Clayton Richard, heading into 2010, had one quality pitch: his fastball. You can call it two good pitches, as he throws both a four-seam and two-seam variety, but that’s still it.
Richard has a slider that he uses about 10% of the time; he doesn’t use it more than that because it lacks quality movement. It’s a good enough pitch to give lefties a different look, and that’s about it.
Richard’s fastball, according to Pitch Type Linear Weights, is .49 runs above average per 100 pitches for his career, and a nice 1.44 this year.
The slider is decent (.19 above average career, .09 this year) since he uses it judiciously.
Richard also throws a changeup that hasn’t rated within a run of average in any of his three years in the majors. Since he doesn’t trust the slider to righties, he has to use the changeup to them, and the pitch gets pounded.
This, of course, has led to me calling for Richard to be used as a lefty specialist/long man in the long term, as he lacks a pitch to get righties out.
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Richard toyed with a slow curve his first two years in the majors, throwing it about 1 in every 200 pitches, so we couldn’t get a good read on it. But it seems that he realizes the changeup’s deficiency, and to replace it, Richard appears to be tentatively looking toward the slow breaker.
Richard threw the pitch just 0.4% of the time last year, and he’s up to 3.4% this year. That 3% increase matches up with a 2.9% decrease in his changeup usage, from 17.1% to 14.2%.
And here’s the kicker: the curve has been really, really effective.
It rates a stellar 4.05 runs above average.
Richard’s curveball doesn’t have anywhere near the break of most curves, but it’s distinct from his slider because it’s both slower and more of a vertical pitch.
There are three things that could be leading to its success.
1.) Small sample size–3.4% of Richard’s pitches is about…23 pitches. Yeah. Not much of a sample size.
2.) Hitters aren’t looking for it because their scouting reports don’t mention a curveball, or anything below about 78-79 mph (Richard’s curve is 71-75 mph).
3.) It actually works.
If, by some magic, #3 is the reason, then hey, Richard might have a pitch to righties after all. Curveballs don’t show much of a platoon split, so they can actually replace changeups somewhat effectively (Yeah, that surprised me too, when I first heard about it).
Hopefully, Richard will be able to find success with the slow breaker and avoid LOOGYdom.