Cut Fastballs, Groundballs, and Flyballs

Sep 24, 2011; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics pitcher Guillermo Moscoso (52) pitches during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE

Oakland Athletics pitcher Brandon McCarthy, former teammate of Rockies pitcher Guillermo Moscoso, is the sports figure on the cover of the most recent edition of ESPN magazine (despite ESPN’s efforts to de-emphasize that fact). His story is one of advanced statistics and career saving adjustments. McCarthy changed his arm angle and replaced his flat four seam fastball with two seam fastballs with more movement. He said the following about this change: “I wanted ground balls and worse contact. I wanted to attack the zone and get deep into games.” He quickly adapted to his cutter and sinker, giving up more groundballs and fewer flyballs. In so doing McCarthy corrected his groundball to flyball ratio, gave up fewer home runs, broke more bats, and landed on the cover of a national magazine for saving his career.

Moscoso hauls similar baggage to his first season on the Colorado Rockies. His 55.5 percent flyball rate last season topped all of baseball last season. Many people are alarmed enough by this statistic to insist that Moscoso is doomed in Colorado. Moscoso is hopeful that his new cutter will offset some of his previous problems and pave the way for his success as he battles Coors Field: “With my cutter, I can become a lot better at getting groundballs in tough situations…Now I will throw a cutter with a 2-1 or 3-1 count when guys are looking for a fastball, and it gets me a lot more groundballs.”     

Many have criticized Dan O’Dowd for adding too many pitchers with flyball tendencies this offseason. In response O’Dowd has insisted that the new members of the staff give up what he calls “soft flyballs.” One example of this theory is this quote about Moscoso: “He does give up a lot of flyballs…but they are soft flyballs.” Is that enough to justify adding pitchers that seem like clear misfits when it comes to pitching at altitude?

Given McCarthy’s story that might be the wrong question to ask about Moscoso. It is not reasonable to assume that he will have as significant a turnaround as McCarthy; a successful transformation of that sort is rare and not a fair expectation. McCarthy also continues to enjoy the benefits of pitching in Oakland, something Moscoso was forced to leave behind. But if his statistics change course in a similar manner we might be talking about a different type of pitcher. We might say that he used to be a flyball pitcher.

It is easier to trace a groundball to flyball ratio than it is a soft flyball to hard flyball ratio. When it comes to Moscoso the most important factor will be how much of an impact his new cutter will have and how different it makes his game.

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