What in the Sam Hill is up with Garrett Richards

Continuing with my line of Sam Hill pieces, Garrett Richards has frustrated owners who waited out his early season recovery from knee surgery. After posting a dazzling 2.61 ERA (2.60 FIP), 1.04 WHIP, and 24.2% strikeout rate over 168.2 innings in 2014, he’s been on again, off again and one absolute drubbing in 2015. Right now, his line of 4.14 ERA (4.06 FIP), 1.31 WHIP, and 19% strikeout rate isn’t terrible, but he’s pretty much standing at the cliff in terms of trade value. One more ugly start and his name recognition will be overshadowed by miserable counting stats. So the question is, should you hold or target him?

First off, let’s start with velocity since velocity is frequently a harbinger for injury and since velocity is so much a part of Richards’ game. His fastball, or should I say fastballs, are down in velocity from 2014 a tad, but also right where his career averages would expect them to be.

2014 96.4 96
2015 95.7 95
Career 95.4 94.9

We know many pitchers tend to gain a little velocity throughout the summer, but this doesn’t strike me as a red flag as of yet — and if you check his pitchF/X charts, there’s no indication that his velocity is suddenly in decline either.

If we slide over to Brooks Baseball, where they characterize that cutter as a sinker, what seems to have changed appreciably from last year to this year is simply his pitch usage. But before we get there, let’s establish just how good some of his offerings were last season.

In 2014, Richards used his fourseam fastball, sinker, and slider almost equally (35%, 28%, and 30%, respectively). The results on those pitches looked like this:

AVG SLG ISO Whiff/Swing
FA 0.221 0.294 0.074 18%
Sinker 0.25 0.332 0.174 19%
SL 0.152 0.174 0.022 42%

Not too shabby. So considering how much success he had in 2014, you would assume the Angels would have him stick with the same recipe. Ahem:

2014 35% 28% 30% 8%
2015 52% 11% 33% 2%

So he’s gone to his traditional fastball 17% more, cut his use of the sinker exactly that much and basically abandoned his curve. I don’t have an explanation for this shift, but the results are as follows:

AVG SLG ISO Whiff/Swing
FA 0.226 0.274 0.047 19%
Sinker 0.259 0.556 0.338 10%
SL 0.221 0.338 0.117 44%

So his sinker has been his worst pitch, but he’s also not using it nearly as much. His results on his fastball are still good, with the slider still producing a lot of swings and misses. That sinker was the pitch he relied on very heavily against left handed batters in 2014, using it 41% of the time against lefties, but in 2015, he’s going to it just 15% of the time. Still, he’s having solid success against left handed batters, holding them to a .209/.291/.327 slash line.

And although his pitch selection has changed, where he’s living in the zone really hasn’t:


He’s maybe getting a teensy more of the middle of the zone in 2015, and perhaps that’s the only takeaway here — that he’s not quite as fine as he was last year. His walk rate is currently over 10% where it has sat around 7% for the past couple seasons, so certainly he’s having a little more trouble spotting the ball. It’s probably important to recall that before he gave up six earned runs while registering one solitary out, that Richards was cruising along with a pretty decent 3.26 ERA.

So here we are 500 words later and I don’t think you can draw any hard and fast conclusions that there’s anything particularly wrong with Garrett Richards other than being singularly putrid in his last outing. His velocity is slightly down, yes. His strikeouts are slightly down, and his repertoire has changed a bit. But he’s still generating the same swinging strike rate, his contact rate is in fact exactly what it was in 2014, and he’s using the zone in almost the very same way he did when he was highly successful. From my vantage point, I think it would be a good time to target Richards and if you’re an owner, I’d hold unless you get an offer you can’t refuse. Of course, one more six run 1/3 of an inning outing and I’ll probably be singing a different tune.

Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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If you can package Richards with Correa to get Puig, do you do it?