Two, and only two pitchers threw at least 100 innings at the big league level during the 2022 season and owned groundball rates between 53.4% and 54.5%: National League Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara of the Miami Marlins, and Graham Ashcraft of the Cincinnati Reds.
You know what that means, right?
Technically, it means I cherry-picked some hyperfocused statistics from a FanGraphs leaderboard, but the overriding theme here is one that hopefully has some legs. Alcantara (53.4%) and Ashcraft (54.5%) ranked 8th and 9th, respectively, among the 140 pitchers who logged at least 100 IP last year, and while there’s nothing on its own that suggests that Ashcraft is the same caliber pitcher as Alcantara yet, profiling at all similar to him is absolutely a positive endorsement. Both guys induce a lot of poor swings, poor swings produce grounders, and grounders - more often than liners - turn into outs.
Armed with a heater that regularly sits 97-99 and cuts like a Cutco through a penny, Ashcraft has the kind arsenal that’s ideally suited for pitching in the cozy confines of Great American Ball Park. His ability to keep balls on the ground is both his calling card and elite among his peers, with the only question now being whether his infield defense can capably back that premise now that the shifting rules have been more stringently implemented.
I’m banking on a workhorse year for Graham, one in which he improves on the 4.89 ERA and 4.21 FIP he posted last season in part due to a little bit of a rise in his strikeout rate. Yes, I just said that his grounder rate was his calling card, but I do think a little bump in his ability to miss bats will follow him into his second big league campaign, especially from a guy who throws that damn hard.
Today marks his first chance to shake off rust in Cactus League action, as he’ll get the start for the Cincinnati Reds against the Chad Pinderless Oakland A’s in Goodyear Ballpark. First pitch is again set for 3:05 PM ET, though there’s no televised feed available today.
Hat-tip to Doug Gray of Redleg Nation for passing along today’s lineup and travel roster, with the other pitchers expected to participate today included. Looks like it’s an Alexis Diaz day, too.
I believe this marks the second game in which Elly De La Cruz has started so far this spring, and neither of them will have been televised. Rats!