Saturday, June 2, 2012

Greatest Possible Baseball Team: Slot 24, Ground ball specialist

Sometimes there are situations when you absolutely can't give up a home run. Sometimes you might face lineups loaded with powerful, slow sluggers. And sometimes you need a twin killing. In these situations, it's really useful to have a pitcher that knows how to generate groundballs. Bases loaded, bottom of the 9th and 1 out? Here's your man:

Selection: Brandon Webb

One of the minor tragedies of past 5 years has been the loss of Brandon Webb's arm. For 6 years, before his arm broke, Webb was on a Hall of Fame trajectory. For his (sadly short) career, he produced a 3.27/3.50/72/76 (ERA/FIP/ERA-/FIP-) which puts him on level with such luminaries as Sandy Koufax and Christy Mathewston. Used as a reliever, we could expect him to have even better numbers. By any measure, Webb was an elite pitcher for those 6 years. Had he had a 15 year career with his current career line, he'd might even deserve at least a general bullpen spot. As it is, he adds a lot to the general pitching depth able to pitch in relief or as a starter.

But that's not why he's here specifically. Webb is THE premier groundball specialist, at least as far back as groundball/fly ball splits are recorded (2002). His career groundball ratio 64.2%, the highest of any pitcher with more than 1000 innings pitched. When you need a either a groundball or a strike out, Webb is your man. His strike out rate 7.26 K/9 is high for a ground ball pitcher. And he kept the ball in the zone and in the park, giving up less than 3 walks per 9 innings pitched and as few or fewer homeruns per 9 than either Roger Clemens or Greg Maddux (0.63 for Webb and Maddux and 0.66 for Clemens). When you can't give up a deep fly ball, call on Brandon Webb: 71% of the batters who faced him either hit the ball on the ground or struck out. In his peak year, 2006, only 27% of hitters managed to walk or put the ball in the air. Webb's overall line of 2006: 3.10/3.18/66/67.


Derek Lowe

While Lowe's total peak isn't as high as Webb's and his career ground ball rate is a little less than Webbs, he does claim the two highest groundball rate seasons for a starter. And he's been notably more durable than Webb, as his arm continues to function. His strike out rate is considerably lower, even though it's been boosted by his early use as a reliever. Still Lowe has had some great years, with 2002 being the most notable: 66.8% ground ball rate, and 2.58/3.34/57/75 in his peak year as a starter.

Chad Bradford

If you demand that your relief slots be filled primarily with relief pitchers, then Bradford is your guy. His lifetime groundball rate comes in directly between Lowe and Webb at 63.7%. And his homeruns per 9 is an excellent 0.44, though that and his other stats are a little out of proportion due to his exclusive use as a reliever. His best season was perhaps 2002: 3.11/2.58/71/61.

Bradford also likely rounds out the "alternates from places Nathan has lived category", being from Byram, MS. Apparently he also graduated from Byram High School in 1993. Oh, and you may have seen him or a portrayal of him in Moneyball.

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