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
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.
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.