The long-awaited return of Garrett Richards is finally upon us, bringing with it dreams of having true ace atop the Angels rotation once again. It’s way too soon to know for sure if Richards will be able to repeat his breakout performance of 2014, but he’ll at least provide some stability to a rotation that’s looked awfully shaky in the season’s first two weeks.
To commemorate Richards’ 2015 debut for Stat Sunday, we’ve got three notable numbers to keep an eye on over the course of his season:
…miles per hour was the average velocity of Richards’ fourseam fastball last season, the highest of any MLB starter not named Yordano Ventura. That velo represented a 1.7 MPH increase over his 2013 average, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what you’d expect for a guy moving from the bullpen to a full-time rotation spot. Richards’ sinker and slider also saw similar increases, the velocity spike turning the latter pitch into a nearly un-hittable offering (i.e. a .022 ISO-against).
Word on the street is that Richards’ stuff looked just as good in spring and during his rehab starts, but there’s no telling if the uptick in velocity is something he can maintain in the longterm. (Even Justin Verlander is topping out at 95 now.) A small dip back toward his career norms this year or the next wouldn’t be surprising, so the question then would become whether he could maintain a high level of success with a not-quite-as-elite arsenal. For now, though, we can just sit back and enjoy the heat.
…was the league’s slugging percentage against Richards in 2014, the lowest of any pitcher (min. 100 IP) by a full 14 points. As you might expect, that number was accompanied by an MLB bests in home runs per nine (0.3) and extra-base hit percentage (4.0%). It seems safe to assume that Richards is due for some regression here, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should expect a dramatic change. The added velocity noted above doesn’t just increase Richards’ whiff rate, it also makes his stuff much more difficult to square up — only Chris Sale had a lower Well-Hit Average (WHAV) last season, per ESPN Stats and Info.
It’s possible that part of the reason Richards’ pitches were so difficult to pick up in 2014 is that he finally locked down a consistent release point. Up to last year, Richards’s arm slot at release changed about as often as his role with the Angels pitching staff. In 2014, though, all his offerings were neatly bunched in a single cluster traveled on a similar plane to the plate, making it close to impossible to identify pitches out of his hand. Let’s hope his knee injury doesn’t affect his ability to do the same this year.
…was the number of wild pitches Richards threw last year, four more than anyone else in baseball; a rather impressive feat considering he didn’t pitch past August 20. Richards wasn’t on pace to set the all-time record (30, set by Red Ames in 1906) when he went down, but he did need only four more to have the most in the last half century. It wasn’t so much that Richards didn’t have good control last year — his 7.5% walk rate was better than the league average — it was that when the pitches got away from him, they really got away from him.
I expect Richards’ wild pitch numbers to decrease as he becomes more and more comfortable with his newer, nastier stuff. But even if he doesn’t, it shouldn’t affect his overall success — Felix Hernandez is among the league leaders in wild pitches every year, and he’s pretty alright. If worst comes to worst, he can always just add more gunk to the brim of his hat.