The SF Giants are in the market for a frontline starter this winter. One characteristic that they target in a prospective pitcher is ground ball rate. The pitching staff comfortably led baseball in 2023 with a 48.7 percent ground ball rate. So, who are the best available starting pitching options in terms of that quality?
Ranking the top 3 SF Giants starting pitching targets by ground ball rate
Why is ground ball rate important? There are a few reasons why, but the simplest reason is that ground balls do not translate to home runs. Not surprisingly, Giants pitchers had the second-lowest home run rate (1.09 HR/9) in baseball, which was a tad behind the Cleveland Guardians for the lead at 1.08 HR/9.
Importantly, ground balls also do not often lead to extra-base hits. In 2023, hitters slashed .243/.243/.267 (35 wRC+) on ground balls with a .024 ISO. Typically, hitters get an extra-base hit on a ground ball by hooking it down the line or hitting it against the defense. It is not all that common of an occurrence.
If the Giants had a concept for what they want in a pitcher, it is someone who stays in the strike zone, limits walks, and keeps the ball on the ground. They like strikeout-heavy pitchers, but ground ball pitchers tend to be more affordable for them in free agency.
1. Nick Martinez - 53.8 percent ground ball rate
Nick Martinez is not necessarily a frontline starter, but he has a trait that the Giants like in a pitcher, which is that he induces a lot of ground balls. The 33-year-old pitcher quietly had a very nice two-year stretch with the San Diego Padres.
Martinez had a dual option heading into this offseason. The first part of that option was a two-year, $32 million team option that the Padres declined. This then turned into a one-year, $8 million player option that Martinez declined. San Diego is in the process of shedding costs and decided that they did not want to keep the right-handed hurler at a very reasonable rate of $16 million per season over the next two years.
It was no surprise to see Martinez decline his player option once that occurred. He can score a much larger payday in free agency. While he is not necessarily a frontline option, he was very solid with the Padres. In 2023, the six-year veteran tallied a 3.43 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 1.26 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, and a 2.65 SO/W ratio in 63 appearances.
Martinez had a 53.8 percent ground ball rate last year. And, he excelled at limiting home runs as he recorded a 0.98 HR/9 rate. He has experience working out of the rotation and the bullpen but served more as a multi-inning reliever last year. Plus, the Bob Melvin connection does not hurt as he was the Padres' manager with Martinez on the pitching staff over the past two seasons.
If the Giants miss out on the frontline starters, I would not be surprised to see them revisit the idea of adding Martinez. He will be looking for a contract that is much more in line with the front office's risk tolerance. It would also not be all that surprising if he was one of the better bargains in this year's free-agent class.