Last night against the Toronto Blue Jays, Garrett Richards twirled a gem going 7 strong innings allowing two runs and striking out 5. In his two starts since taking over Joe Blanton‘s spot in the rotation, Richards has held hitters to a .171 batting average in 12 innings of work and allowed only 7 hits.
Of course, the two starts scream small sample size, and looking at Richards splits as a starter versus when he pitches as a reliever this year seem to bring up more questions than answers as to whether Richards can be a full-time starter yet.
Richards stats remain roughly the same in almost the same amount of innings in both roles. Yet, the biggest difference is his WHIP which sits dramatically lower as a starter, particularly the hits part of that equation. Here’s how batters do against him in both roles.
Batters hit worse against Richards as a starter than when coming out of the bullpen. Yet the low BaBIP suggest that batters should be hitting a bit better against Richards, which might explain the low hits per nine ratio when Richards starts a game.
Things get weirder, though. Richards induces almost twice as many groundballs as a relief pitcher than as a starter. He posted a 3.23 GB/FB ratio out of the bullpen opposed to the 1.68 rate when he starts. While in both roles, FIP suggests that Richards is a better pitcher than his ERA reveals with a 3.23 FIP as a starter and a 3.79 as a reliever.
So should Richards remain a starter? Richards peripheral stats remain inconclusive. But so far, Richards has pitched better as a starter. Maybe he’s been a bit lucky or unlucky or both. Or maybe these peripheral stats just aren’t much help.
What does remain a concern is Richards control and strikeout rate. For a pitcher who regularly touches 95 mph, Richards strikeout per nine ratio is surprisingly low. As Mike Podhorzer recently noted via Rotographs, Richards swinging strike percentage has remained decent, but his looking strike rate is well below the league average. This is possibly an issue of Richards only really being able to utilize two pitches effectively — his fastball and his slider.
It also might be a case of Richards troubling control issues. While his BB/9 is only 2.5, his low first pitch strike rate reveal bumpy roads ahead. Yet, the control issues seem to have become a problem only since Richards hit the major leagues. Minus a late-season stint in Salt Lake last year after spending a part of the season with the Angels, Richards BB/9 rate has always remained around the 2.5 mark in the minors. And in 2012, Baseball Prospectus noted Richards to have ”excellent control for a young pitcher” and that he was “ready to eat innings this year.” Richards has shown brief glances of this scouting report but has mostly been anything but thus far in the majors.
Up to this point, Richards has yet to fully parlay his minor league success into a full-time major league starting pitcher role. But part of that is due to the Angels unwillingness to let him stay in that role for a full season. In almost 400 innings logged in the minors Richards didn’t come out of the bullpen once. Yet in three years of major league stints, Richards has started only 18 of the 73 games he’s appeared in. Clearly, it’s time the Angels made a decision on Richards. Allowing him to start puts Richards back in the role he was groomed to be in in the minors and allows him to work on his ever-developing secondary pitches within the context of his full arsenal while trying to re-find his command.
The talent is there but the commitment from his team remains in question. And until that commitment is made, the Angels may never really know what they have in Richards.