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Spring Pitching Update – March 23. Ground Balls and Strikeouts

March 24, 2010

Last week we compared the Nats Spring Training Pitching effort to the rest of the league (Spring Training Pitching Update – March 16). It wasn’t pretty. The good news is that the Nats released or reassigned several of the laggards. This week we will look at the manner in which individual pitchers have produced outs. As Rich Lederer points out on BaseballAnalysts.com:

The bottom line is that the best pitchers miss bats (K), throw strikes (BB), and keep batted balls in the park (GB).

Even with the limited information that we get from spring training, we can compute ground balls and strikes per 9 innings to see how each Nats pitcher rates against the league. As of March 22nd, the ground ball rate was 39.03%, the k/9 rate was 5.59. These numbers are lower than we’ll see in the regular season, but spring training has a full complement of minor league pitchers throwing to major league hitters.

Here’s the chart:

The upper right quadrant reveals the pitchers who are above average in both strikeout rate and ground ball rate. As you can see, 96% of all outs recorded by Stephen Strasburg were from strikeouts or ground balls. Livan Hernandez is the only other Nats pitcher to exceed both the ground ball and the strikeout rate.

Most of the Nats pitchers fall in to the lower right quadrant, where pitchers have a higher strikeout rate than the league average, but a lower than average ground ball rate. Jesse English, Drew Storen and Luis Atilano, fall in this group, but make up for their ground ball shortage with extra strikeouts. Jason Bergmann isn’t getting enough extra strikeouts to make up for his excessive fly ball ratio. Tyler Clippard is in a world by himself. His ground ball out ratio is a paltry 15.79%. More than 50% of Clippard’s outs are the product of fly balls. Over time, statistics show that this will result in a higher number of opponent runs.

John Lannan falls in the upper left quadrant. Pitchers in this quadrant have fewer strikeouts than average, but higher ground ball rates. In fact Lannan’s ground ball rate is almost twice the league rate. Loooking at Jason Marquis, it’s easy to see why he is struggling this spring. His ground ball rate is barely above the spring league average, and he is only averaging 1.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

Scott Olsen is the Nats sole member of the lower left quadrant. Olsen has recorded nearly 75% of his outs this spring through fly balls. Evaluating his position on this chart, it looks like he hasn’t fully recovered from his injury last year.

It’s odd that the pitching has worked out the way it has this spring. One of the big hot stove conversations this winter focused on the Nats suspicious infield defense – more specifically how the defense would be able to handle all of the ground ball pitchers on the Nats roster. Marquis, Lannan, Garrett Mock, Craig Stammen and Sean Burnett have historically produced more ground ball outs than fly ball outs. Of this group, only John Lannan is following his usual path. Conversely, prior to this spring, J.D. Martin was known as a fly ball pitcher. He has produced more ground ball outs than fly ball outs this spring. That’s good news for Martin. Few pitchers in history have been successful with ground ball out rates lower than 40%. For the rest of the gang, they’ve still got a couple of weeks to work it out.

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