By the Numbers: Going to extremes

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The difference between a line drive and a pop up or weak grounder is about a quarter of an inch on the baseball. This type of subtle movement at contact is too difficult for the human eye to quantify on pitches traveling 90 mph. But ground-ball/fly-ball rates do this for us.

Let's examine them to identify extreme pitchers. Which end of the spectrum is more likely to generate great investment returns for fantasy and real-life GMs? We'll also crunch the data to make some individual recommendations relative to current market perceptions.

I've only sorted starters and only those last year who pitched at least 162 innings. I combined all the stats for each set of extreme pitchers and calculated from there. Cutoffs were a ground-ball rate of over 50 percent for the groundballers and under 40 percent for the flyballers. There are lots more of the former than the latter, but the groups are still small enough to be meaningfully extreme. Also, the data is provided by Baseball Info Solutions via The Hardball Times. Your ground-ball rates may vary.

The bottom line result is that you generally want the groundballer over the flyballer. You're giving up some Ks (6.7/9 compared to 7.2/9). But you're gaining in ERA (3.68 to 4.24) because of the lower HR rate (0.73/9 compared to 1.15). And you get the better WHIP, too, (1.29 to 1.34), which surprised me because more ground balls are hits than fly balls. Our sampling of extreme groundballers, though, had much better control than the flyballers.

Some of those differences seem minor. But over 200 innings, for example, the difference in Ks is about 12. (Note: I lost a fantasy league once by a mere four Ks.)

The more desirable groundballers last year were (in order of most extreme): Brandon Webb, Derek Lowe, Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez, John Lannan, Roy Halladay, Paul Maholm, Felix Hernandez, Manny Parra, Andy Pettitte, Jair Jurrjens, Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt.

The less desirable but still undeniably extreme flyballers were (again in order of extremeness): Oliver Perez, Jered Weaver, Scott Baker, Matt Cain, Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, Greg Smith, Tim Wakefield, Barry Zito, Scott Olsen, Brian Bannister, Brandon Backe, Ian Snell, Javier Vazquez, Johnny Cueto, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana, Ed Jackson, Gil Meche, Todd Wellemeyer and Cole Hamels.

One more point worth considering before making recommendations. Maybe we want the ground-ball guys, too, because they're less likely to be getting help from the hitters. Really, who goes up there trying to hit a grounder except Luis Castillo? Don't most hitters try to loft the ball?


Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers: Gets no respect, but walked only 1.3/9 in the second half. Few walks and lots of grounders at Dodger Stadium mean few runs. Projected ERA: 3.50.

Jered Weaver, Angels: Flyballers are still desirable if they have very good control. Walks and increased probability for homers is a bad combo. Weaver walked 54 in 176.7 innings. He has to pay the Jeff Weaver tax still, which is no different than making Cal Ripken pay a Billy Ripken tax.

Scott Baker, Twins: I don't care about the eight spring homers he's allowed but I'll make sure all my leaguemates know about them. The 14:2 K-to-BB ratio is further proof that the great command he showed last year was no fluke.

Ricky Nolasco, Marlins: There's not a dime's worth of difference between his stats and those of Cole Hamels. Yes, 212 innings – oh, the humanity! But Hamels threw 260-plus last year (including postseason) and has had elbow tenderness this spring.


John Lannan, Nationals: Couldn't hold his first-half control gains last year. He is just 24, though, and at least the Ks went up in the second half (5.4/9 to 6.2). The spring stats are so good that I hesitate to mention them, but: 12 innings, no earned runs, 1 walk (3 Ks).

Manny Parra, Brewers: The walks won't hurt him as much as they would a fly-ball pitcher. The Ks are also very good. He takes one walk per nine innings off his stats and he'll be borderline great. Alas, that's a lot harder than it seems.


Felix Hernandez, Mariners: Queen Felix is not nasty enough, refusing to dust anyone even after yielding 11 or 12 hits to guys hanging over the plate to hit his outside, 95 mph cheese.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox: Too many walks and hitters counts make him a human high-wire act. If five or six of those fly balls land over the wall for three-run homers instead of finding a fielder's glove, his ERA soars back in the 4.00s.

Matt Cain, Giants: Was he really so unlucky? The homer rate (0.76/9) is awfully low for such a fly-ball guy. If the walks don't come down by 10-to-20 percent, his 2009 ERA will be more in line with last year's 8-14 record.

Michael Salfino's work has appeared in USA Today's Sports Weekly, RotoWire, dozens of newspapers nationwide and most recently throughout Comcast SportsNet, including, for which he also analyzes the Mets and Yankees. He's been writing "Baseball by the Numbers" weekly since 2005.

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