Head of the Class: GB% Rankings

After last week's rankings that analyzed the ability of pitchers to keep runners off base, this last article of the "Head of the Class" series will focus on pitchers who can keep the ball in the park and induce a lot of groundballs.

The ability to keep the ball low in the strike zone still remains one of the main obstacle for many pitchers in their goal of reaching the major leagues, but the ones who do can become very productive and successful even if they don't strike out a lot of hitters.

As I explained last week, a pitcher can obtain an out by either striking out a batter or putting the ball into play, giving his infielders the task of finishing the plays. However, giving up a lot of fly balls can become costly, as the ball will likely fall for extra-base hits into the large outfield or be knocked hard enough to be a home run.

That's where the following statistic becomes an important measure of a pitcher's control and ability to produce outs: ground ball percentage (GB%).

A 60 GB% is excellent, but below 40% it becomes dangerous, especially if he can't strike out hitters at a healthy rate. The table below will also include the HR/Air, a statistic that presents the percentage of fly balls and line drives that end up as home runs. Anything below 5% is excellent and over 10% is mediocre.

Here are some interesting figures about ground balls ratio from the 2007 edition of the Toronto Blue Jays:

61: ground ball percentage registered by LHP Scott Downs, the highest ratio of the pitching staff.

55: ground ball percentage by RHP Roy Halladay, a decrease of 5% compared to 2006, but he posted a better HR/Air of 5% than he had the previous year. The difference was in the number of hits (232 compared to 208 in 2006) and doubles (42 compared to 35) allowed.

55: ground ball percentage by RHP Dustin McGowan. That's a 12% improvement over 2006 and one of the main reasons why he was so successful when he entered the rotation in May. That was also his best showing in that category since 2004 with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Double-A).

50: ground ball percentage by RHP Jesse Litsch at the major league level. That was the lowest GB% he posted since he entered professional baseball. In fifteen inning in Triple-A, he posted a 64 GB%.

Note 1- Rookie and short-season league players have been omitted due to the development-oriented approach found at these levels. Check for the special mentions at the end of this article

. Note 2- To be eligible, a pitcher had to have thrown at least 50 IP in the minor leagues and could have done it between one or more level within the organization. In the level column, the number between brackets represents the number of levels at which he has performed and also presented is the highest level he has visited. MLB numbers are not compiled for this ranking.


Player

Age

Level

GB% (2007)

HR/Air

GB% (2006)

RHP, Connor Falkenbach

25

(2) AA

65 %

4 %

69 %

RHP, Seth Overbey

23

(3) AA

62 %

1 %

58 %

RHP, Edward Rodriguez

23

A

62 %

2 %

53 %

LHP, Benjamin Harrison

23

A

60 %

4 %

63 %

RHP, Zachary Dials

22

A

60 %

4 %

67 %

RHP, Graham Godfrey

23

A

59 %

5 %

N/A

RHP, Michael MacDonald

25

(2) AAA

59 %

4 %

57 %

RHP, Reidier Gonzalez

22

A

58 %

2 %

56 %

RHP, Jesse Litsch

22

(3) AAA

57 %

6 %

57%

LHP, Chris Reddout

24

A

57 %

4 %

49 %

RHP, Kristian Bell

23

High-A

57 %

8 %

59 %



Analysis

Connor Falkenbach wins this statistical category in 2007, allowing only three home runs in sixty innings pitched. April was his best month with a ground ball percentage of 78 and a 0.79 ERA. Last season was a setback for the righty, after posting a 2.63 earned run average with essentially the same innings pitched at the same two levels in 2006. Left-handed batters still hit him at a healthy clip (.362 average against), but found a way to record thirty saves, ranking second in the Florida State League. At 25, he is likely to start in Double-A New Hampshire in 2008 and counted on to finish the year in Syracuse where his prospect status will be determined.

Seth Overbey: the sidearm hurler had a breakout season in 2007, allowing only one earned run in his first 34 2/3 innings pitched. He was then promoted to Double-A where he fanned thirty-two batters in fifty innings. His sinker proved too much for most batters, especially against right-handers. While his progress was quick, he still needs to work on some things to make an impact at the big league level. "My fastball is pretty good, but I need to work on my placement on both sides of the plate," said Overbey. "My off-speeds could use some work too." He should develop to be a 7th or 8th inning specialist that gets outs quickly with the help of his infielders.

Edward Rodriguez: the 6'4'' righty from the Dominican Republic fared very well in Lansing (A) last season, but needs to cut back on the walks allowed. He improved his GB% to 62 % from 51 % in 2006 at the same level and had the right-handed batters guessing after they hit only .216 against him. Look for him to start the 2008 campaign with the Dunedin Blue Jays.

Graham Godfrey: in his first year of pitching for the Toronto franchise after being picked in the 34th round of the 2006 draft, the 23-year-old did not disappoint with a 3.98 earned run average and 74 strike outs in 110 2/3 IP. Godfrey used 2007 to improve the command of his change-up, a pitch he hopes to add to a repertoire that already includes a fastball, curve and a slider that he uses as his out pitch. He will need to master that change-up if he is to be successful, posting a .322 average against when facing left-handed hitters.

Ray Gonzalez: the 22-year-old Cuban had a successful first trip to A-ball, but struggled against left-handed hitters. Some scouts believe that his less-than-stellar secondary pitches will ultimately force him to come out of the bullpen to be effective and the numbers seem to speak the same language. One thing going for him is his ability to keep the ball down, allowing a miniscule six home runs in 203 2/3 innings pitched and striking out 145 during that time. However, his reliance on his low-90s fastball could prove too much when competing at higher levels.

Special Mentions

Sean Stidfole: the 14th round pick in 2005 took a big leap forward this year, playing High-A and AA while never recording an ERA above 2.60 at either level and keeping the batted balls on the ground 56% of the time. He struggled through changes in his mechanics, the main reason behind his forty-three walks in 82 2/3 innings. The 23-year-old right-hander allowed only a .217 average against after the all-star break and all but guaranteed to start the 2008 season in New Hampshire (Double-A).

Jamie Vermilyea: the king of ground balls had a rough season in 2007, battling through injuries, but still succeeded at inducing ground balls 59% of the time in 43 2/3 IP, just shy of the limit to be eligible for the current ranking. Sent to the Arizona Fall League after the season, he has been struggling mightily with his control, allowing at least two earned runs in each but one of his five outings. This comes at a bad time for the 25-year-old, with the Blue Jays looking to fill their bullpen needs from within.

Brandon Magee: the fourth rounder handled the leap to Dunedin (High-A) from Auburn (Short-season A) in good fashion at the age of 23 years old. While his strike outs per nine innings rate of 4.37 fell short of an average around eight when he was in college, he still kept the ball down and recorded a 54 GB% and allowed fourteen home runs in 156 2/3 inning pitched. His numbers could have been better if it wasn't for that awful April he experienced: 9.56 ERA and a .397 avg. against.

Ted Serro: the 22-year-old really struggled with Lansing this past season (9.95 ERA) and with his control of the strike zone, but when he got the ball within, he was using his heavy sinker and forkball to induce a lot of ground balls to opposing hitters (53 ground ball %). In 93 IP so far in pro baseball, he has allowed only three home runs, providing a useful arm out of the bullpen. With his best numbers in 2007 coming out of Dunedin, the Jays organization might be tempted to give him a chance even though his last campaign was not as successful as they had planned. "He's had a little bit of trouble with command in the strike zone and I just think he lost his arm slot a little bit and is drifting on his delivery," said Tom Signore, the Lansing Lugnuts pitching coach.


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