The SF Giants starting rotation has the best ERA in baseball with a 2.76 mark and they are doing it by excelling in a key area.
SF Giants: Starting Pitching is Excelling in Key Area
In the offseason, the Giants rebuilt the rotation by bringing back Kevin Gausman on a qualifying offer and reeling in Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Aaron Sanchez on one-year deals. Nearly a quarter of the way through the season, these are beginning to look like sound investments.
Interestingly, the rotation is performing well despite not racking up high strikeout totals. On the year, the starters have posted an 8.86 K/9 ratio, which is the 18th best rate in baseball. This is not the type of strikeout frequency that you would normally associate with the best rotation in baseball.
Nevertheless, they are registering a 3.47 SO/W rate, so each pitcher is commanding his arsenal while limiting the free passes.
This is a rotation that is thriving the old-fashioned way: By inducing weak contact. San Francisco’s starters are not pitch-to-contact hurlers by any means, but they are doing well to avoid optimal, hard contact.
That is, they are inducing ground balls at an exceptionally high rate. Giants starters have induced a ground ball in 52 percent of batted ball events, which leads the league by a healthy margin. And, It is the newest additions who are leading the way in that category:
- Alex Wood – 63.9% GB rate
- Logan Webb – 57% GB rate
- Aaron Sanchez – 56% GB rate
- Anthony DeSclafani – 54.4% GB rate
- Kevin Gausman – 44% GB rate
- Johenny Cueto – 37.5% GB rate
Cueto and Webb are holdovers from the previous regime, but the latter has always excelled in inducing ground balls when he can consistently hit the strike zone. The Giants do not have any pitchers under contract for 2022, but Webb certainly fits the mold of what the Giants want their pitchers to do.
Of the new pitchers, Gausman has the lowest ground ball rate. With that being said, he makes up for it by racking up high strikeout totals.So, the Giants have built a rotation that emphasizes in generating weak contact.
Gausman and DeSclafani flash good velocity, but as a unit, the Giants do not have the hardest throwers. In a way, they are zagging when everyone else is zigging when it comes to fastball velocity.
While hitters are trying to generate loft with their swing, Giants pitchers have done well to limit them from getting the ball into the air. Inducing ground balls at a high rate can be a successful strategy because ground balls do not often result in hits, especially extra-base hits. For example, they have allowed only 18 home runs on the year, which is tied for third for the fewest home runs allowed by a starting rotation.
Plus, a rotation that generates a lot of ground balls feeds into another team strength, which is infield defense. For example, Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford have three Gold Gloves apiece at third base and shortstop, respectively.
The Giants have a clear strategy with how they want their pitchers to perform and the results have followed. Surprisingly, they have the best rotation in baseball, and it is due in part to being able to get ground balls at such a high frequency. For a rotation that had a lot of risk heading into this season, the rewards have been well worth the investment.