Sunday Rockpile: Some Relative Advantages for Groundball Pitchers at Coors Field

Justin Edmonds

PURPLE DUKE looks at the merits of stocking the Rockies' rotation full of ground-ball heavy pitchers.

Editor's Note: The following post is a part of the 2013 Purple Row Writer Search -- our quest to find some great new contributors to Purple Row. This entry was written by PURPLE DUKE.

Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd was excoriated when he traded for Jeremy Guthrie for the 2012 season, not because Guthrie was a bad pitcher, but because, it was thought that as a high ball pitcher, he would give up more runs to the opposition via the home run. While with the Rockies, he was neutral as between air outs and ground outs. What he lost was his control in Colorado.

He gave up 31 bases on balls at Coors in 90.2 innings; and in Kansas City during the remainder of his season, he gave up 19 bases on balls in 91 innings. He gave up slightly more air outs than ground outs in KC than in Colorado, but not a number that would put a fly ball pitcher label on him. If you examine Guthrie's record while in Cleveland and Baltimore, you would see some extreme fly ball years and some neutral ones.

He may have fallen victim to nibbling syndrome, common to Rockies pitchers knowing that their strikeouts are typically reduced from 15% (pre-humidor) to 9% (humidor). Both are significant reductions. Pitchers also know that they have little or no breaking stuff at Coors due to the thin air, dry skin etc. What repertoire does a pitcher have left? A sub-standard flat fastball and changes of velocity.

The result is often a pitcher trying to hit the corners, exaggerating a change up and throwing more balls than strikes. The pitcher, behind in the count often may subconsciously think that by walking the batter, that batter isn't going hit for power by putting the ball in play.

But when the walks come, more hits result too.

It gets one to thinking about Colorado making an extreme effort to acquire low ball pitchers. There have been a number of them in Colorado, mostly as relievers, e.g. Jose Jimenez and Steve Reed.

As a stat the groundball - flyball ratio seems fair. It remains consistent for pitchers over the years. It is not dependent upon fielding, altitude or the quality of the air. Ground balls don't leave the ballpark. All infields are the same interior size; however, all outfields are not built alike, so groundball pitchers have the Coors field outfield expanse to worry about.

If fly balls becoming home runs are the bugaboo of the Rockies, statistics have shown that groundball pitchers throw fewer home run balls per pitch than fly ballers and neutral hurlers. (Matthew Carruth, Hardball Times, 5-11-2007).

Nate Silver observes that Carlos Zambrano gets away with a relatively high walk rate due to his ability to induce ground balls, and double-plays. Low ball pitchers are less likely to give up Home Runs (Nate Silver, Baseball Prospectus, 5-19-2004).

When low ballers give up a homer, it is probably a mistake pitch. We know well in Colorado that once a ball is hit in the air, there is considerable luck in where it lands-think BABIP. As Jeremy Guthrie knows, home runs do bad things to an ERA.

Another article will examine the success and failures of past and present of Rockies' low ball pitchers.

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