Kansas City Royals v Chicago White Sox

You can sing the small sample size song all day — thanks to Ted Berg — but we’re creeping up on some real samples now that we’ve got two months in the book. And one of the most recent things to stabilize for hitters (at 200 plate appearances) was their ground ball rate.

Some recent interviewing, spurred by Joey Votto‘s love of the level swing, and stoked by Alex Gordon‘s changes early in his career, has me wondering about the ideal ground ball rate for hitters. I ran a correlation between ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio and wRC+, and could not find a peak. That’s because you trade times on base (with the ground ball and the line drive) for times walking around the bases (with the fly ball and the home run).

But if we’re talking power, it gets much easier. Fly balls good. Fly balls very good. Fly balls are well correlated with any power metric out there, and you really do have to get them up in order to get them out. It *is* that simple, at least here.

So, who’s hitting fewer ground balls? Here’s the top ten, in an effort to slim down some of these posts:

Name PA HR R RBI SB ISO AVG SLG GB% GB diff ISO diff
Ian Desmond 230 8 23 23 5 0.209 0.270 0.479 0.389 -10.8% 0.050
Asdrubal Cabrera 224 5 28 25 5 0.180 0.254 0.434 0.351 -9.7% 0.040
Brett Gardner 243 5 30 23 9 0.153 0.259 0.412 0.403 -9.6% 0.044
Paul Konerko 206 5 16 21  0 0.118 0.235 0.353 0.299 -7.8% -0.099
Drew Stubbs 203 4 21 18 6 0.141 0.232 0.373 0.385 -7.6% -0.004
Carlos Gonzalez 252 14 46 36 12 0.279 0.306 0.584 0.383 -6.8% 0.054
Carlos Beltran 214 13 27 38 1 0.218 0.307 0.525 0.353 -6.5% -0.002
Yoenis Cespedes 207 11 29 33 2 0.245 0.239 0.484 0.319 -6.3% 0.023
James Loney 207 7 27 30 2 0.196 0.326 0.522 0.370 -5.9% 0.056
Andrelton Simmons 233 5 29 22 2 0.116 0.256 0.372 0.420 -5.9% -0.005

… Carlos Gonzalez got on this list before he hit three home runs last night. That is all …

Ian Desmond is really going for it. And you know what, it’s fine. You don’t own Ian Desmond for his batting average, you own him for his power and his speed. He’s still stealing bases, and now he’s the proud owner of a higher isolated slugging percentage and fewer ground balls. Know thyself. You could really say the same about Asdrubal Cabrera, but to a slightly lesser extent, given his lesser slugging numbers.

Brett Gardner is another story. He is benefiting from better slugging numbers thanks to hitting almost ten percent fewer ground balls, but is that what you want from him? His on-base percentage and batting average on balls in play are under career norms, and he has a league average ISO for his troubles. Eh, if he steals a few more bags over the course of the season and adds 15 homers this year, fantasy owners won’t mind.

Paul Konerko is a problem child, but it’s mostly about age for the 37-year-old. Still, career norms suggest he will slug a little better going forward. Carlos Beltran, on the other hand, is probably who he is, considering he’s slugging right at his career numbers. Maybe a few more *will* go out with this new approach.

Yes, you have to think that this analysis suggests that Andrelton Simmons and Drew Stubbs will see a little boost in their power numbers as the season goes on. After all, power takes the longest to stabilize, but getting them up in the air is half the battle.

Could James Loney’s slugging numbers actually be somewhat sustainable? This begs for a thorough breakdown, but… maybe?

(And, just off the list, Daniel Nava, Matt Dominguez and  Alejandro De Aza, three flawed players with interesting stat lines so far, make their power surges more interesting with ground ball rate declines.)

And now the hitters that are putting it on the ground more often this year:

Name PA HR R RBI SB ISO AVG SLG GB% gbdiff ISO diff
Carlos Pena 222 5 29 16 1 0.147 0.241 0.387 0.504 12.9% -0.087
Michael Young 207 2 19 11 1 0.093 0.257 0.350 0.566 9.9% -0.049
Torii Hunter 229 2 32 23 1 0.110 0.310 0.419 0.566 8.5% -0.081
Lorenzo Cain 205 1 26 23 8 0.104 0.286 0.390 0.582 8.5% -0.018
Dustin Pedroia 263 3 39 30 8 0.113 0.330 0.443 0.523 8.4% -0.043
Alfonso Soriano 212 6 24 24 6 0.155 0.270 0.425 0.406 8.0% -0.075
Ryan Braun 228 9 28 35 3 0.218 0.292 0.510 0.513 7.6% -0.035
Alex Gordon 245 6 35 31 1 0.154 0.320 0.474 0.458 6.9% -0.014
Miguel Montero 214 3 16 16 0 0.081 0.200 0.281 0.486 6.8% -0.085
Eric Hosmer 211 1 19 17 4 0.067 0.264 0.332 0.595 6.7% -0.070

Oooh boy, not good news for the veterans, you’d have to say. Carlos Pena, Michael Young, Torii Hunter, Alfonso Soriano, meet this aging curve, courtesy of myself and Jeff Zimmerman:

hitteragigall

See how ground ball rate stops declining right around 29? That means it starts going up a couple percentage points every year. It’s part of the way age takes your power away from you. You really could put the 29-year-old Miguel Montero in the mix there, especially considering how terrible his year has been.

The changes might actually suit Lorenzo Cain, who should be focusing on getting on base and stealing more bases, or at least according to fantasy owners. Alex Gordon did it on purpose, and I’m sure it’s part of that nice batting average. Dustin Pedroia is dealing with a thumb injury, so this could be part of that. Ryan Braun? We’ll just leave that one alone.

But Eric Hosmer. Oh Eric Hosmer. The same Eric Hosmer that told me that he doesn’t think about ground balls and fly balls. Perhaps the young man with a .332 slugging percentage might want to consider the situation more carefully.

Apologies for any errors. I’m launching BeerGraphsyes a FanGraphs spin-off meant to bring spreadsheets to suds — on Friday, and I’m knee deep in CMS and leaderboard troubleshooting. Come visit! And anybody living in San Francisco (I saw plenty of blue at the game on Tuesday) can come meet up and talk about it over a beer.

Comments (2)

  1. Love your work Eno…although, tapping Drew to author a few jokes would be helpful. ;)

  2. At first I wasn’t sure about having a Hitler reference in the title, but then I warmed up to it.

    And then I thought, “I should see my optometrist.”

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