Commentary

The Giants' pitching secret

The key to San Francisco's success is its pitchers' ability to prevent home runs

Originally Published: April 3, 2011
By Dave Cameron | FanGraphs
CainCary Edmondson/US PresswireDespite inducing a lot of fly balls, Matt Cain does a remarkable job of keeping them in the park.

The strength of the San Francisco Giants is undoubtedly their pitching staff, which annually ranks among the best in baseball. Led by ace Tim Lincecum and a collection of hard-throwing relievers, the Giants once again led all of baseball in strikeout rate last year, but the thing that makes their pitchers special isn't their ability to miss bats, but rather their unique ability to rack up a ton of outs on fly balls.

This might not sound like a particularly sexy skill for a pitching staff to possess, but most fly balls that are not caught become extra-base hits and about 10 percent of the time they fly over the wall for a home run. Pitchers who give up a lot of balls in the air tend to do so because they throw a lot of fastballs up in the strike zone, where hitters are prone to chasing pitches that they can't get the bat on. That's why a lot of fly ball pitchers are also good strikeout pitchers. The problem is that when a pitcher who lives in the high part of the strike zone misses with his location the ball can get hit very hard and far, so these pitchers often give up a lot of homers; for example, Ted Lilly had the lowest rate of ground balls in baseball last year and gave up a staggering 1.49 home runs per nine innings.

While most pitchers tend to hover around a rate of 10 percent of their fly balls leaving the yard, this does not hold true for pitchers who wear the Giants' jersey, and it hasn't for quite some time. Only 8 percent of the fly balls allowed by San Francisco pitchers in 2010 went over the fence, and as usual that was the best mark in baseball. This isn't anything new -- the Giants' staff has been beating the league average on home runs per fly ball rate for a decade now.


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