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Tuesday, January 03, 2006


You're Grounded: Conclusions on the Ground

In coming back to the ground ball/fly ball ratio issue, I’m really kind of struggling with what to say. I endeavored into the topic expecting to find that the Cardinals’ pitching staff has a collective G/F ratio that far exceeds most other teams around the majors; it would have been a nice, easy point illustrated with statistics. What I found, however, was that other teams have very similar, even higher, staff G/F ratios to the Cards. Because I don’t have them with me, I can’t share my stats with you, but I’ll post a couple examples this evening. The Braves, for example, had a higher G/F ratio among their projected starting five for 2006. Mike Hampton (2.13) and Tim Hudson (2.25) both possess career G/F ratios that dwarf those of any Cardinal starter. [Point of clarification: Hampton and Hudson both have career G/F ratios that top any current Cardinals starter, but Mulder's 2.74 G/F last year was higher than the seasonal rate for either Huddie or Hampton] At Baseball Musings, David Pinto looked at the G/F statistic and its relationship to ERA; like me, I think he winds up at a point struggling to conclude anything of great significance, saying “in general, we shouldn’t worry about how balls are put into play against pitchers.” Ultimately, that’s probably the best conclusion of all. There is a thing or two we can take away from a closer look at the G/F ratio as applied to the Cardinals, however. One noticeable thing about starters, their G/F ratios and the Cardinals, is that the Redbirds don’t have a single starter below the league average (1.2) G/F. Other teams do seem much more willing to employ one or two starters that do indeed allow more fly balls than grounders. That doesn’t necessarily weaken the rotations of those teams. For instance, the Brewers’ Chris Capuano posted a 0.93 G/F ratio last year, and if you would prefer Jason Marquis to him, you’re crazier than Christopher Walken after a Deer Hunter flashback. Probably the most significant thing about the Cardinals and the G/F ratio is that would seems the organization smartly figures G/F ratios into their accounting stats as much as any kind of sabermetric analysis. By finding pitchers more prone to the ground ball, the team can combine that with good coaching and an emphasis on solid defense to employ effective pitchers to round out the pitching staff in a rather economical manner. See Suppan, Jeff. The less money committed to fourth and fifth starters the more money that can be committed to…uh…Juan Encarnacion – or long term salary dollars for Pujols et al. Besides the financial concerns, this approach that combines an emphasis on the ground ball with solid coaching and good defense gives the team solid guys at the back of the rotation and in less heralded bullpen roles that are effective, above replacement level players that give the team a chance to win games. Of course, it is impossible to quantify good coaching’s impact on this, but circumstantial evidence tells us a good head on the bench can go along way toward making a league average guy play above that level. And even if that means scoring 6-3 for every other opposing at bat, it’s better than having to suffer rampant inconsistency every fourth or fifth game through the long hot summers.
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