Bill James thinks Sabermetrics has overrated ground ball pitchers

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Rob Neyer expounded on a Bill James piece (here, behind a paywall) at SB Nation in which James says that proponents of Sabermetrics have “horribly overstated” the case for ground ball pitchers. He cites a handful of elite pitchers — Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson, Justin Verlander, among others — and points out that they weren’t very good in the ground ball department. He also cites a handful of ground ball pitchers — namely Chien-Ming Wang and Brandon Webb — who have had serious issues with injuries.

What I have never understood about ground ball pitchers, and do not understand now, is why they always get hurt. Show me an extreme ground ball pitcher, a guy with a terrific ground ball rate, and I’ll show you a guy who is going to be good for two years and then get hurt.

[snip]

They’re great for two years, and then they blow up. Always.

The one exception to James’ analysis is, of course, Derek Lowe, who made at least 32 starts in each season from 2002-11.

I don’t think we have the capability to make a strong conclusion one way or another based on the quality of data we have right now. Presently, there is no differentiation between types of batted balls. There is a vast difference between a dribbler down the third base line and a screamer up the middle. FanGraphs differentiates between infield and outfield flies, which has helped us to better appreciate pitchers like Matt Cain and Jonathan Papelbon. No such distinction is made for ground balls.

There is no way of knowing now, of course, but there may be a link between injury risk and the types of ground balls a pitcher induces. Basing analysis on data that utilizes binary qualitative groups — “on the ground” and “not on the ground” — is far too broad.

(Tip of the cap to David Schoenfield at ESPN Sweet Spot for directing me to Neyer and James.)

Astros’ Verlander to have elbow surgery, miss rest of season

Justin Verlander
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Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season.

The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner announced the news Saturday on his Instagram account in a 1½-minute video.

“In my simulated game a couple days ago, I felt something in my elbow, and after looking at my MRI and conversing with some of the best doctors in the world, we’ve determined that Tommy John surgery is my best option,” Verlander said.

He threw to hitters on Wednesday for the first time since he was injured in the team’s opener on July 24. He threw 50 pitches in the bullpen before throwing about 25 pitches to hitters in two simulated innings.

“I tried as hard as I could to come back and play this season,” Verlander said. “Unfortunately, my body just didn’t cooperate.”

Verlander has been on the injured list with a right forearm strain. He went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA in 2019.

“Obviously, this is not good news,” Verlander said. “However, I’m going to handle this the only way I know how. I’m optimistic. I’m going to put my head down, work hard, attack this rehab and hopefully, come out the other side better for it.

“I truly believe everything that everything happens for a reason, and although 2020 has sucked, hopefully, when this rehab process is all said and done, this will allow me to charge through the end of my career and be healthy as long as I want and pitch as long as I want and accomplish some of the goals that I want in my career.”

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