There are several different levels of groundball pitchers floating around major league baseball right now. There are the no-stuff command types who get grounders based on movement and location (Jon Garland, Braden Looper), the guys who have devastating sinkers with average velocity (Derek Lowe, Aaron Cook), and then there’s the power pitchers who hammer the bottom of the zone with fastballs that simply can’t be hit in the air (Brandon Webb, Chien-Ming Wang).
And then there’s Brad Ziegler. He’s a side-arm reliever for the A’s, and his fastball tops out at about 86 MPH. It’s basically his only real pitch – he throws it 89% of the time, mixing in a below average slider just to keep hitters occasionally off balance. Just based on velocity, his stuff could charitably described as marginal. If he was a lefty, he’d be described as crafty, which is code for can’t-break-glass-with-his-fastball.
But what he lacks in velocity, he makes up for in movement and deception. His fastball has so much sink, in fact, that in his first 11 1/3 innings of major league pitching, he’s posting a 73.5% GB% and an 8.33 GB/FB rate. He’s faced 40 batters since the A’s brought him up from Triple-A, and a whopping three of them have managed to hit the ball in the air.
Apparently, Billy Beane missed having Chad Bradford in the bullpen, so they decided to create another one. Until 2006, Ziegler was a traditional over the top pitcher, but given his limited chances to make the majors as a “normal” pitcher, the A’s convinced him to become a side-arming reliever. It’s worked wonders, as he hasn’t given up a home run since at any level, and he’s run a GB% of 60% or higher at every stop along the way.
Because of his delivery and his repertoire, Ziegler’s always going to be more of a ROOGY than a true dominating relief ace, as lefties will enjoy seeing that fastball come in from the low arm slot, but he’s clearly got enough movement on his fastball to be a nightmare for right-handed hitters in late game situations. Once again, the A’s demonstrate just how easy it is to build a quality bullpen, converting a fringe prospect into a real weapon coming out of their bullpen.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.