There is this idea out there that being a “ground ball pitcher” means that said pitcher is more likely to give up fewer runs; after all, there is zero chance that a ground ball turns into a guaranteed grand slam (I say guaranteed because of Luis Sojo). Now, giving up a ton of ground ball hits can be problematic, but ground ball hits are harder to come by because ground balls usually give more time for the defense to make a play on it. Anyway, I wanted to know if there honestly is a correlation between being a ground ball pitcher, and allowing fewer runs.
To do this, I went to the Fangraphs pitchers page and arranged the list by having the pitchers with the highest ground ball percentages (GB%) at the top of said list. Then I took a look at their FIP and xFIP to see if it did…here is the top ten;
- Justin Masterson (Indians) has a GB% of 57.8%, a FIP of 3.29, and a xFIP of 3.33
- Rick Porcello (Tigers) has a GB% of 57.3%, a FIP of 3.55, and a xFIP of 3.21
- A.J. Burnett (Pirates) has a GB% of 56.1%, a FIP of 3.14, and a xFIP of 3.14 (talk about consistent)
- Tim Hudson (Braves) has a GB% of 55.8%, a FIP of 3.46, and a xFIP of 3.58
- Doug Fister (Tigers) has a GB% of 55.6%, a FIP of 3.40, and a xFIP of 3.41
- Wily Peralta (Brewers) has a GB% of 54%, a FIP of 4.17, and a xFIP of 4.10
- Andrew Cashner (Padres) has a GB% of 53.7%, a FIP of 3.62, and a xFIP of 3.90
- Edwin Jackson (Cubs) has a GB% of 53.6%, a FIP of 3.62, and xFIP of 3.67
- Lucas Harrell (Astros) has a GB% of 53.2%, a FIP of 5.32, and a xFIP of 4.81
- Jeff Locke (Pirates) has a GB% of 52.3%, a FIP of 3.76, and a xFIP 4.21
Some of these pitchers are names known around baseball (Burnett, Porcello, Fister, Jackson), but others are not (Harrell, Locke, Peralta, Cashner). That being said, most of these pitchers have a high ground ball percentage and a FIP/xFIP in the three’s; obviously there are some outliers in the data, but there are only two of them. Basically what I am trying to say is that most of these pitchers are pretty good at keeping the opposing teams off of the score board, and it appears that the fact that a lot of the contact they get is grounders.
So the answer to the question in the title is, yes. Yes, being a ground ball pitcher does equate to being better at limiting the other teams ability to score runs.