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Starting pitchers doing best job of limiting long balls in homer-happy 2019

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu has been great about keeping the ball in the ballpark this season. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

By Fred Zinkie

Special to Yahoo Sports

The most overused storyline of 2019 is surely the homer surge and subsequent theories about juiced balls. But the reality is that fantasy managers have no choice but to operate effectively within the new homer-happy environment. And in theory, hurlers who successfully suppress long balls should have a leg up on their strikeout-prone opposition. Here are the full details on the 10 qualified hurlers who have recorded the lowest HR/9 rates so far this season.

Mike Soroka, Braves (0.44 HR/9 rate)

Far and away the leader in HR/9 rate, Soroka has sustainable skills for limiting long balls. The rookie does a solid job of suppressing hard contact (34.0 percent) and is among the best in baseball keeping batted balls out of the air (21.6 percent fly ball rate). Although he has certainly been fortunate to produce a 10-2 record across 17 starts, Soroka should continue to post a low ERA through the end of the campaign.

Max Scherzer, Nationals (0.63 HR/9 rate)

From a skills perspective, Scherzer may be getting better with age. His strikeout rate is trending up for a fifth straight season, and his walk rate is the second best of his memorable career. But it is in the batted-ball department where Scherzer has really made strides, giving up fewer fly balls and inducing more grounders than ever before. Assuming he comes back from the IL at full strength, the veteran should be the No. 1 fantasy starter down the stretch.

Martin Perez, Twins (0.71 HR/9 rate)

Perez has a long history of limiting long balls, which is not surprising for someone who owns stellar career rates of fly balls (27.5 percent) and hard contact (31.4 percent). Unfortunately, the 28-year-old is unable to dominate the strike zone (career 1.8 K:BB ratio) and 2019 a velocity uptick this season has brought about minimal change. At this point, Perez seems unlikely to ever be more than a mixed-league streamer.

Charlie Morton, Rays (0.72 HR/9 rate)

Morton has been everything Rays fans wanted and more, dominating the strike zone (3.7 K:BB ratio) and limiting both line drives (19.9 percent) and fly balls (28.6 percent). His 11.6 percent HR/FB rate is a sustainable mark, meaning that the 35-year-old should continue to keep the ball in the yard and limit scoring overall.

Brad Keller, Royals (0.72 HR/9 rate)

Keller is a bit of a Perez clone, who does a great job of limiting fly balls (26.0 percent) and inducing grounders (51.8 percent) but does not dominate the strike zone (1.6 K:BB rate) well enough to be more than a streamer in mixed leagues. Still, there are enough appetizing matchups in the AL Central to keep both Keller and Perez relevant.

Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers (0.73 HR/9 rate)

Of course, Ryu pops up on this list. After all, the southpaw has been one of baseball’s best pitchers this year by any measure. His recipe for success is simple, as he rarely gives up a walk (1.0 BB/9 rate) or a fly ball (24.6 percent rate). And with Ryu forcing batters to earn their way on base by finding holes in the Dodgers defense, he is rarely enduring a rough inning and continuously tallying quality starts.

Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays (0.76 HR/9 rate)

Stroman is a wealthy man’s version of Perez and Keller. His batted-ball tendencies are outstanding (career 59.5 percent groundball rate, 30.7 percent hard-contact rate), but his lack of dominance (lifetime 7.2 K/9 rate) keeps him from joining the top tiers at his position. The fiery right-hander’s 2019 success isn’t driven by extreme luck, and his 3.62 FIP is a good benchmark for rest-of-season production.

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Lance Lynn, Rangers (0.77 HR/9 rate)

Lynn has been one of this season’s best waiver-wire finds, and a low HR/9 rate is a major reason for his success. Unfortunately the veteran may surrender too many fly balls (35.9 percent) and too much hard contact (37.8 percent) to maintain a 8.6 percent HR/FB rate while making half his starts at such a homer-happy venue. But Lynn could give up a few more round-trippers and still have success overall by maintaining his much-improved 5.4 percent walk rate.

Lucas Giolito, White Sox (0.80 HR/9 rate)

Sitting at 11-4 with a 3.12 ERA, Giolito has realized the vast upside that was predicted by many scouts in recent years. However, his 9.1 HR/9 rate may be a little fortunate for someone who works in a hitter’s park and gives up plenty of fly balls (40.1 percent). Like Lynn, Giolito is pitching so well (3.4 K:BB ratio) that he could give up a few more dingers and remain a coveted asset.

Cole Hamels, Cubs (0.81 HR/9 rate)

Hamels is enjoying a late-career uptick in batted-ball data, as his 51.1 percent groundball rate is a personal best and his 35.5 percent hard-contact rate makes him one of the few pitchers who is posting a three-year low in that metric. The left-hander isn’t throwing as well as is indicated by his 2.98 ERA (3.60 FIP, 4.08 xFIP), but he should return to being a lineup fixture upon his looming return from the IL.

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