Garrett Richards has been the poster boy of a disappointing pitcher for quite some time. He’s always had the stuff to be a frontline starter, yet he couldn’t seem to get above average results. Richards throws a plus fastball that reaches the high 90s coupled with a wipeout slider, a repertoire that deserves better than his 15.7% strikeout rate. He entered 2014 less worried about his strikeouts, and more focused on continuing his strong ground ball numbers and planning to reduce his walks. So naturally, he’s been walking more batters, allowing a few less grounders, and striking out more hitters with a new and improved 25.8% strikeout rate, 14th best among qualified pitchers.
The first thing Garrett Richards changed this season has been his mechanics. He’s traditionally lined up on the very extreme third base side of the rubber, but has moved about a foot closer towards the middle.
We see moves like this often, where pitchers will change sides to increase effectiveness of their pitches. Other successful examples are CC Sabathia and David Price. For Richards, a big motivator behind this shift is to play up the movement of his pitches, with an effectiveness of his two seam fastball that he’s increased the usage of significantly:
|Pitch||2013 usage||2014 usage||Percent change|
|Four seam fastball||47.4%||32.5%||14.9%|
|Two seam fastball||5.7%||30.2%||24.5%|
The two seamer has been an integral part of Richards’ success so far. It’s getting 10.2% swinging strikes, which is double the league average for the pitch. His slider has also been getting elite whiff rates, causing hitters to look foolish by swinging and missing 19.4% of the time.
Not only has he switched up his repertoire, but the mechanical adjustments have also allowed him to increase his fastball velocity to 96.0 MPH on average, second in the majors to Yordano Ventura by only a tenth of a point. The velocity itself has played a huge role in increasing the strikeouts and effectiveness of Richards, behind it he’s been getting a 10.8% swinging strike rate, ninth in the American League.
On top of all this, Richards has stayed true to his Spring Training promise to an extent. Even though his walk rates are up (9.6% compared to 7.1% last year) he’s been a much better pitcher because he’s locating his pitches better. Against lefties he used to throw them middle away, but in 2014 has stayed down and outside from them. Against righties he’s focused on simply staying away from them, whether it’s high, middle or low. The results are noticeable immediately, with the most impressive being his lack of platoon splits. Fastball/slider combinations rarely work well against the opposite hand, but Richards is holding lefties to a miniscule .230 wOBA.
Garrett Richards’ 2.42 ERA and 3.11 xFIP are excellent numbers, and hardly surprising considering how nasty his pitches are. What is surprising is that it took him so long to put it all together, but the results are welcomed by every Angels fan and any fan of baseball who hasn’t watched him pitch against their team in 2014. Richards is on track to establishing himself as a top starter in the game, and if you enjoy pitching, now is the time to hop on for a ride.