I generally try not to write about the Mariners too much here, as I figure if you wanted to read my ruminations on Seattle’s team, you’d just go over to USSM. But, last week, Felix Hernandez’s start against the Blue Jays sent me down a road that I found interesting, so hopefully you’ll forgive a brief Mariner-related post here.
On Thursday, Felix had some of the best stuff he’s ever had, including these two ridiculous “change-ups” (thrown at 91 MPH apiece) which should probably be outlawed in the interest of fairness. Even though the Blue Jays managed to get four runs off of him, thanks to a Vernon Wells home run, he was a dominating force for eight strong innings. On the same night that he set his season high in strikeouts with 11, he also ran a 15-2 groundball rate.
Generally, groundballs and strikeouts are substitutes for one another. Hitters tend to swing through pitches up in the zone more often, so there’s a trade off between K and GB. When you can rack up both in the same game, odds are pretty good that you’re going to win, because the opponents just aren’t going to be able to string together any kind of rally.
So, I asked David to query the game logs over the last eights years to find the performances where a starter racked up the most combined GB+K in the same game. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most impressive performance came from Brandon Webb. On September 21st, 2005, he faced 28 batters – 26 of them either pounded the ball into the ground or struck out. In fact, that start is one of only three games since 2002 where the starter got a grounder or a strikeout from 90 percent of the batters he faced.
The other two performances of that quality? Webb, again, on May 20, 2006… and Zach Day. Not the name I was expecting either. But on May 1st, 2003, he shutout the Brewers by getting a staggering 23 groundballs, while also mixing in five strikeouts. He faced 31 batters, and got a combined 28 grounders and strikeouts.
Injuries derailed Day’s career, so he’s not going to be well remembered by future generations, but for one day at least, he was a force to be reckoned with.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.