The SF Giants are in the market for a frontline starting pitcher this winter. One of the characteristics they target is the ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. The Giants pitching staff posted a 1.09 HR/9 rate in 2023, which was the second-lowest market in baseball. So, who are the best starting pitching targets in terms of home-run prevention?
Ranking the top SF Giants starting pitching targets by HR/9
The Cleveland Guardians led baseball with a 1.08 HR/9 rate last season. Not surprisingly, their 3.97 staff ERA was one of the better marks in baseball. The Giants were right behind them in that category with a 4.02 staff ERA.
Limiting home runs is one of the most effective ways to prevent runs. Typically, when a pitcher has a high home-run rate, it is a pretty big red flag that is tough to overlook regardless of how the rest of his peripherals might look.
One quality that the Giants covet in a pitcher is the ability to keep the ball on the ground. They comfortably led baseball with a 48.7 percent ground ball rate last year. A byproduct of this is that it usually results in fewer home runs allowed. It is really hard to hit a home run on the ground ball.
1. Sonny Gray - 0.39 HR/9
If the Giants could build a pitcher in a laboratory, they would probably create someone who pitched very similar to Sonny Gray. Or Logan Webb. Or Alex Cobb. Stylistically, they are not all that similar. Gray flashes a fastball-sweeper mix, whereas Webb relies on a changeup-sinker-slider. On the other hand, Cobb uses a sinker-splitter mix.
Regardless of the pitch mix, the results are generally similar in that all three pitchers attack the zone, limit walks, induce a healthy number of ground balls, and limit home runs. For Gray, the 2023 campaign was another excellent season in a career that has been filled with plenty of strong performances.
The 34-year-old pitcher tallied a 2.79 ERA, 2.83 FIP, 1.14 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, and a 3.33 SO/W ratio in 32 starts while finishing in second in the AL Cy Young voting this year. He had one of the highest ground ball rates (47.3 percent) among this year's free-agency class. The high groundball rate led to an exceptionally low 0.39 HR/9 rate. In fact, he led baseball in that category among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched.
The right-handed hurler rejected a qualifying offer earlier this winter, so there is draft pick compensation tied to his name. Still, given his age, Gray likely will not net a contract of more than four years. The Giants' front office has been hesitant to hand out long-term contracts to pitchers in recent years, so four years might be beyond their comfort zone but it also has a chance to be a really good deal if he pitches anywhere close to how he has in recent seasons.