When MLBTR's Tim Dierkes took stock of the free agent groundballers at the outset of the 2010-11 offseason, the pickings were slim. Fast forward three months and Jake Westbrook, Jorge de la Rosa, Jon Garland, Hiroki Kuroda, Brad Penny and Brandon Webb have all signed.
Carl Pavano, who is reportedly closing in on a deal with the Twins, and Jeff Francis are the only remaining free agent starters (minimum 50 IP) with above-average ground ball rates. Pavano posted a 51.2% ground ball rate last year, while Francis posted a 46.8% ground ball rate.
Though it doesn't seem likely that he'll pitch in 2011, Andy Pettitte posted a respectable 43.9% ground ball rate last year. Jeremy Bonderman, a candidate to replace Pettitte in New York's rotation, also hovered around the league average and posted a 44.7% rate.
Why all the fuss about ground balls? Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has said before that you can't hit a ground ball out of the park. Fly balls are another story, however.
After MacPhail traded for Kevin Millwood last offseason, the veteran posted a career-low ground ball rate and a career-high fly ball rate in hitter-friendly Camden Yards. Otherwise, Millwood's numbers weren't all that different from Jake Westbrook's in 2010. The right-handers, both in their mid-thirties, pitched close to 200 innings apiece with about 6.0 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 last year.
But Millwood allowed considerably more fly balls than Westbrook, who kept the ball on the ground. The result: 30 home runs allowed by Millwood (Westbrook allowed 20), an ERA nine tenths of a run higher than Westbrook's and, almost certainly, far less guaranteed money in free agency.