One of my favorite things to do is find the underrated players, the ones that will sign for a contract well below the value they’ll contribute to the teams. Garrett Richards may seem like an odd choice, as he’s a known entity that many believe reached his peak in his 2014 season where he broke out and delivered 168.2 innings of 2.61 ERA baseball (2.60 FIP) cementing himself into the ace conversation.
Unfortunately, his career hasn’t followed that path. His 2015 was a solid follow-up, but from 2016-2020, Garrett has logged just 198.2 IP. Those innings were well above average, coming in at a 3.53 ERA across that span, but he hasn’t had the durability to live up to the ace billing.
Garrett, now 32, was the 42nd overall draft pick in 2009. John Sickels had him as a prospect of the day back in 2011 – a great read, but here is a good recap:
“A 6-3, 215 pound, 23 year-old right-hander, Richards works with a 91-94 MPH sinking fastball, topping out at 95-96. His secondary pitches are a slider, curveball, and changeup. All three show promise, but all three were very erratic in college and have gradually improved in pro ball. Texas League reports confirm this steady improvement, but the fastball remains his bread-and-butter. His control is generally quite good, and his command has improved: keep in mind that control (throwing general strikes) and command (hitting your spots within the strike zone) are not the same thing. Some scouts question his mechanics and worry that his delivery places stress on the shoulder, but so far he’s been very durable.”
“Nevertheless, I’m optimistic about Richards and I think he can be a solid inning-eating starter. We should see him sometime in 2012.”
In 2015, Fangraphs did an article on Garrett and why he was so difficult to square up. And had this to say:
“He didn’t completely change as a pitcher — he’s always had live stuff — but he simultaneously boosted his velocity while improving his command, with the velocity boost giving hitters reduced timing, and with the command improvement keeping pitches in far safer places. Richards was able to move around his fastballs, and he more consistently kept his breaking balls down, so he became that much tougher to attack with authority. Lefties had to deal with a sinker at 97, running away. Righties had to deal with a fastball at 97, with cutting action. The slider was available in any count.”
In 2014, Garrett suffered a torn patellar tendon to his left knee, while fielding a play at first base.
This certainly seemed more like a fluke accident than the start of an injury history, this cut his 2014 short, but ultimately he came back in 2015 going 15-12 with a 3.67 ERA and pitching 207 innings.
His 2016 season again started off strong, but came to a screeching halt, when it was found out that Garrett had partially torn his ulnar collateral ligament – an injury that generally leads to Tommy John Surgery. Steve Yoon, presented that a stem cell procedure could be used instead as Garrett had only partially torn his UCL, allowing for a quicker recovery, and ultimately Garrett pitching again sooner.
I’m not a medical expert, nor do I want to weigh in on the decision, but there are numerous articles such as this one from the LA Times that go into more detail, and that the procedure ultimately failed in Garrett’s case.
Garrett did suffer minor strains of his bicep and hamstring in 2017, but the big news of course was that he would have to be shut down due to his UCL being torn and ultimately requiring Tommy John Surgery.
In 2020, Richards was finally healthy again, and although he didn’t have quite his normal ace-like production in a strange year, he did appear to be past the injury woes.
To put it simply, Richards is a spin rate lovers dream come true. The graphic above highlights it, but amazingly enough actually vastly understates it as Richards has one of the best curveballs in the game.
His 4-seamer? In 2019 averaged 94.9 MPH and 2,673 RPM. In 2020? 95.1 and 2,626. This puts him in the 97th percentile. (Ranked 11th best in baseball)
His slider? In 2019 89.1 MPH and 3,013 RPM. In 2020, 88.5 and 2,893. (Ranked 19th best in baseball)
His curve? In 2019 - 80.5 MPH and 3,431. In 2020, 80.0 and 3,299 (Ranked 2nd best in all of baseball)
Garrett Richards, Gorgeous 81mph Curveball. pic.twitter.com/2AS2QzvJhy— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 26, 2020
I spend more time than I’d like to admit researching Brent Strom’s methodologies and finding players that I think have untapped potential within the Strom Magic Method. In a vast oversimplification, you’re looking for a high velocity, high spin 4-seam fastball, and a high spin curveball to maximize the ability for pitch tunneling. Ideally in a buy low circumstance, you’ll have a pitcher that throws a sinker and does not utilize effective velocity in his approach.
We’ve already talked about spin rate, but Garrett also has elite velocity. His 95.1 MPH 4-seamer (and 95.2 MPH sinker) are in the 87th percentile of all pitchers including relievers, and ranks 25th of all starters last year.
All of this leads to a remarkable arsenal if used correctly.
Garrett Richards, 95mph Fastball and 90mph Slider, Overlay pic.twitter.com/lulzikdyAV— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 27, 2020
What would it cost?
MLBTradeRumors predicts that Richards will get 2-year/ $16 Million (predicted to go to the Phillies).
With that said, this off-season is looking to be extremely contentious with salaries likely being depressed far below where normal contracts would be. No one has a crystal ball, but we will use 2/16 for evaluation.
The question of course with Garrett Richards is less about ability, even without Strom’s magic touch, he’s a top of the rotation starter. It comes down to durability, which looking at the number of innings he pitched does not inspire confidence. There is an element which isn’t considered here though, which is that the last few years were all lost due to the same injury - a torn UCL. With Tommy John now behind him and a fairly successful season health wise, those concerns are slightly less prevalent.
To me, Richards is the ultimate lightning in a bottle. He’s a pitcher with the upside of a Gerritt Cole for a 20th of the cost. His arsenal is a perfect fit within Strom’s model, and under Strom’s tutelage, I don’t think we’re just talking ace potential but in the argument for the best pitcher in the game.
That type of upside is tantalizing. Admittedly, there’s a risk from a health and injury perspective, and he’s not getting younger, but he’s produced $8 mil/year of value even during his injury riddled seasons.
Should the Astros pursue Garrett Richards?
This poll is closed