We all know the baseball cliché that good pitching beats good hitting. The Yankees experienced it in the mid-00s, pairing a powerhouse offense with mediocre pitching. Over a 162-game season, often facing mediocre pitching, that worked out well. But in the playoffs, with the weak teams eliminated, good pitching shut down the Yankees. It comes as no surprise, then, that the year the front office focused on the pitching staff was the year that the team returned to the World Series for the first time since 2003.
On his blog at WEEI, Lou Merloni notes that the top starters in the AL did a good job of holding down the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Nos. 1 and 3 offenses in the American League. Again, this comes as no surprise. It did make me wonder, though, how the Yankees hitters fared against different types of pitchers. Was there a certain type that caused them fits? Today we’ll look at the best ground ball pitchers in the AL and see how they fared against the 2009 Yankees.
Only five American League pitchers recorded a ground ball rate of 50 percent or higher: Rick Porcello, Ricky Romero, Felix Hernandez, Brett Anderson, and Roy Halladay. Another eight had a ground ball rate of 45 percent or higher: Trevor Cahill, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Joe Saunders, Scott Feldman, Nick Blackburn, Mark Buehrle, and John Lackey. Here’s how they fared:
In general, the Yankees killed ground ball pitchers. The exceptions are, for the most part, the best pitchers in the game. There’s no shame in getting shut down by Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez. Scott Feldman also stands out, but like many pitchers on this list his sample against the Yankees includes just one start. That’s the real trouble with making any determinations from this chart. Anything can happen in a single game. The Yankees especially beat up on the rookies — Romero, Porcello, and Anderson — which further skews the sample.
The further problem with looking at ground ball pitchers is that other traits might better define the pitcher. Jon Lester, for example, recorded the second highest strikeout rate in the AL in 2009. Beckett, Hernandez, Halladay, and Anderson were all in the top 10. Halladay, Blackburn, Buehrle, Anderson, and Beckett all ranked in the top 10 in walk rate (with Lackey finishing 11th). In order to get a better grasp of what pitcher type the Yankees hit better, we’ll probably need to account for these other factors. Digging back further, we should probably also examine how individual hitters on the Yankees hit these pitchers in previous years.
Still, on the whole, the pitchers who induced the most ground balls in 2009 did not fare well against the Yankees. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that they hit ground ball pitchers especially well, it does give us an idea of what to look for when evaluating the Yankees vs. pitchers. We’ll see soon how they fare against fly ball, high-strikeout, low-walk, and low-HR pitchers.