Before delving into the cream of the crop of the leading ground-ball pitchers in Major League Baseball, let’s first answer the questions for the uninitiated: What’s a ground-ball pitcher? And what’s so important about being one?
The first question is easy to answer; the second, less so. A ground-ball pitcher is a pitcher who is more likely to get opposing batsmen to hit groundouts than flyouts.
Why is it important? The thinking is that ground ball pitchers are less likely to give up big innings than fly-ball pitchers because it’s impossible to hit a home run with a ground ball.
However, there’s a flipside to this: Weak ground balls are more likely to turn into base hits than weak flies, and since most power pitchers like to throw it hard and high, ground ball pitchers often have less K’s and higher WHIPs than fly-ball pitchers.
Now that the definitions are out of the way, let’s rank the 10 ground-ball pitchers from contenders around the league. Again, we’re limiting ourselves to contending teams only, because it’s the playoff push. Sorry, Felix Hernandez and R.A. Dickey.
No. 10: Rick Porcello (DET)
Fantasy baseball team owners might have seen Porcello’s 14-9 win-loss record for the 2011 Tigers and drafted Porcello early. Of course, if they did, they probably missed Porcello’s 4.75 ERA and his 1.407 WHIP. Uh-oh.
Porcello’s 9-9 record this year is fine, but it belies the fact that he’s not consistently pitching very well. He is the AL league leader in hits surrendered, and if not for the Tigers’ high-flying offense, that 9-9 record might be more like 6-13.
No. 9: Francisco Liriano (CHW)
For a guy who has only had two good seasons in his seven-year career, Francisco Liriano sure gets a lot of hype. He’s 2-0 so far since his trade to the AL Central-leading White Sox, but on the season, he’s 5-10 with a 5.06 ERA.
He gets a bump for having helped the White Sox since his arrival on the South Side, but which Liriano will he be come the playoffs?
No. 8: Jaime Garcia (STL)
Jaime Garcia had to sit out for two-and-a-half months of the season with an injury, and he hasn’t won since returning. In fact, he hasn’t won since mid-May.
This is a problem.
Garcia nearly won the Rookie of the Year award in 2010 (and he probably should have, with his 13-8 record and a 2.70 ERA, no matter how good Buster Posey turned out to be). He had a solid 2011 for the World Series Championship cardinals as well.
But so far in 2012, he’s 3-5 with a 4.15 ERA, and he hasn’t done much to keep the team in contention. At least not yet. However, he does have some small track record of success—clearly, the Cards are hoping Garcia will turn the season around.
No. 7: Paul Maholm (ATL)
One of the only starting pitchers with a winning record for the hapless Cubs before he was traded midseason, 30-year-old Paul Maholm is in the middle of a career year. With a 3.44 ERA and a 1.178 WHIP, he’s matured into a key contributor in the Braves’ tough rotation.
No. 6: Brandon McCarthy (OAK)
With a 3.12 ERA in 16 starts, McCarthy has been doing his best to get it done for the A’s, a team that’s happy to have him back after his two-month stint on the DL. While he’s probably overpaid at $4.3 million for the season, there’s no question that McCarthy is having a good year and helping the A’s compete for a playoff spot.
No. 5: Adam Wainwright (STL)
Wainwright missed all of the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series season after undergoing winter Tommy John surgery. Despite whispered rumors that he might not return, Wainwright has done well for the Cardinals so far, posting a 13-10 record in 26 starts and notching 156 K’s.
Though Wainwright hasn’t returned to his pre-injury form (Cy Young-caliber seasons of 19-8/2.63/212 and 20-11/2.42/213 in 2009 and 2010, respectively), there’s no question that he’s one of the top ground-ball pitchers in the majors.
No. 4: Jake Westbrook (STL)
One of the reasons the Cardinals are so hot this season (even with the departure of slugger Albert Pujols) is their pitching, and like Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook certainly deserves plenty of credit for his work.
Posting a 13-10 record with a 3.94 ERA, Westbrook has performed solidly for the Cardinals this season. Though his .276 BAA is quite high, the Cardinals are 10-4 in the last 14 games Westbrook has started.
No. 3: Tim Hudson (ATL)
Like the Cardinals, the Braves are being powered to victory this year by their pitching, and ace Tim Hudson is the best pitcher the Braves have got.
Hudson, a 14-year veteran, is enjoying yet another fine season, and his 13-4 record and 3.57 ERA are one of the prime reasons the Braves enjoy such a strong lead in the NL wild-card race.
No. 2: Derek Lowe (NYY)
Lowe has long been recognized as one of the premier ground-ball pitchers in the bigs, and even at 39 years old, he’s getting it done.
Despite a high ERA, Lowe posted a respectable 8-10 record for the otherwise hapless Indians before being sent in midseason to the Yankees, where he’s now back in his original role: relief. The return to the pen has proved a boon to Lowe, as his Yankees ERA has dropped to just 2.00 after nine innings stretched across five games.
Lowe earned his first All-Star nod as a closer for the Red Sox in 2000, but he’s been a starter now for a decade. Does this return to the pen herald a return to form for Lowe? It certainly looks so.
No. 1: David Price (TB)
What a great year for David Price. He’s leading the AL in wins, he received his third straight All-Star nod and he’s once again got a real shot at winning the Cy Young Award. His ERA of 2.53 puts him among the best in the league, and his 170 K’s in 174 innings pitched and WHIP of 1.103 are both outstanding for ground ball pitchers.
Since changing their name, the Tampa Bay Rays have only ever once missed the playoffs…and only ever once gotten past the first round.
Will David Price and his great ground-ball pitching be able to carry the Rays deep into the postseason this year? Leave your comments below.