The fly ball revolution is in full swing for hitters (pun intended). Breakout hitters over the last five seasons such as Justin Turner, J.D. Martinez and Daniel Murphy have credited their breakout to decreasing ground balls and elevating the baseball.

Mike Petriello of MLB.com recently wrote about Major Leaguers who could benefit from elevating the baseball more frequently. Here’s a very important quote from within the article:

We’ll define “a ball hit in the air” as being higher than 10 degrees of launch angle. Every single home run, and 89 percent of extra-base hits, came at 10 degrees or higher.

The theory behind the whole ground ball/fly ball thing is simple: It’s insanely difficult to have extra-base hits on ground balls. Extra-base hits are far more valuable than singles. You will also never homer on a ground ball. There, however, is some trade off. Ground balls do go for hits a bit more frequently than fly balls do. But, if we simply look at ground balls versus non-ground balls, the math changes dramatically because that would also include line drives.

Not everyone is an ideal candidate for “fewer ground balls will automatically make them a better hitter”. There are a few reasons that this could be. Take Billy Hamilton as an example here. He simply doesn’t have the power to hit the ball over the fence, and usually over the outfielders heads. The swing changes required could also be detrimental to contact itself. There could be more holes that open up and the trade off for more power, but the decline in contact wouldn’t be worth the trade off.

With all of that said, let’s take a look at some of the highest ground ball rate hitters in the system and see how they performed when hitting the ball on the ground and hitting the ball in the air.

Michael Beltre

The 2017 season was tough for Michael Beltre. He entered the year as a Top 25 caliber prospect after a strong 2016 season between the AZL Reds and Billings Mustangs. He hit .238/.323/.324 with Dayton in 2017 after having an .880 OPS the season before.

His ground ball rate in 2017 was 62%. That rate led the organization. He also hit the longest home run in the farm system during 2017 with a 453 foot home run out of the ballpark in Dayton in July. Beltre clearly has enough power. He’s 6′ 3″ and listed at 180 lbs, but I can’t imagine that listed weight is correct. He looks significantly bigger than that. There’s some real strength with the outfielder.

On Ground Balls and Non-Ground Balls

When it comes to average, Michael Beltre hit .274 on ground balls. That’s not bad at all. Of course, since it’s so difficult to rack up extra-base hits on grounders (not including bunts), he slugged just .285 on them. When he kept the ball off of the ground, though, he performed significantly better. He hit .365 when the ball was in the air. He also slugged .628 when the ball was put in the air.

Daniel Sweet

During the 2017 season Daniel Sweet hit .270/.372/.325 for the Daytona Tortugas. The average and on-base percentage were both strong rates, but his .325 slugging percentage was incredibly low. In 96 games he had just 13 extra-base hits.

During 2017 his ground ball rate was 59%. Unlike Michael Beltre, he didn’t carry a higher average on grounders, either. The outfielder is listed at 6′ 0″ and 190 lbs. He is not a small-framed guy. His swing isn’t “slappy”, either.

On Ground Balls and Non-Ground Balls

Unlike Michael Beltre, Daniel Sweet didn’t hit for a higher average on grounders. The switch hitter hit .230 on non-bunt ground balls. That also didn’t include a single extra-base hit. When he kept the ball off of the ground he saw massive gains in production. He hit .509 when the ball was in the air (this includes fly balls, infield flies and line drives). He also slugged .670 when the ball stayed off of the ground. The isolated power there isn’t high, but the overall improvement is enormous.

Alfredo Rodriguez

23-year-old Alfredo Rodriguez struggled at the plate in 2017 with Daytona. The shortstop hit .253/.294/.294 during the season for the Tortugas. Overall, there wasn’t much to look at offensively and find many good signs. Low average, low on-base percentage, and no slugging. He managed just 16 extra-base hits in 118 games played.

During 2017 his ground ball rate was 54%. Physically, he’s listed at 6′ 0″ and 190 lbs. He’s improved his strength since his time in Cuba.

On Ground Balls and Non-Ground Balls

Alfredo Rodriguez hit just .214 on grounders during 2017. He slugged .228 on grounders. The average was quite low, and as with nearly everyone, so was the slugging due to the nature of ground balls. When he put the ball in the air he hit better, posting a .398 average. His slugging percentage jumped up to .471 on non-grounders. Like Daniel Sweet above, the isolated power there isn’t much, but the overall production is at a different level.

Andy Sugilio

Andy Sugilio stands out on this list as a player who had a very successful 2017 season. The 20-year-old hit .345/.390/.472 with the Billings Mustangs. There wasn’t a bunch of power there, but the other aspects of the offense were strong.

During the 2017 season his ground ball rate was 59%. That was one of the highest in the entire organization. The switch hitter has power potential that he hasn’t tapped into just yet according to scouts.

On Ground Balls and Non-Ground Balls

Andy Sugilio hit an incredible .371 on ground balls in 2017. He racked up 27 infield hits thanks to his plus-plus speed. It really boosted his average. He slugged .379 on grounders. When he hit the ball in the air things got better. He hit .446 on non-grounders, not a big boost over what he hit on grounders. The big difference, though, was that he slugged .795 on non-grounders. The power really showed up on balls hit in the air.

Would a change work?

Clearly every player performed better on balls in the air than ground balls. I think we knew that would be the case. Andy Sugilio and Michael Beltre seem like the two who could benefit the most from this group. They showed real power when the ball was put in the air. Both Daniel Sweet and Alfredo Rodriguez performed better in the air, but the gains from power weren’t much. Now, it is worth noting that both played in the Florida State League where fly balls go to die. That could be helping to hide gains that could be had if they made the adjustment.

As noted above, the adjustment isn’t just something that can be done at will. It’s also not just something that is going to always maintain the other aspects of your game. But, these four guys could all possibly see benefits from trading off some of the high amount of ground balls that they have for a few more additional balls in the air.

12 Responses

  1. MK

    Most kids have been told from the time they were in Tee Ball to hit the ball on the ground and out of the air. Can be a hard lesson to relearn.

    Reply
    • Doug Gray

      Sad, but true. But, these guys are great athletes. Put in the work and see what happens.

      Reply
    • Wes

      Also saw they spent money from next signing period. Guess reds don’t have money to spend then either?

      Reply
      • Colorado Red

        Reds are still in the penalty next.
        So the limit is still 300K.
        They have money, but cannot spend much.

      • Doug Gray

        Correct.

        Baseball kind of screwed this whole situation up. These guys are all from the 2016/2017 signing period, but teams that went over in that period have no chance to sign the majority of these guys because of the restrictions placed on them. But, maybe they could have signed them at the time if they hadn’t been gotten to illegally.

  2. Tampa Red

    On the big league level, I’d love to see Schebler elevate a lot more. Yeah, I know he hit 30 HR’s, but without looking it up I’m going to guess his ground ball rate was around 50%.

    Reply
  3. Shamrock

    Curious on Alfredo.
    Clearly he’s not much of a hitter at this point (probably never will be)
    But our current mlb SS is a pretty terrible offensive player too.
    Would Alf’s superb defense outweigh Peraza’s slightly better offense at this point? (and, if not right this second, then when??)

    Reply
    • Doug Gray

      It’s possible, but right now, I’d say no. I think Peraza would outhit, and provide enough additional base running value that he’d be more valuable right now.

      Reply

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