Fantasy Baseball 2018: Groundball pitchers to target

Clayton Richard (elite groundball pitcher)

Clayton Richard (elite groundball pitcher)

Ground ball pitchers don’t get the same amount of love that triple-digit flamethrowers receive. That’s a market inefficiency.

It is not rocket science; ground balls result in fewer home runs, and in this era of lightweight shortstops hitting 20 home runs, keeping the ball on the ground is an excellent way to prevent damage from the long ball.

Balls that do go for hits are usually only singles, and the opportunities of turning double-plays are vastly increased with a groundball-inducing pitch in the repertoire.

With an ADP of 65 as the 17th starting pitcher off the board, there seems little point in recommending that you draft Astros’ Dallas Keuchel. He is an elite pitching option, and if he stays healthy to pitch 180-200 innings, his groundball-inducing repertoire should result in the 30-year-old finishing the season as a top-10 starting pitcher. If you can cope with the injury risk, Keuchel offers great draft day value.

We will look at two other options for mixed-leagues later in the article, but we start with three targets for deeper leagues. And for these three, you need to look toward southern California.

San Diego is becoming home to ground ball pitchers. Despite the fences moving in, Petco Park remains an extreme pitcher’s park which suppresses home runs. Not content with this advantage, the Padres have been collecting groundball pitchers for fun.

Clayton Richard (ADP 523)
The left-hander is an innings-eater and an extreme ground ball pitcher. Two excellent characteristics in a starting pitcher.

Last season, only 15 starters threw more innings that Clayton Richard’s 197⅓. He made 32 starts, including two complete games and although he posted 4.79 ERA, his 3.76 xFIP suggests it did not reflect his true talent.

Richard will benefit from the Padres acquisition of shortstop Freddy Galvis, which will greatly improve their infield defense.

The 34-year-old finished the season with a 10-game stretch that demands attention. 54 strikeouts over 65 innings, with 63.4 GB% and 3.18 ERA.

With three points per innings, Richard offers sneaky value in points leagues for the last pick of your draft.

Luis Perdomo (producer of elite groundball contact rates)

More from the San Diego Padres ground ball pitcher production line

Luis Perdomo (ADP 524)
The Dominican is an even more extreme ground ball pitcher than Richard. The former Rule-5 pick has emerged as a reliable mid-rotation arm for the Padres, with the potential to offer more fantasy value as he develops. The right-hander posted 4.67 ERA (4.24 xFIP) last season over 163⅔ innings covering 29 starts.

The 24-year-old made improvements in his second year in the majors, with a better strikeout rate, lower hard-hit ball percentage and suppressing home runs to below 1.00 HR/9.

Perdomo will also benefit from the addition of Galvis to the Padres’ infield. He only offers about 7.00 SO/9, but his impressive heavy sinking fastball and the ability to eat innings will give him value in deeper league formats.

 

Bryan Mitchell (ADP 538)
The Padres so badly wanted to add the 26-year-old to their rotation that they agreed to take on Chase Headley’s salary as part of the deal. Mitchell has only made nine MLB starts, but the Padres’ manager Andy Green has confirmed that the right-hander pitcher is a lock to make the rotation.

He made 13 starts in Triple-A last season with a ground ball rate of 55.4 % (which would have ranked in the top-10 among starters in the majors). He had a strikeout rate of 9.30 SO/9 with a commanding 1.13 WHIP, 3.25 ERA and one of the lowest FIP in Triple-A.

Mitchell has a 96-mph fastball with a tight curveball, and although his results from the Yankees’ bullpen were less than impressive, the high groundball rate remained.

He gets an extra boost in leagues which value starters with RP-eligibility and has the potential to be one of the top SPARPs (Starting Pitcher as Relief Pitcher) in a very weak field this season.

Lance McCullers

Lance McCullers (elite groundball pitcher)

Groundball pitchers for mixed-leagues

Lance McCullers (ADP 136)
In pure stuff terms, the Astros’ right-hander has the potential to be one of the best players to own in fantasy. His curveball is a joy to behold and has a 36.5% strikeout rate, including 18.6% swinging strikes.

He possesses the unusual talent of inducing more than 50% groundball contact from all four of his pitches, but it is his two-seam sinker that generates the highest rate, at an elite rate of over 64%.

Swinging strikes, ground balls and one of the best curveballs in the game, result in a pitcher that needs to be targeted in all leagues if you have aspirations of the championship.

McCullers’ durability is the reason why his ADP is so low. He has averaged just over 100 innings over the last three seasons, so you need to structure your roster accordingly, to fill in for the 24-year-old when he hits the DL.

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Marcus Stroman (ADP 109)
If accumulating innings is important in your league, then the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman should be the groundball pitcher to target. In 2017, the 26-year-old exceeded 200 innings for the second straight year, and he established himself as a true workhorse.  Only 10 pitchers threw more innings last season.

Also for the second straight year, Stroman produced an elite groundball rate of over 60%. With injury and durability concerns over the Astros’ pair of Kuechel and McCullers, there is a strong argument that Stroman is the most reliable groundball starter in the majors.

He posted an impressive 3.09 ERA last season, although the 3.90 FIP suggests it is flattering. This year, expect Stroman to give you another season of 200 innings, with an above-average WHIP in the 1.30 range and a strikeout rate of about 7-8 SO/9. His groundball tendencies should enable the former first rounder from the 2012 draft to avoid too much damage from the AL East sluggers.

Marcus Stroman, elite groundball pitcher

QUICK FINAL TAKE

With Perdomo (61.8 GB%), Richard (59.2 GB%), and Mitchell (55.4 GB%), the Padres have three of the top-10 ground ball inducing starting pitchers in the game. All three have value in deep leagues, and all will cost you nothing more than a late-round pick. Stroman (62.1 GB%) and McCullers (61.3 GB%) are both young and improving starters with the potential to finish in the top-10 and need to be owned in all formats.