The power of ground-ball pitchers, explained

Many fantasy analysts, myself included, often recommend rostering pitchers who have excellent strikeout-to-walk rates. This is a sensitive plan, as pitchers who get many outs on their own and rarely give the opposition free chances to get on base tend to have the most success.

But batted ball data also has plenty of influence on a hurler’s success or failure. After all, there is more than one way for a pitcher to work his way through the opposing lineup.

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Pitchers who generate plenty of ground balls tend to be underrated fantasy options. Casual managers don’t pick up on ground-ball rates, as that data is not in a standard box score. But while those who keep the ball on the ground may not be WHIP stars, they tend to have a solid ERA, compile plenty of innings and give themselves a decent chance to pick up wins.

Here are some ground-ball studs who deserve a little more recognition.

Clay Holmes (RP, New York Yankees)

The 2022 version of Clay Holmes looks a lot like a right-handed version of Zack Britton during his prime years with the Orioles. The reliever is generating grounders at an insane 82.7 percent rate while also racking up whiffs (28.3 percent) and limiting walks (2.7 percent).

Fantasy take away: Holmes is one of the best relievers in baseball. He should continue to be rostered in all leagues when Aroldis Chapman returns, as he will have plenty of value whether he remains closer or moves to a setup role. In fact, there could be a nice buy-low window on Holmes if Chapman resumes his closer duties.

Framber Valdez (SP, Houston Astros)

Framber Valdez is the ground-ball king among established starting pitchers. The left-hander has maintained a mark over 60 percent in each of his five Major League seasons, including a 66.7 percent rate this year. Valdez is striking out batters at a depressed rate this year (19.9 percent), but his ground-ball lean has helped him to maintain a 2.64 ERA and a 3.08 xERA.

Fantasy take away: Those who are doing well in the strikeouts category should target Valdez as a mid-level pitcher who will provide wins and solid ratios without requiring a major return on the trade market.

Alex Cobb (SP, San Francisco Giants)

I have written about Alex Cobb often this season. Arguably baseball’s unluckiest starter, the veteran has posted a bloated 5.73 ERA mainly because of a .402 BABIP. By maintaining his 65.4 percent ground-ball rate and 28.7 percent strikeout rate, Cobb should eventually enjoy a dominant stretch.

Fantasy take away: Cobb is the ultimate buy-low option on the trade market. He is on the IL and should return soon. And in shallow leagues, he is worth a waiver wire claim for those who have roster room.

Better luck on the fantasy front should be coming soon for Alex Cobb. (Photo by Harrison Barden/Colorado Rockies/Getty Images)

Logan Webb (SP, San Francisco Giants)

Logan Webb sits second among qualified pitchers with a 57.0 percent ground-ball rate. He has thus far avoided the bad BABIP luck that has plagued rotation-mates Cobb and Alex Woodbut all of his ERA indicators are still lower than his actual 3.43 mark.

Fantasy take away: Webb lacks the swing-and-miss skills to be a fantasy ace, but his ground-ball rate makes him a solid No. 2 or 3 option. Like Valdez, he is a solid trade target for those who need a starter but have strikeouts covered.

Martin Perez (SP, Texas Rangers)

Wondering how Martin Perez has found so much success (2.18 ERA) this year without making major strides on his strikeout or walk rates? Well, a year-over-year jump of more than 10 percent on his ground-ball rate is a major reason. I don’t expect Perez to maintain his ace-level results, but most of his ERA indicators remain below 3.00.

Fantasy take away: I would be happy to sell high on Perez, and I wouldn’t target him on the trade market. That being said, his ground-ball lean is enough of a reason for me not to give him away. He may regress slowly without ever experiencing a huge decline, which would be fine for his fantasy managers.

Aaron Ashby (SP, Milwaukee Brewers)

Aaron Ashby should be a dominant starter. His ground-ball rate (64.2 percent) and strikeout rate (27.7 percent) are terrific. The 24-year-old has been undone by bad luck (.338 BABIP) and inconsistent control (10.3 percent walk rate). Only one of those two things is a long-term concern.

Fantasy take away: All of Ashby’s ERA indicators are much lower than his actual 3.91 mark. He won’t be acquired at a major discount, but I would put in a slight buy-low offer wherever possible.

Dakota Hudson (SP, St.Louis Cardinals)

Many fantasy managers would be shocked to discover that Dakota Hudson has a career 3.17 ERA that includes a 3.29 mark this season. The right-hander struggles to accumulate whiffs and walks a few more batters than he should, but his ground-ball lean (55.3 percent in 2022) regularly gets him out of trouble.

Fantasy take away: Hudson helps with ERA but hurts your WHIP (1.31 career mark) to an equal degree. I have a hard time recommending someone with a 13.5 percent strikeout rate this season as more than a streamer. Still, Hudson can be used in favorable matchups.

Andre Pallante (SP, St Louis Cardinals)

Andre Pallante needed just 37 innings to show that he might be the second coming of Hudson. The rookie has struggled with whiffs (15.9 percent) and walks (10.8 percent) while limiting the damage by virtue of a 62.6 percent ground-ball rate.

Fantasy take away: Pallante is just five percent rostered and is likely as good of a streaming candidate as Hudson. As long as he holds a rotation spot or bulk reliever role, the 23-year-old can be considered for favorable matchups.

Graham Ashcraft (SP, Cincinnati Reds)

Graham Ashcraft joins Pallante as the two newest ground-ball artists. The rookie has generated grounders at a 58.5 percent rate while also flashing a fastball that averages 97.3 mph. The elite heat has yet to translate to whiffs (12.9 percent), but it’s easy to see why some managers are already adding him.

Fantasy take away: Ashcraft is slightly preferable to Hudson or Pallante. I can’t recommend him as a lineup lock until his strikeout rate improves, but he is among the most exciting streamers who are widely available.

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