Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Best Ground Ball Pitchers in Baseball

In my previous post, I examined the performance of major league pitchers on ground balls from 2010-2012  and learned that the Tigers had the highest Batting Average Against (BAA) on grounders during the period.  My theory was that their generally immobile infield defense was giving up a lot of hits, but I also noticed that not all their pitchers were affected similarly.  In fact, Doug Fister (in his starts for the Tigers only) and Justin Verlander (each with a ground ball BAA of .212) were significantly better than the MLB average of .241. So, I wanted to see how they would rate after adjusting for infield defense. 

Table 1 below shows the ground ball BAAs for all MLB pitchers allowing at least 400 ground balls from 2010-2012.  The leader was Rockies right hander Jhoulys Chacin at .164.  Chacin was also a fairly prolific ground ball pitcher with a 50% ground ball rate on batted balls.  Given that Chacin plays half his games in Coors Field, a power hitter's paradise, his ability to gets outs on ground balls was certainly advantageous. Interestingly, the second pitcher on the list, Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays at .196, was much more of a fly ball pitcher (38% ground ball percentage).

Table 1: Batting Average Against on Ground Balls, 2010-2012
Pitcher
GB
H
BAA
Jhoulys Chacin
590
97
.164
Jeremy Hellickson
480
94
.196
Ricky Romero
1,004
198
.197
Brad Bergesen
486
97
.200
Kyle Kendrick
678
136
.201
Shaun Marcum
591
119
.201
Henderson Alvarez
498
104
.209
Trevor Cahill
1,074
225
.209
Tim Hudson
1,140
240
.211
Kyle Lohse
683
144
.211
Tim Stauffer
444
94
.212
Justin Verlander
811
172
.212
Clay Buchholz
686
146
.213
Jered Weaver
657
140
.213
Mike Leake
775
167
.215

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet.


Some pitchers benefited from better infield defense than others with team ground ball BAAs ranging from .221 for the Blue Jays to .258 for the Tigers.  Of course, that is not all defense.  It could be that some staffs allow harder hit ground balls than others.  Over three years though, I would guess that it would even out enough to suggest something about team defense.  I attempted to adjust for differences in infield defense by calculating the ground ball BAA of other pitchers on the same staff.  For example, Chacin had a .180 BAA in 2010 compared to .230 for other Colorado pitchers.  So, his BAA was 22% better than the average Rockie pitcher that year giving him a BAA+ of 122.

Chacin's numbers in 2011 and 2012 were 143 and 121 respectively and the weighted average of all three years was 133.  Thus, he was 33% better at avoiding hits on ground balls than the average Colorado pitcher.  Table 2 below shows that this was also the top BAA+ on ground balls in the majors.  The worst pitcher at preventing hits on ground balls was Wade Davis of the Rays at 82 (18% worse than average).

Table 2: Adjusted Batting Average Against on Ground Balls, 2010-2012

Pitcher
GB
H
BAA
BAA+
Jhoulys Chacin
590
97
.164
133
Brad Bergesen
486
97
.200
121
Justin Verlander
811
172
.212
120
Kyle Kendrick
678
136
.201
118
Jeremy Hellickson
480
94
.196
117
Luke Hochevar
728
161
.221
116
Shaun Marcum
591
119
.201
114
R.A. Dickey
939
203
.216
113
Lucas Harrell
426
97
.228
113
Ricky Romero
1,004
198
.197
113
Kyle Lohse
683
144
.211
112
Trevor Cahill
1,074
225
.209
112
Tim Hudson
1,140
240
.211
112
Mike Leake
775
167
.215
112
Jeremy Guthrie
823
188
.228
112

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet.

Looking at Tigers pitchers, Verlander was only 12th on BAA (.212), but moved up to third on BAA+ (120) because he was so much better at preventing hits on grounders than other Tigers pitchers.  Fister was similarly good for the Tigers in 2011-2012, but falls back to 110 when including his time with the Mariners.  Other Tigers pitchers included Rick Porcello (98), Anibal Sanchez (94) and Max Scherzer (85).

I put all the numbers for all MLB pitchers in 2010-2012 into a Google spreadsheet.

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