Analyzing Trevor Richards’ season, and why the Blue Jays mop-up reliver may not be as bad as you think
Photo credit:Mitchell Layton/GettyImages
7 months ago
While Trevor Richards hasn’t been good this season, he also hasn’t been bad.
That may sound like an odd take considering that he’s been pulled from three games of the seven he’s appeared in, but hear me out.
We’ll discuss the two “bad” games he’s had, while expanding on why it may not be the case with added context. We’ll also look at what he has also done well, because there has been quite a lot of good in Richards’ season so far.
Let’s start with the only game he’s allowed an earned run in, a game against the Kansas City Royals.
April 6th against Kansas City:
With the Blue Jays up 6-0 in the bottom of the eighth, manager John Schneider called upon Trevor Richards, who is essentially their mop-up guy at the moment.
You know the story, Bobby Witt Jr hits a homer, MJ Melendez walks, Salvador Pérez hits a single, and Schneider replaces Richards with Tim Mayza, who proceeds to allow two hits before being pulled himself.
After two scoreless innings during his season debut on April 2nd, Richards’ ERA and FIP ballooned to 13.50 and 11.32 respectively after the Kansas game.
However, let’s add some context to this outing, because it’s important. First, let’s look at the home run by Witt Jr.
As you can see here, the ball is literally hit off the outside of the foul pole and if it were another few inches to the left, it’s a foul ball. Adding to that, look where this pitch was located – well out of the zone and inside – so you can pretty much chalk this homer up to “nice piece of hitting, unlucky pitcher.”
Pérez’s hit was even more laughable. If you thought Witt Jr’s hit was well out of the zone, this hit was basically in another galaxy. Somehow, he made contact with it and poked the ball the opposite way for an exit velocity of 69.1 (nice).
Even the walk was an interesting piece of discussion. While his last pitch was quite a bit out of the zone, Scott Barlow got a called strike three in the exact same spot in the very next half inning.
Let’s look at the other “bad” game Richards has had so far this season.
April 9th against the Los Angeles Angels:
Let’s just get this out of the way now: This article isn’t attempting to make the case that Trevor Richards is a 7th or 8th inning guy. He’s a reliever that gets plenty of whiffs on an 80-grade pitch, while generating plenty of weak contact (we’ll get to this). However, he is best used in low leverage situations, such as when a team is being blown out. So keep that in mind whilst we discuss this game.
This was that wild game, where the Jays came back to tie it after being down 6-0. Eventually, the game ended 12-11.
With the Jays up 12-10 heading into the bottom of the tenth, Trevor Richards, who has one career save because he pitched three innings to end the game in a blowout, was called upon. Schneider’s hands were tied at this point after a short Kikuchi outing, as he had already used Zach Pop, Adam Cimber, Yimi García, Erik Swanson, and Jordan Romano. Moreover, Anthony Bass was likely down after throwing 24 pitches the evening before.
The outing actually started out quite well for Richards, who inherited the ghost runner. First up was Luis Rengifo, who struck out on an 82.6 mph changeup. One out.
Former Blue Jay Gio Urshela was up next, and he hit a centre cut 92.5 mph fastball into centre field with an exit velocity of 92.5 mph. Runners were then on the corner.
Next up was rookie catcher Logan O’Hoppe, who promptly was exposed with four changeups, striking out on an 83.1 mph pitch. Two outs, but then the trouble began as the top of the order came up.
Taylor Ward, who’s 3.9 fWAR in 2022 would have ranked fourth on the ‘22 Blue Jays, while his 137 wRC+ would have ranked only below Danny Jansen’s, came up to the plate. At this point, the Angels had seen enough of the changeup to understand what was coming, meaning that Ward walked on six pitches, all of which were changeups.
Next up was arguably the best player to have ever played the game, Mike Trout. Richards walked him on six pitches (five fastballs before a changeup this time), but something interesting happened. Alejandro Kirk, who is one of the best defensive catchers in the game, missed a popup behind home plate. Had he made this catch, the Jays would have won 12-10, but he didn’t.
The next batter was Shohei Ohtani, who promptly grounded out, but to Tim Mayza.
This wasn’t a great game for Richards, but when you apply the context of “Ward is a darn good player, and Kirk should have caught the popup”, it kind of makes it more tolerable.
Those two games are what you can really consider “bad” outings, but with additional context, it should hopefully be a little understandable. Let’s look at what he does well.
He’s only allowed an earned run in one game:
While it’s true that his 1.64 WHIP is not great, Richards has shown all season (and spring training) the ability to get out of jams, even if he has been lifted a few times mid inning. In fact, he has a Left on Base percentage of 79.4%, which means only 20.6% of base runners come in to score. Not a terrible number at all. With all that being said, Richards has only allowed an earned run in that April 6th game.
