The St. Louis Cardinals have constructed a team that does well at putting the ball in play. And when the Cardinals make contact, they often hit ball on the ground. This tendency has been the subject of some study in sabermetric circles. Back in 2012 at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan first delved into the Cardinals' good fortunes on grounders. In that piece, Sullivan makes the following observation:
When you think offense and batted balls, you think fly balls and line drives. Fly balls for homers, and line drives for singles, doubles, and triples. This year, the league-average wOBA on fly balls is .352. The league-average wOBA on line drives is .679. Meanwhile, the league-average wOBA on grounders is .214. The league-average BABIP on grounders is .235. Grounders aren’t exciting, and grounders aren’t what drives an offense forward. Grounders are how you make a lot of outs.
That statement was just as true in 2014 as when Sullivan penned it in 2012. Here are the wOBA and wRC+ by batted-ball type for MLB as a whole in 2014:
- FB: .335 wOBA, 114 wRC+
- LD: .684 wOBA, 355 wRC+
- GB: .220 wOBA, 35 wRC+
- FB: .378 ISO
- LD: .190 ISO
- GB: .020 ISO
During spring training in 2010 as the Cardinals tried to indoctrinate fastball jockey Brad Penny into the organization’s philosophy of sink, pitching coach Dave Duncan and his staff kept a running tally for Penny’s benefit on a markerboard in the coaches’ office.In one column, the pitching coach counted every fly ball allowed during spring, and in another all of the groundballs. Beside each was the number of extra-base hits in the air or on the ground. That number, so much higher by the fly ball totals, showed that when it came to pitches put in the air "extra bases are everywhere," a coach said. Duncan wanted to prove to Penny, who had the game’s hottest fastball for several years and an eagerness to flex it high in the zone, the benefit of staying down, down, down."Hell," Penny said later, "why I haven’t been trying to get ground balls all the time?"