A Minors Obsession

Groundball machines in the Reds farm system

With the Reds playing their home games in one of the most home run friendly ballparks in the big leagues it is a big issue for their pitchers to deal with. The best way to avoid giving up home runs is to avoid allowing hitters to put the ball in play by striking them out. However the next best way is to keep the ball on the ground.

The big league team seems to have put an emphasis on their starting pitchers generating more and more groundballs over the years. Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey are all generating groundballs on over 50% of the balls put in play against them and all three have rates that are higher this year than in previous seasons. While the Reds defense will certainly change over the years, building a strong defense has long been a staple of Walt Jocketty teams and the Reds pitching staff has been able to take advantage of that quite well over the last few seasons with Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips up the middle and the strong defense of Todd Frazier and Scott Rolen at third in recent years.

When we look at the minor league pitchers we know a few things about their groundball rates. First is that as a player moves up a level, they average 1% fewer groundballs throughout the minor leagues and then a 2-3% loss to the Majors. While that doesn’t hold up for everyone, it is a general guideline to follow for what to expect from most pitchers. So, which pitchers are generating the highest rate of groundballs (all balls in play, not just the dreaded groundout which you can see in groundout/flyout rates, which ignore non-outs, bunts, line drives and pop ups, thus being incredibly misleading)?

The Starting Pitchers

Player Level GB% League GB% Difference
Michael Lorenzen AA 60.3% 45.0% 15.3%
Sal Romano A 60.0% 47.2% 12.8%
Chien-Ming Wang AAA 48.6% 44.9% 3.7%
Daniel Wright A 50.0% 47.2% 2.8%
Drew Cisco A+ 48.0% 45.3% 2.7%
Wandy Peralta A+ 46.2% 45.3% 0.9%
Nick Travieso A 48.1% 47.2% 0.9%
David Holmberg AAA 45.5% 44.9% 0.6%
Mike Dennhardt A+ 45.5% 45.3% 0.2%
Amir Garrett A 43.1% 47.2% -4.1%
Robert Stephenson AA 40.5% 45.0% -4.5%
Jon Moscot AA 37.9% 45.0% -7.1%
Tim Crabbe AAA 36.6% 44.9% -8.3%
Ben Lively A+ 36.7% 45.3% -8.6%
James Allen A+ 36.3% 45.3% -9.0%
Ismael Guillon A 35.5% 47.2% -11.7%
Daniel Corcino AA 29.4% 45.0% -15.6%
Josh Smith AAA 27.7% 44.9% -17.2%

Right handers Michael Lorenzen and Sal Romano stand out from the rest of the starting pitchers in the system for their groundball tendencies. Lorenzen has a groundball rate that is 15.3% higher than the league average, which means he is generating groundballs about 33% more often than the average pitcher in the league. Romano has a groundball rate that is 12.8% higher than the league average and means he is generating groundballs about 27% more often than the league average pitcher. On the opposite end of the spectrum Josh Smith, Daniel Corcino and Ismael Guillon are all very heavy fly ball pitchers so far this season.

Now that we have looked at the starters, let’s take a look at the relievers from the system in terms of groundball rates versus their league averages (minimum 60 batters faced) and see how they have performed thus far in 2014.

Player Level GB% League GB% Difference
Evan Mitchell A 69.2% 47.2% 22.0%
Alejandro Chacin A 64.7% 47.2% 17.5%
Elvin Ramirez AA 61.5% 45.0% 16.5%
Layne Somsen A+ 59.3% 46.0% 13.3%
Tim Adleman AA 56.9% 45.0% 11.9%
Brooks Pinckard AA 56.0% 45.4% 10.6%
Lee Hyde AAA 53.7% 44.9% 8.8%
Ryan Dennick AAA 52.1% 44.9% 7.2%
Jacob Johnson A+ 51.4% 45.3% 6.1%
Joel Bender A 53.2% 47.2% 6.0%
Nick Christiani AAA 50.0% 44.9% 5.1%
Jamie Walczak AA 50.0% 45.0% 5.0%
Pedro Diaz A 50.0% 47.2% 2.8%
Ryan Kemp A 49.1% 47.2% 1.9%
Sean Lucas A+ 45.9% 45.3% 0.6%
Shane Dyer AA 44.9% 45.0% -0.1%
Jumbo Diaz AAA 43.9% 44.9% -1.0%
Drew Hayes AA 42.9% 45.0% -2.1%
Scott Brattvet A 43.8% 47.2% -3.4%
Fabian Williamson AA 41.7% 45.3% -3.6%
Sean Black AA 41.5% 45.4% -3.9%
Kyle McMyne A+ 38.8% 45.3% -6.5%
Jimmy Moran A+ 38.8% 45.3% -6.5%
Ben Klimesh A+ 35.7% 45.3% -9.6%
Zack Weiss A 37.5% 47.2% -9.7%
Mikey O’Brien AA 33.3% 45.0% -11.7%
Carlos Gonzalez A+ 32.6% 45.3% -12.7%
Pedro Villarreal AAA 31.3% 44.9% -13.6%
Chad Rogers AAA 30.9% 44.9% -14.0%

