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Hurlers Racking Up K's and Fly Balls

by Tim Muma                                                                   2/20/2013
(Twitter: @brewersblend)                                                12:30am


All six potential starting pitchers for the Milwaukee Brewers share similar stats that are both delectable and dangerous - or at least they could be.

Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers and Chris Narveson attain a lot of the same results in relation to strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and ground ball percentage (GB%) - or the percentage of balls in play that are hit on the ground.

Estrada is an interesting case as
his numbers are quite impressive
Why might these ratios and percentages matter? It comes down to expected outcomes and what typically happens what a ball is put into play - or not put into play in the case of the K/9 statistic.

If we first look at K/9, the value lies in luck doesn't play a factor, nor does a team's defense - it's an out 100% of the time (with extremely rare exceptions). It's easy to recognize the impact of having a pitcher who consistently puts away the hitter without having to rely on any other factor.


To try to put it in perspective, the top five NL starting pitchers for this stat in 2012 all had K/9 rates between 9.05 and 9.35. The league average for the senior circuits starters was 7.28.

Three of the possible starters can be expected to be in that range, while two others should be near the 9.05 mark. Below are a variety of K/9 stats for the Brewers' starters...

Fiers - 9.5 in 129.2 Major League innings (9.6 throughout the Minor Leagues)
Rogers - 9.3 during his time in the Minors (9.6 in 49 Major League innings)
Gallardo - Career 9.2 in 916.1 Major League innings
Estrada - Career 9.0 in 262.1 Major League innings
Peralta - 8.5 during his time in the Minors
Narveson - 7.4 K/9 in 394.2 Major League innings

So as you can see, Brewers hurlers (sans Narveson) look very capable of helping themselves out and avoiding contact, with all of them trending well above league average and a few possibly pushing the NL's top arms for K/9.

Meanwhile, the GB% can be an interesting statistic depending on the make up of the team and the home stadium. Fangraphs has a nice summary of the value in ground balls versus fly balls...

"Pitchers with high ground ball rates tend to give up more total hits, but they also allow fewer extra base hits. This is relatively intuitive: ground balls are harder to field than fly balls and they rarely go for extra bases (and almost never go for home runs). So pitchers who limit the amount of fly balls hit will also limit the amount of extra bases against them. Similarly, fly ball pitchers tend to allow fewer total hits, but more extra base hits."


Peralta's GB% should limit HR,
but the defense could hurt him
This seems to make a lot of sense and over the course of large sample sizes, the statistics typically bear this out. Again, park factors and defense can play a role in the overall impact - and the Brewers will be an interesting case study - but we'll get to that in a bit.

During the 2012 season, the NL average for GB% among starters was 45.4%, while the top five leaders in this category sat between 55% and 59% for the year.

Let's take a look at how the Brewers' hurlers may stack up in GB%...

Peralta - Minor League numbers suggest 52%-54% in MLB (55.3% in 29 MLB innings)
Gallardo - Career 44.6% in 916.1 MLB innings
Rogers - Minor League numbers suggest 41%-43% in MLB (41.3% in 49 MLB innings)
Narveson - Career 39.7% in 394.2 MLB innings
Estrada - Career 36.8% in 262.1 MLB innings
Fiers - Career 32.7% in 129.2 MLB innings (Minor League stats suggest a slightly higher %)

When looking at how low some of their GB% are it's natural to be concerned. Again, the biggest worry with fly ball pitchers are extra-base hits and especially home runs. Playing 81 games in Miller Park, a homer hot bed, could definitely be an issue for a number of pitchers over the course of a season.

However, there is a positive to the minuscule ground ball numbers that rival the lowest in the NL - the Brewers outfield defense is far superior to their infielders' range and gloves. Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki can run down balls all over the field, negating the high percentage of fly balls from turning into extra-base hits. So provided the ball stays in the park, Milwaukee might be better off with a bunch more fly balls.
 
Fiers has proven scouts wrong
so far, but will '13 be different?
I'll be taking a more in-depth look at the Brewers defense in a future article here on Brewersmix.com.

Admittedly, the high fly ball rate is still worrisome as a 3-run homer feels like it's always waiting around the corner. Fiers is a perfect example of the impact long balls have on these hurlers. In his first 13 starts last season, he allowed zero taters in 11 of those contests, contributing heavily to his stellar 1.80 ERA. However, in 5 of his last 9 appearances he was hurt by the gopher ball (9 total) that led to a 5.72 ERA over that span.

Absolutely night and day.

The stats tell us that the high strikeout ratios will make Brewers' pitcher more productive than most would expect as they'll limit any damage they incur through walks and extra-base hits. However, there will be a fine line to their overall success due to the extremely low ground ball percentages and Miller Park's homer friendly environment.

In the interest of thinking positively, I'm thinking Miller Park acts bigger than it is in 2013 to give the Crew's outfield trio a chance to track everything down.

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