Do Ground Ball Pitchers Sink the Rays?

ST PETERSBURG FL - JULY 26: Infielder Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays puts shaving cream in the face of pitcher Matt Garza #22 as he is interviewed after his no hitter against the Detroit Tigers at Tropicana Field on July 26 2010 in St. Petersburg Florida. Tampa Bay beat Detroit 5-0. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

It was noted after the opening game of the Indians series that it appears the Rays struggle against ground ball pitchers like Fausto Carmona. As I began to do some research, I laid witness to ground-baller Mitch Talbotof the 4.6 strikeouts-per-nine-innings, strikeout six of the first seven Rays he faced. To look at how the offense has fared year-to-date I utilized baseball-reference.com's team splits. B-ref identifies a ground ball pitcher as a pitcher in the bottom-third of flyout:groundout ratio. It uses a three-year number on each side of the calender year in question to determine where the pitcher stands. I converted B-ref's data to wOBA for a quick and easy comparision:

Split

wOBA

BB%

K%

PA

SLG

R/PA

vs. Fly Ball

0.325

11.4%

21.5%

1481

0.377

0.119

vs. GrndBall

0.365

10.2%

18.6%

787

0.444

0.142

2010 Totals

0.341

10.7%

19.9%

3775

0.406

0.130

Well, there goes that theory. The Rays have posted a wOBA of .365 vs. pitchers who induce a lot of groundballs, compared to just .325 against the extreme fly ball pitchers. I would venture to guess  that the Rays 9.3% home run-to-fly ball ratio has a lot to do with the low wOBA vs fly ball pitchers. Most fly balls that stay in house turn into outs, so an increase in a few home runs could make a big difference.

So the team has performed quite well against groundballers. We know Joe Maddon loves to play the matchups. Platoons are often discussed in terms of handedness, but did you know that a platoon advantage also exists for batted-ball tendencies? The Book says:

The platoon advantage based on tendency to hit or allow a ball to hit the ground or the air is real. Same-type tendencies mimic those of handedness (e.g. groundball pitchers prefer groundball hitters). It cannot be leveraged as much as handedness because most pitchers and batters are near neutral (in FB/GB ratios), whereas that is not true for standard (handedness) platoon ratios.

 

Where it defines the handedness platoon as a .040 point swing in wOBA, the batted-ball type platoon swing is .032. The Book also points out most managers fail to utilize this platoon advantage to their benefit! Sometimes when it seems a lineup is out of sorts based on handedness, it would be prudent to dig deeper and look at the batted ball tendencies of the hitter and opposing pitcher to see if Joe Maddon is sweating over that data. Below is a table demonstrating each hitter's career wOBA and his wOBA against ground ball pitchers with the plate appearances versus groundballers listed for sample size disclosure.

PA(gr)

wOBA

wOBA(gr)

Diff

John Jaso

61

0.348

0.453

0.105

Ben Zobrist

384

0.356

0.368

0.012

Carl Crawford

1220

0.346

0.358

0.012

Jason Bartlett

632

0.335

0.346

0.011

Carlos Pena

953

0.369

0.376

0.007

Kelly Shoppach

222

0.344

0.344

0.000

Gabe Kapler

704

0.343

0.339

-0.004

BJ Upton

637

0.342

0.330

-0.012

Reid Brignac

75

0.333

0.320

-0.013

Matt Joyce

85

0.368

0.340

-0.028

Willy Aybar

301

0.345

0.317

-0.028

Sean Rodriguez

95

0.302

0.263

-0.039

For players with at least 200 plate appearances against groundballers, most of the speed demons top the list. Zobrist, Crawford, and Bartlett all have fared well against sinker pitchers. BJ Upton may seem surprising, but it's fairly well documented that he is slow to get out of the right side of the batter's box. The biggest takeaway perhaps is that Willy Aybar struggles against ground ball pitchers. I'm sure the Rays have much finer data where they can combine splits and opposing pitcher pitch types. One project I'd like to work on is to come up with a matrix of splits for the Rays batters to try to get inside the mind to share a moment with Maddon.

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