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Can Pirates tame Nationals' success vs. ground ball pitchers?

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By David Golebiewski
Thursday, May 22, 2014, 9:15 p.m.

The 2013 Pirates pounded hitters at the knees like no team in recent memory, generating the highest single-season ground ball rate (52.5 percent) and surrendering the second-fewest home runs (0.62 per nine innings) during the new millennium.

While Pirates pitchers still are inducing grounders at an MLB-best 50.4 percent clip in 2014, they're getting hammered when they allow hitters to loft the ball.

The Pirates are serving up 1.12 homers per nine innings, the fifth-highest rate in the game. Only the 1996 Pirates (1.13 HR/9) have been more homer-prone during the Expansion Era (1961-present).

Several ground ball-centric hurlers — including scheduled weekend starters Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano — are giving up much harder contact on fly balls this season. Overall, opponents are slugging .634 when hitting a fly ball against the Pirates. Last year they slugged .487.

Fly ball floundering

Pitcher 2013 FB slg% 2014 FB slg%

Francisco Liriano .375 1.063

Jeanmar Gomez .396 .957

Gerrit Cole .315 .743

Source: Baseball-Reference

At first blush, the Washington Nationals seem like a panacea to the Pirates' pitching woes. The Nats rank 19th in team on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and lack the big bats of Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, both shelved with thumb injuries. But Cole and Liriano will have to be careful. Washington has many other hitters who elevate — and pummel — ground ball-oriented pitchers.

Jayson Werth, Tyler Moore, Jose Lobaton, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche boast an above-average career OPS against ground ball pitchers, which Baseball-Reference defines as those in the bottom third of the league in the ratio of fly ball outs to ground ball outs.

Batter OPS vs. GB pitchers

Jayson Werth .869

Tyler Moore .848

Jose Lobaton .804

Ian Desmond .802

Adam LaRoche .769

MLB Avg. .683

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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