Evan Mitchell has posted an incredible 69.2% groundball rate so far this season in Dayton and teammate Alejandro Chacin is at 64.7%. Elvin Ramirez finds himself above the 60% mark as well for the Pensacola squad. Layne Somsen, Tim Adleman and Brooks Pinckard are all at least 10% higher than their league average for groundball rates. The bullpen arms as a whole seem to be better at generating the groundball when compared to the starters

Obviously having a high rate of grounders won’t lead to success on its own (Paul Maholm has the 3rd highest GB% in the big leagues since the start of 2013 and a 4.62 ERA), nor does being a heavy fly ball pitcher (Tony Cingrani has the 9th lowest GB% in the big leagues since the start of 2013 and has a 3.15 ERA). Being a successful pitcher can come in many different forms and generating a lot of groundballs can help out. If you are looking for starters to keep an eye on when it comes to big groundball rates, two guys stand out at the top. If you are looking for bullpen arms it seems that there are a lot more to choose from to watch as the season progresses.

13 thoughts on “Groundball machines in the Reds farm system

  1. Doug, there must be some formula that looks at groundball/missed bat rates. Maybe its as simple as combined GB% & SO% or maybe a ratio of GB% & SO% to FB% & BB%. Certainly, GB% and/or SO% are important for success at GABP with a combination of both needed to keep minimize pitch counts and runs scored for a starting pitcher in GABP.

    • I’m sure that somewhere has some sort of formula, but I don’t know what it is. Honestly, I think strikeout/walk rates are far more important than groundball rates, but just how much, I don’t know. My gut says 3-4 times as important, but it’s really tough to put a number together without running tests and I really don’t know how to even begin going about that.

  2. Its a little disheartening to see Ben Lively and Josh Smith at, or near, the bottom of that list. The Reds see alot in Lorensen. He has an incredible upside. High velocity and high groundball rates is the ticket to move up. A college reliever and 1st round pick turned starter by the Reds.
    I hope the Reds do the same this year and draft the Univ. of Louisville’s pitcher Nick Burdi in the first round and convert him back to a starter. He has hit 102 mph.
    I notice lefty Christopher Manno not on your reliever list. Is he still out in Arizona re-working on his mechanics?

    • As far as Ben Lively is concerned, he can have a 5% GB rate as long as he keeps putting up and ERA in the 0.8′s. Lol

      Guy is just shutting people down. 10.5 K/9, 1.1 BB/9, 0.2 HR/9, 5.2 H/9. That’s just sheer domination. He might end up being a steal of a 4th rounder. Wouldn’t be surprised if he gets sent up to the next level soon.

    • explains why Francis got the fill in for the doubleheader and not Josh. Maybe josh’s numbers are good but his stuff isn’t? but yeah kind of bummed as if he is a fly ball pitcher he won’t have a career in the newer ballparks for long.

      • Francis isn’t exactly the baron of stuff. The reason he probably got the call is that the Reds probably thought they had a better chance of keeping him once they DFA’d him, and if they did lose him, it wasn’t a big deal.

  3. Reds lost Jeff Francis to the A’s so they needed someone. The question is did they have someone internally to promote. Evidently they felt like they didn’t. Sometimes these fliers work out – I’m ambivalent I guess to the signing.

    • knee surgery is tough on a pitcher especially when they look like they are 40 pounds overweight. but If the guy can pitch and help either Louisville or the
      Reds then I’ll be a fan. Francis was 33 I think and had around 10 years or so to prove to someone that he had major league talent. I certainly think that Francis could have served us better than Hoover or Ondrusk but then again maybe his age played a factor in the Reds not having much desire in keeping him around. This Jurrgens does look like he has a good arm if he can regain his form. Low risk signing.

  4. The Jurrjens signing is a great low risk/high reward signing. Nothing lost. If I am the Reds, I am DEF 100% drafting Nick Burdi from U of L and immediately put him in the bullpen. We need a new electric RH power arm to set up Chapman.

    • Drafting relievers that early for the reason to use them in the bullpen is bad business. There simply isn’t enough upside with that kind of pick. You can get for sure, quality relievers on the open market for $5M. A first rounder is going to cost you $2M to sign, then you have to wait a while to get them to the big and you still aren’t sure what they will be (you may be hopeful, but you aren’t sure).

      Chris Buckley took over as the Scouting Director in 2006. The Reds have drafted two for-sure relievers in the first five rounds of the draft in 8 years. Some guys wound up being relievers, but they tried starting all of them except two and they were 3rd rounder Donnie Joseph and 4th rounder Kyle McMyne. Going for a for-sure reliever early isn’t how the Reds have done business.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s