The last six years have shown us that the Yankees, more than any other team, should seek out pitchers that induce more ground balls than fly balls. While it's always a sound strategy, the benefits of such pitchers increase significantly when they play half their games at the new Yankee Stadium. Heading into 2015 the team has lost a top of the rotation arm in Hiroki Kuroda, who also happened to be one of the best ground ball pitchers in the majors. However, there still may be hope for the Yankees as a ground ball-heavy team. The table below shows the career ground ball to fly ball ratios and overall ground ball rates for each of the seven pitchers expected to make the bulk of the starts this season. As a reference, the MLB average ground ball to fly ball ratio and ground ball rate for 2014 are also given. (All data courtesy of FanGraphs)
|2014 MLB Avg||1.30||44.8%|
Only two of these seven pitchers have rates that are below league average. At 36 years old Chris Capuano will have to rely on smarts more than stuff and part of him smartening up will have to be locating his pitches down in the zone. Speaking of smarts, in addition to going easy on the pine tar, it would be nice to see Michael Pineda's ground ball rate increase by about three percentage points again, just as it did last year.
Home runs have been the number one killer for CC Sabathia in recent years. Thing is, he's made a conscious effort to keep the ball on the ground, posting the highest ground ball ratio of his career in his limited innings last year. Health and better luck should decrease the frequency of those home runs in 2015. Newcomer Nathan Eovaldi has also shown an increasing trend in ground ball ratio over the past two years. Even better, his SIERA, FIP, and xFIP have improved every year of his young career so he could be in for a strong showing this summer. Adam Warren has proven his value on this pitching staff and his peripheral numbers suggest that he might be a better option than Capuano in the rotation to start the year. Meanwhile, Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova have already established themselves as ground ball machines. As long as their arms hold up, they'll likely be the most reliable members of the rotation.
Luckily for this group of pitchers, the Yankees have underscored the importance of the ground ball by strengthening the infield behind them. The slick-fielding Chase Headley was brought back to play third base every day and Stephen Drew's steady glove will have the first crack at winning the second base job. Most importantly though, the Yankees will have a competent fielder at shortstop for the first time in a long time as Didi Gregorius will step in for the retired Derek Jeter. Therefore, in addition to an increase in ground balls induced, we should also see a higher percentage of those balls turned into outs this season. Yankee Stadium will turn into a virtual UPS shipping center, and that's a good thing.