Garrett Richards has vastly improved in the 2014 season but how did he change from being a swing-man with a #4 potential to a borderline ace? Well what I’m going to look at is the changes he has made to his delivery, mechanics, and how interestingly similar he is to another stud pitcher in the league.
Unfortunately, Richards has been put on the 60 Day DL with a knee injury that will keep him out for the rest of 2014 as well as possibly even a month or two in 2015. However, in 2014 he posted a very solid 168.2 innings pitched in 26 starts with a 2.61 FIP, .264 BABIP, and a 0.27 HR/9 as well as a 16.7 K-BB%. Richards is a guy who I never expected would have this type of breakout or even adding 2 MPH to his fastball, I saw him as a #4 maybe a borderline #3. Richards pretty much showed that throughout his career until late last year. Something changed about his delivery, whether it was by himself or the coaches, for the better.
Here’s a graph of Richards release point in 2013, you’ll notice there’s two distinct groupings, the left is early part of 2013 and the right is the later part of 2013 when Richards was starting games.
To show you what these release points look like, here’s a set of gifs, on the left is early 2013 and right is late 2013.
Notice where Richards starts on the rubber. Early 2013 he was mostly middle-left of the rubber but in late 2013 he is completely on the left side, which confirms the reports from Alden Gonzalez and Jeff Sullivan. But is this change the cause in his spike in fastball velocity? I’m sure it did some part in Richards increasing his velocity but there are definitely other factors involved. Such as moving pitchers from the rotation to the pen and back to the rotation. Possibly there’s a change in mechanics that happened over the offseason or even added strength. Let’s check out a gif from this year:
The 2014 version of mechanics for Richards certainly looks a lot cleaner than late 2013 Richards. There’s still some bad spine tilt and a bit of arm drag. The big thing for me when watching Richards the past few years was his delivery and mechanics, they weren’t good, they looked like he’ll get some kind of injury in the future, and it didn’t help his production at all. I believe that the movement to the 1st base side of the rubber and the changed release point link to Richards cleaning up his delivery. Here’s an excerpt from a Baseball Prospectus piece by pitching guru Doug Thorburn about Richards’ mechanics, if you don’t already have a subscription to BP, I HIGHLY suggest getting one:
“The main knock on Richards is his lack of stability in the delivery, with non-passing grades in both balance and posture. He tucks into max leg lift, particularly from the windup, and he remains imbalanced by hunching over toward third base during the stride phase, though the degree of his front-side bend is inconsistent. The balance has taken a small step in the right direction this season, downsizing the degree of movement through lift and stride, but he still has a lot of room for improvement… The lack of stability amidst shaky timing patterns doesn’t bode well for his ability to repeat the delivery and establish himself as a trustworthy arm over the long haul”
This article was written back in July but I agreed with them as they are something I believed back when Richards was just entering the league. If you were to solely look at the mechanics grades of this pitcher, you would think of a reliever profile with pretty good stuff. But in the wacky world of baseball, Chris Sales and Garrett Richards can happen. They can break down at anytime but we’ll enjoy them until they do. After watching Richards this year, I will now peg him as a #1 and a borderline ace. When I was doing some research I noticed a pitcher that was pretty similar to Richards leading up to this year: Tyson Ross. Just like Richards, Tyson Ross is a Super 2 eligible player, which means they will go to arbitration 4 times instead of the normal 3. Ross will be going into his 2nd arbitration year in the offseason while Richards is going into his first. This is significant because they have produced very similarly, which gives us some kind of idea on the price of Richards’ arbitration cost. Both pitchers were also drafted high, with Richards getting picked in the first round in 2009 with the 42nd overall pick and Ross getting picked in the second round in 2008 with the 58th overall pick. I expect Richards to earn a tad more than Ross did for his first year in arbitration, anywhere from 2-3.5MM for 2015. Check out this table comparing their careers starting in 2012 and going up until this year:
|2012||G||GS||ERA||IP||FIP||K%-BB%||K/9||BB/9||Avg FB Velo||fWAR||rWAR|
|2013||G||GS||ERA||IP||FIP||K%-BB%||K/9||BB/9||Avg FB Velo||fWAR||rWAR|
|2014||G||GS||ERA||IP||FIP||K%-BB%||K/9||BB/9||Avg FB Velo||fWAR||rWAR|
The big difference between Richards and Ross is not only the average fastball velocity and K%-BB% but also how Richards is able to limit hits (not included in table). This year Richards has produced a 6.6 H/9 while Ross has produced a 7.4 H/9. Besides that over their careers starting in 2012, they’ve been pretty similar. However their deliveries are completely opposite. Ross is much more cleaner:
The big thing now is how will Richards’ recent knee injury affect his mechanics and velocity in the future. Either way, Richards has changed for the better by cleaning up his delivery in part by moving over to the 1st base side of the rubber and changing his release point. I’m glad that Richards was able to breakout and become the stud pitcher the Angels hoped for when they drafted him in the first round.