it talks about keeping the ball down. Working low in the strike zone leads to ground balls, ground balls lead to outs, and outs lead to fantasy points and real-life wins.
Ground balls lead to 0.05 runs per out, while fly balls produce 0.13 runs per out and line drives 1.26 runs per out, per FanGraphs.com. Clearly, ground balls are better for pitchers than fly balls and line drives.
Let’s take a look at ground ball pitchers and see what we can learn about them, when they tend to have success, and what factors are (not) accounted for in their salaries.
Who Are They?
The pitchers who had the best ground ball/fly ball ratio last season were:
- Marcus Stroman (+1.1 Plus/Minus on FanDuel)
- Jaime Garcia (-3.3)
- Dallas Keuchel (-0.5)
- Carlos Martinez (+4.4)
- Martin Perez (-3.4)
- Noah Syndergaard (+4.8)
- Kendall Graveman (+1.1)
- Mike Leake (-1.1)
- Aaron Sanchez (+5.6)
- Ivan Nova (+2.4)
Ground Ball Score
Within our Trends tool, Pro subscribers can filter through players using our Ground Ball Score, which is the percentage of ground balls hit by batters and allowed by pitchers. A lower percentage is better for pitchers and worse for batters.
As of writing, we have 24,000 FanDuel pitchers in the FantasyLabs data. I used GB Score to find the best 4,000-ish instances of GB Score and the worst 4,000. With parameters from 0 to 37 percent, pitchers on FanDuel had a +0.40 Plus/Minus:
If we set the parameters from 56 to 100 percent, the worse 3,813 pitchers had a -0.40 FanDuel Plus/Minus.
As expected, hitters who face ground ball pitchers tend not to do well. Historically, hitters against pitchers with a GB% of at least 58 percent have yielded a -0.58 FanDuel Plus/Minus with a count of 8,658 (out of a total count of 81,110).
Recent Ground Ball Pitchers
What a pitcher did 12 starts ago means relatively little to us in the fantasy world. We’re more concerned with what he’s done recently. That’s why in our Player Models we look at recent data in 15-day increments.
Pitchers whose seasonal ground ball rates are 40-45 percent have a Plus/Minus of -0.02 on FanDuel. If we look at these same pitchers but add the constraint of a 45-50 percent ground ball rate in the last 15 days, they are much more productive:
By that same token, pitchers with seasonal ground ball rates of 50-55 percent have a Plus/Minus of -0.01. If we add in a recent rate of 45-50 percent, the Plus/Minus drops to -0.25.
Recent performance is important when looking at ground ball pitchers.
The Ground Ball Baseline
Here’s how pitchers have done when they’ve forced ground balls on 50 percent of their batted balls over the last year and the last 15 days:
Remember this trend. We’ll use it as a baseline against which we’ll compare the following trends.
Ground Ball Pitchers Facing Ground Ball Hitters
If we take the baseline ground ball pitchers and pit them against teams with ground ball/fly ball ratios of at least 60 percent, the results are good: A +2.11 FanDuel Plus/Minus with a Consistency Rating of 55 percent on a count of 549. The cohort also has an Upside Rating of about six percent with 7.8 percent ownership, which Pro subscribers can review in our DFS Ownership Dashboard shortly after lineups lock.
Ground Ball Pitchers Facing Fly Ball Hitters
Can the baseline ground ball pitchers be successful against teams that hit more fly balls than the average team? The cohort of pitchers still does well against teams with ground ball/fly ball ratios of no more than 55 percent: The Consistency of 51 percent isn’t as good, but the trend has a +1.25 Plus/Minus on a 739 count.
Ground Ball Pitchers Facing Soft Hitters
Hard grounders can turn into hits, but weak ones rarely do. When the baseline ground ball pitchers face teams with hard hits on no more than 30 percent of their batted balls, the cohort still performs above the baseline:
Weather and Ground Balls
When fields are yet, ground balls scoot through the infield faster, thus leading to more base hits, more base runners, higher pitch counts, and an earlier exit. And a wet baseball is harder for fielders to throw accurately across the diamond.
If there’s any chance of precipitation, even 1 percent, the Plus/Minus for ground ball pitchers plummets:
I used to think that astro turf sped up the ball, leading to more ground ball singles, after reading more about the Blue Jays’ artificial turf I realize that’s not the case.
Only two ballparks still house fake grass: Rogers Centre and Tropicana Field. Surprisingly, ground ball pitchers do well there, with a +4.09 Plus/Minus on 57.6 percent Consistency. The count is only 118 because we’re looking at just two parks, but the trend is intriguing.
There’s certainly an edge in rostering ground ball pitchers in the right situations. Recent performance is key: We should always consider what pitchers have done in their last few starts. Do your own research with the Labs Tools, and just be sure not to roster ground ball pitchers when there are clouds in the sky.