The 20 Best/Worst Groundballing Seasons, 1950-2001

As the title of the post indicates, this is a list of the 20 best and also worst groundballing seasons, 1950-2001, as estimated by the Retrosheet ground-out/air-out (GO/AO) data hosted at Baseball-Reference.

For more on the research here, please don’t hesitate to read the last article in this series or a discussion of same at Tango’s Inside the Book blog. I’ve also included a brief discussion of some name on this list after the leaderboards.

Here are the 20 best groundballing seasons (xGB% is Expected Groundball Percentage and xGB+ is xGB% relative to league average in the relevant season):

Pitcher		Team	Year	GO/AO	xGB%	LgAvg	xGB+
Steve Trout*	CHC	1984	3.62	67.9%	43.2%	157
Tommy John*	LAD	1978	3.72	68.4%	43.9%	156
Tommy John*	LAD	1977	3.87	69.2%	44.6%	155
John Denny	PHI	1983	2.90	63.5%	43.9%	145
Kevin Brown	FLA	1997	2.99	64.1%	44.4%	144
Bob Stanley	BOS	1982	2.82	62.9%	44.3%	142
Tommy John*	NYY	1988	2.57	61.1%	43.2%	142
Bill Swift	SEA	1988	2.57	61.1%	43.2%	142
John Denny	CLE	1981	2.79	62.7%	44.6%	141
Kevin Brown	FLA	1996	2.70	62.1%	44.3%	140
Dennis Lamp	CHW	1982	2.68	61.9%	44.3%	140
Orel Hershiser	LAD	1984	2.45	60.1%	43.2%	139
Kevin Brown	TEX	1989	2.47	60.3%	43.3%	139
Jerry Reuss*	LAD	1982	2.60	61.3%	44.3%	139
Tommy John*	LAD	1976	2.50	60.5%	43.7%	138
Kevin Brown	TEX	1990	2.37	59.5%	43.0%	138
Ray Fontenot*	NYY	1984	2.40	59.7%	43.2%	138
Al Brazle*	STL	1950	2.24	58.4%	42.2%	138
Chuck Rainey	CHC	1983	2.50	60.5%	43.9%	138
Bill Swift	SFG	1993	2.43	60.0%	43.5%	138

Here are the 20 worst groundballing seasons:

Pitcher		Team	Year	GO/AO	xGB%	LgAvg	xGB+
Sid Fernandez*	NYM	1989	0.35	21.6%	43.3%	50
Eric Milton*	MIN	1998	0.43	25.7%	44.3%	58
Sid Fernandez*	NYM	1992	0.42	25.2%	43.2%	58
Herb Score*	CLE	1955	0.41	24.7%	41.6%	59
Sid Fernandez*	NYM	1990	0.43	25.7%	43.0%	60
Sid Fernandez*	NYM	1986	0.45	26.6%	43.7%	61
D. Eckersley	CLE	1977	0.47	27.4%	44.6%	61
Kevin Foster	CHC	1995	0.48	27.8%	44.6%	62
Luis Tiant	BOS	1977	0.49	28.2%	44.6%	63
Sid Fernandez*	NYM	1988	0.47	27.4%	43.2%	64
Catfish Hunter	OAK	1973	0.49	28.2%	44.4%	64
Bill Butler*	KCR	1969	0.50	28.6%	45.0%	64
Rick Helling	TEX	2000	0.48	27.8%	43.5%	64
Sid Fernandez*	NYM	1985	0.49	28.2%	44.1%	64
Roger Moret*	BOS	1974	0.49	28.2%	43.7%	65
Rick Helling	TEX	1998	0.50	28.6%	44.3%	65
Eric Milton*	MIN	2001	0.50	28.6%	43.5%	66
J.H. Johnson*	OAK	1978	0.51	29.0%	43.9%	66
Connie Marrero	WSH	1952	0.49	28.2%	42.4%	67
Denny Neagle*	COL	2001	0.51	29.0%	43.5%	67

Notes:

• Of Tommy John, whose name appears frequently on the leaderboard, The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers says, “John threw a sinking fastball 85 to 90 percent of the time from the beginning to the end of his major league career.”

Said Guide also quotes from John’s biography, as follows:

I was blessed in that my ball naturally broke down. The sinkerball was my meal ticket. But I also learned the mechanics that added to my natural ball movement. I learned them when I was with the White Sox. Ray Berres, the pitching coach there, taught me to throw with my hand position going from straight up to straight down. It takes effort and a lot of practice to throw the ball that way, since the uncorrected tendency is to keep your hand positioned at an angle. It’s called throwing high-to-low, and that’s the way I pitched, driving the ball down with my hand and fingers.

Sid Fernandez, whose name appears constantly among the most fly ball-oriented of pitchers, was noted for throwing a “rising” fastball — and is, in fact, cited as an example of such at the Wikipedia entry for same. Of Fernandez, Wikipedia notes that Fernandez “was known for throwing a rising fastball from a slightly ‘submarine’ motion.”

Kevin Brown was sooooooooooo good — not only featuring excellent GO/AO numbers, but also, at his best, posting huge K/BB ratios.

• If we included numbers for 2002-10, Derek Lowe and Brandon Webb would both feature multiple seasons on the top-20 leaderboard and Chris Young would place among the laggards at least twice, I think it is.

• For a spreadsheet with all relevant data, click here.





Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

23 Comments
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DrBGiantsfan
11 years ago

There are very good pitchers on both sides of the fence on this one. The take home lesson should be there is more than one way to get the job done. Being a GB pitcher is not automatically better than being a FB pitcher.

Jason B
11 years ago
Reply to  DrBGiantsfan

Not…entirely true. If you’re a FB pitcher, it really helps to pitch in a more spacious stadium with a good outfield defense, rather than a bandbox. Throwing a lot of flies in a small stadium is a good way to inflate an ERA and shorten a career (see: Helling, Tex; Milton, CIN; Neagle, COL; etc etc). Certainly not a guaranteed ticket outta town but it doesn’t help matters any.

designated quitter
11 years ago
Reply to  Jason B

True. Look at Phil Hughes numbers last year. 21 home runs allowed in Yankee Stadium, 5 on the road. He is a right handed fly ball pitcher in a park that punishes them.

DrBGiantsfan
11 years ago
Reply to  Jason B

Look up Catfish Hunter’s first two seasons with the Yankees.

adam smith
11 years ago
Reply to  Jason B

Actually, it is better to be a fly ball pitcher. The vast majority of HOF pitchers, for whom data is available, were fly ball pitchers. Very few outlier GB pitchers. Lemon and Ford are the only ones who are heavily weighted on the ground ball side.

Bad Bill
11 years ago
Reply to  Jason B

Actually, adam, it’s better to be a fly ball pitcher named Tom Seaver or Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax or Steve Carlton than it is to be a ground ball pitcher named Bill Swift or John Denny. The HoF-level, historic talents got guys out on pitches that would be batting practice if thrown by mere mortals. It’s not productive to extrapolate from those guys to the typical pitcher.