Who’s Hitting Too Many Ground Balls?

For the most part, there’s some truth to the fact that you have to get em up to get em out: The average ISO for the twenty guys hitting the most ground balls per fly ball this year is .090 — far below the league’s .145 average. That isn’t to say that it’s as easy as “Hit More Fly Balls = Hit More Homers.” There’s probably an ideal batted ball mix for each hitter.

But, if you have an established hitter that is suddenly hitting a lot more ground balls, and their power is down, it seems reasonable to worry about that power. After all, the guys putting the most balls in play have reached the threshold for stability, and these batted ball stats are more reliable with every day.

So let’s take a look at the guys who are hitting more ground balls this year. In the table below, you can find the 30 hitters who have hit the most ground balls compared to their 2013 rate.

Name GB/FB 13 GB/FB GB Change ISO ISO CH
Ben Revere 6.23 3.39 184% 0.029 -0.019
Elvis Andrus 4.48 2.51 178% 0.082 0.022
Curtis Granderson 1.30 0.77 169% 0.137 -0.041
Joe Mauer 3.05 1.85 165% 0.069 -0.084
Justin Morneau 1.76 1.07 164% 0.258 0.106
Allen Craig 2.62 1.60 164% 0.128 -0.014
Evan Longoria 1.35 0.83 163% 0.123 -0.107
Dexter Fowler 1.97 1.23 160% 0.127 -0.018
Carlos Gonzalez 1.46 0.94 155% 0.210 -0.079
Emilio Bonifacio 3.09 2.01 154% 0.062 -0.026
Justin Smoak 1.16 0.76 153% 0.186 0.012
Jean Segura 3.76 2.52 149% 0.088 -0.041
Matt Kemp 1.69 1.15 147% 0.193 0.068
Prince Fielder 1.64 1.13 145% 0.113 -0.065
Howie Kendrick 3.48 2.41 144% 0.120 -0.022
Jonathan Lucroy 1.48 1.03 144% 0.122 -0.053
Domonic Brown 1.71 1.22 140% 0.094 -0.128
Jason Kubel 1.12 0.80 140% 0.085 -0.015
Everth Cabrera 4.40 3.19 138% 0.094 -0.003
Robinson Cano 2.03 1.49 136% 0.088 -0.114
Chase Utley 1.20 0.89 135% 0.212 0.021
Yadier Molina 1.67 1.24 135% 0.135 -0.023
Matt Joyce 1.14 0.85 134% 0.134 -0.050
Albert Pujols 1.22 0.91 134% 0.269 0.090
Daniel Murphy 1.56 1.17 133% 0.133 0.004
David Murphy 1.53 1.15 133% 0.149 -0.005
Kurt Suzuki 1.20 0.92 130% 0.104 -0.001
Brett Gardner 1.52 1.17 130% 0.122 -0.021
Martin Prado 2.05 1.58 130% 0.063 -0.072
Andrelton Simmons 1.40 1.08 130% 0.155 0.006

Ben Revere. Wow. If someone is ever going to put up a negative ISO, this is the place to start looking. Dude is hitting SIX grounders for every fly ball. Probably what you want out of a guy that might not hit a homer every three years, actually. And really, the first two guys on the list fall into the category of “Yup, Don’t Care.” Even a little lower on the list, a guy like Jean Segura — if he hits seven homers instead of nine, that’s not why you own him. In fact, the added boost to his batting average that might come from hitting more grounders could be beneficial to his overall line (eventually).

Below the Revere/Andrus duo is a trio that represents the aging slugger component. Ground ball rate starts to climb after age 30, so the fact that Justin Morneau, Curtis Granderson, and Joe Mauer are on this list is not surprising. The amount of change is a little larger than you’d expect, though. Half again as many grounders as last year. And, really, we should put Allen Craig on this list. He’s turning 30 and hitting way too many ground balls. You’d have to call this a list of possible sells — low in most cases, but high in the case of Morneau, who adds injury risk to regression risk.

Evan Longoria is the first slugger that’s under thirty and showing a large ground-ball tendency this year. It’s hard to know what to do with him, exactly. He’s about 30 balls in play short of the stability point, so a few more fly balls in the next week or two would be a welcome and meaningful sign, maybe. You know that you can bank on his age to some extent, and his track record is fairly steady when it comes to isolated power — over .213 in every season of his career. I’m less worried about Longoria than any other name on this list.

Matt Kemp and Prince Fielder show us the pitfalls of this approach. Two guys with decent power histories changed their batted ball mix almost exactly the same amount — and one ended up increasing his power, while the other decreased. Well, we shouldn’t focus too much on the isolated power numbers, really. Those are results, and they take forever to stabilize. If anything, their inclusion on this list suggests that perhaps Kemp’s power gain is less believable than Fielder’s power loss.

Domonic Brown’s inclusion here is one of the most worrisome to his owners, but if we gave Longoria a pass for being young and short of stability thresholds, we should give Brown at least some of that benefit of the doubt. He’s even ten more balls in play behind Longoria, and younger. That also means he has a shorter track record and his owners are more worried. I’ve actually bought Brown in some dynasty leagues, but I can’t recommend it.

And last, a note about the guy with the second-biggest ISO increase on this list: Albert Pujols. Given that he showed up on Mike Podhorzer’s list of guys with surprising results given their flagging batted ball distance, the fact that he’s also hitting more ground balls can’t be a great sign either. Career worsts in GB/FB and batted ball distance don’t seem to suggest a resurgence. This might be your last best time to sell Pujols in dynasty leagues. In redrafts, maybe the ground balls start turning into hits and you get value from him even with fewer home runs. He’s got a loooong track record when it comes to batting average, after all. It always depends on the return.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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9 years ago

Great piece Eno! And spot on on Pujols. What effect do you think dominates when a player is hitting more GBs, but the fly balls he hits are going further? Morneau for example has added 20 feet to his HR,FBs…

Mike Podhorzermember
9 years ago
Reply to  sjcstavros

I’ll jump in here and say it’s riskier. The decline in FB% is probably a real change, whereas a big boost in distance more likely to regress toward career averages. So it’s a risky approach for power.

9 years ago
Reply to  Mike Podhorzer

I sold Pujols during the winter in a dynasty for Iwakuma (before injury) and Polanco. It’s not looking like I did great at the moment but I’m hoping it turns around by the end of the season.