In fact, his ERA as of April 17th has dropped all the way down to 3.68, while his FIP has dropped to 4.55. While those numbers aren’t fantastic, it does illustrate why one shouldn’t over react to a small sample size. Moreover, his K% sits at 30.6%, while his BB% sits at 11.1%, which has also trended in the right direction.
In his last outing at the time of this article, he pitched six up, six down against the Tampa Bay Rays, generating eight whiffs and finishing the game with three strikeouts.
Side note about this game: Watching it back, he was locating his fastball well, which is something he will need to do consistently to get to the next level. The changeup needs no such help.
The changeup is an 80-grade pitch:
So far this season, batters have swung 47 times on a Trevor Richards changeup, swinging and missing 27 times for a 57.4% whiff %. According to Baseball Savant, his whiff% is in the 95th percentile. That is elite.
Chase rate is a similar statistic that measures the amount of pitches out of the zone that a batter swings at. So far this season, he has a 43.8 chase rate, which is in the 99th percentile.
If you want swing and miss out of the bullpen, it doesn’t always come via a high-90s fastball. In fact, in most cases an above average changeup will suffice… It just so happens that Richards has an elite changeup.
Richards generates a ton of soft contact:
I sort of alluded to this in the first section with Salvador Pérez’s 69.1 mph single, but batters just have not hit Richards hard this season.
So far this season, batters have put 19 balls in play, and the average exit velocity against Richards is just 84.8 mph. For context, the average exit velocity around the league is estimated to be around 87 mph according to this Berkeley article, although I’ve seen the average as high as 88 mph or so.
Moreover, Richards’ launch angle appears to be down from previous years. Last season’s launch angle of 17 degrees was the lowest since his rookie season in 2018 (14.9 degrees then). Well, this season Richards has an average launch angle of 13.3 degrees, significantly lower than his career average of 17.3 degrees. However, after editing this the day after, his launch angle jumped from 11.8, so this may be a case of the small sample size.
His barrel rate is also down significantly this season. It’s not a stretch to say that Richards was not good in 2022 overall (better post neck strain). His barrel % against last season was at 11%, compared to 5.3% in 2023 (once again, it dropped from 6.3% after the day after edit). However, Richards was pretty darn good with the Jays in 2021, and he had the highest barrel % in his career (14.7%), so not too sure what to make of this particular stat.
If you’re wondering what this is in Baseball Savant percentiles, his average exit velocity of 84.8 mph ranks in the 89th percentile in all of baseball. His hard hit percentage of 31.6% ranks in the 78th percentile, while his 5.3% barrel % ranks in the 67th percentile.
In fact, here’s his entire Baseball Savant percentiles.
When this article was released on Monday morning, the Baseball Savant percentiles had not been updated yet. At one point, he was in the 34th percentile for xERA/xwOBA, but after the adding the Rays game on Sunday to Savant, he’s in the 65th percentile for that statistic. So now, the only relevent statistic he’s under the 50th percentile in is BB%, which has improved as I mentioned earlier. His fastball velocity and fastball spin don’t quite matter (again, 80-grade changeup), while his extension is in the 29th percentile.
A side note about extension is that it’s oddly down from past season. Last season, he was in the 60th percentile for extension, while his career high percentile for extension was 84th back in the plague season.
His K% is also in the 69th percentile… nice. Sorry, I’ve already made that joke, but his 30.6 K% is no joke. I’m leaving this joke in here, but after the Monday update, he’s now in the 83rd percentile for K%, so yeah, dude just gets strikeouts.
What to make of Trevor Richards:
If you want a bullpen full of relievers that can pitch in high-leverage, Trevor Richards isn’t your guy. However, he’s currently the 13th pitcher on the 26th man roster (maybe 25th depending on your thoughts on Bass). In low-leverage situations, he may walk a guy, while allowing a soft hit single, but through seven games, he has gotten the job done.
With no options years remaining on his contract, the Blue Jays are in a very difficult situation, especially once Mitch White (who also has no option years remaining) returns to full health. On one hand, you have a reliever who isn’t great, but gets the job done. On the other hand, you have a reliever with something that only a few pitchers have, an 80-grade pitch.
Relievers are a crap shoot, one team may not be able to unlock a reliever’s true potential, but another team may be able too (look no further than former Blue Jay, Liam Hendriks). If the Jays designate Richards for assignment, they risk the chance of a team picking him up and potentially fixing the fastball and making him a pretty darn good reliever.
When White returns, their hands will be forced (unless an injury occurs), but for now, Trevor Richards has not been bad out of the pen, and he deserves some respect.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Brennan_L_D. This was probably one of the most research-intensive articles I’ve written in a long time, so I hope you enjoyed this one.
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