Garrett Richards: Buy or Sell?
Garrett Richards is breaking out in a big way. Richards’ career numbers before 2014 are largely uninspiring, but with 3.6 WAR already (good for 10th best in the game), the Oklahoma product is performing like one of the best pitchers in baseball. Richards is rewarding shrewd owners for their likely minimal investment, but is there more going on under the hood to suggest selling high on the Angels’ ace?
The Angels 2009 draft class will be viewed as a franchise-changer on account of Mike Trout, whom has already delivered 27.1 WAR. Though no player will equal Trout’s individual accomplishments, fellow picks include Randal Grichuk [Full Scouting Report], Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin, and (maybe you saw this coming) Garrett Richards. The Angels nailed five of their first six picks, a welcome sight after the departures of Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez gave Los Angeles four compensation picks in the top 42 overall.
The Angels were clearly big believers in Richards’ stuff from his time in Norman: a high-90s fastball and ability to throw at least one breaking pitch. At the very least, Richards profiled as a back-end reliever called on for one or two inning bursts due to the lack of a change-up. However, Richards has thrived using his fastball-slider combo. In recent years, more starters have found success with “only” two pitches, but is it smart to question if these pitchers are shooting stars bound to fizzle out, or long term contributors to build a franchise around?
Sustainability for a pitcher has to be viewed in a multiple ways. First, will the stuff hold up and remain effective? Second, will the pitcher stay healthy over an extended period of time? These considerations are especially important for starters like Richards.
In 2014, Garrett Richards has thrown a fastball or slider 93.3% of the time. Dating back to his big league debut in 2011, Richards’ profile as a starter has long been mix the four-seamer, sinker, and slider. The right-hander also flashed a curveball and the change-up is non-existent. A fastball velocity spike is the likely cause for Richards’ success this season.
Garrett Richards is throwing his four-seam fastball at 97.2 MPH, nearly two MPH faster this season. This kind of leap is understandable from a high school pitcher gaining strength as he enters his twenties — not necessarily from a physically developed 26-year old. Lacking movement on his four-seamer, Richards’ success makes sense on the surface. Every Major League hitter is prepared to hit a straight 95 MPH fastball to a point. The harder the fastball, the less time the hitter has to swing.
Owning the second-fastest average fastball among starters is not a case study for sustainability; few pitchers at the top of the velocity leaderboard remain there for long. With added velocity, Richards’ slider is the real beneficiary. The right-hander throws an 87 MPH slider nearly 30% of the time. Most of Richards’ plate discipline rates are consistent, but his O-Contact% suggests batters have to cheat on the fastball and are fooled when the slider breaks out of the zone. As hitters adjusted, Richards has responded by using his slider even more, climbing to 38.9% in July. The sharp uptick in fastball velocity and increase in slider usage do not bode well for long-term health.
Sell Garrett Richards…But Tread Lightly
If Richards sees his velocity decrease, so will the peripherals. If he keeps throwing his upper 90’s fastball paired with an ungodly number of sliders, Richards is a strong candidate to break down. With no reason to suggest Richards’ performance will change this season, now is the time to start sending out feelers. If a keeper league owner decides to trade Richards, it’s hedging for an eventual breakdown. One trade partner might point out a minor investment cost and propose a low-ball offer, but Garrett Richards has a higher WAR than Adam Wainwright and Max Scherzer this season. Hold out for the right package — trade partners will sense urgency.
4 Aug 2014 / Ben Flajole /
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