Why Clayton Richard Shouldn't Be A Rotation Lock


Earlier today, I advocated that Mat Latos, not Clayton Richard, should be a lock for the fourth spot in the San Diego rotation, behind Chris Young, Jon Garland, and Kevin Correia (or some combination thereof).

I decided that it was important to look at that decision from both sides. It’s easy enough to explain why Latos is better than Richard, but it’s also important to be able to explain why Richard is worse than Latos.

Let’s look at this on two levels. First, I’ll break down Richard’s statistics, and then, I’ll break down his pitching repertoire.

Richard posted a 4.41 ERA last year (4.42 as a starter and 4.32 as a reliever). His True ERA was 4.48, although it jumps to around 4.60 for his starting work.

So we can safely assume Richard deserved a 4.4-4.6 ERA for games he started. Latos, as I mentioned earlier today, was in the 4.42-4.62 range. Essentially, their 2009 performances are dead equal overall.

The main statistical issue with Richard as a starter is his huge platoon split. Check out these numbers:

Split         K/9      BB/9     K/BB    WHIP    HR/9    GB%    FIP    xFIP
vs. LHB   9.42     2.80      3.36     1.16       1.02      62.4    3.49   2.79
vs. RHB   5.89     4.59      1.28     1.56       0.99     44.7    4.81    4.95

Yikes.

If it weren’t for a fluky HR/FB vs. lefties (20.0%), Richard would be far worse against righties in every single important statistical category. His K/BB ratio triples against lefties, his groundball rate goes up 18%, and he loses over two runs of xFIP.

Given that most batters are righthanders, this is a serious problem. Latos struggles with lefties, but a) there are fewer lefties than righties and b) Latos is over four years younger than Richard, so he has more room to grow. Richard, being more of a finished product than Latos, is less likely to solve his issues with opposite-side hitters.

With the two having dead-even overall numbers and Richard’s splits showing him more suited for situational work, it makes sense that Latos would be the one to get the guaranteed starting spot, and that’s even before you account for his youth and upside.

All right, enough with the numbers (well, sort of). Let’s take a look at Richard’s stuff.

Richard relies heavily on his fastballs. He throws a four-seamer that ranges from 89-95 mph, and a two-seamer from 86-91.

The four-seamer has a little bit of run, and the two-seamer has pronounced downward bite.

Richard typically relies on the four-seamer, although he worked in the two-seamer more and more after joining the Padres; his usage of the two fastballs was nearly equal in September. He throws the fastballs 70% of the time.

Richard’s fastballs grade out as above-average, although not markedly so. They were worth .38 runs above average per 100 pitches last season.

Richard throws a changeup in the low-80′s, and it’s his most-used offspeed pitch and his main weapon against righties.

However, as his struggles with righties attest, the changeup has not been successful for Richard in the majors, coming in at 1.79 runs below average per 100 pitches.

He attempted to add a cutter in 2009 to combat righties, but that failed, at 1.60 runs below average.

Richard doesn’t have much of a breaking ball. He throws a slider around 80 mph that grades out around average (.06 runs below average per 100 last year, .19 above for his career), largely because he throws it so infrequently that hitters don’t look for it. Richard clearly doesn’t trust the pitch, and didn’t throw it even 10% of the time last season.

Richard threw a few eephus curves last year in the low 70′s that graded out poorly as well.

Given all of that, it seems that Richard’s only real weapons are the two fastballs, which give lefties fits with their down-and-in movement and good velocity. He doesn’t have a good enough changeup or cutter to effectively combat righties.

His second best pitch (statistically, anyway), the slider, doesn’t help against righties, further making Richard seem best-suited for situational relief.

With only one plus pitch and only two pitches that seem to play in the majors, Richard just doesn’t have a wide-enough effective repertoire to start.

The splits and Richard’s pitches both indicate that he’s best suited as a LOOGY or perhaps a lefty long man. However, the idea that he’s better suited for a starting spot than Mat Latos in 2010 is almost certainly incorrect.

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