Garrett Richards: Breakout candidate?

Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Angels pitcher Garrett Richards finally gets a chance to spread his wings, is 2014 the season he finally breaks out?

Heading into the 2013 season the Los Angeles Angels rotation was arguably their biggest weakness. While Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson were a solid one/two punch, there was little depth and reason for optimism afterwards. And alas, it showed as their staff ranked 23rd in all of baseball with 8.7 fWAR combined. Despite this though, there was one silver lining in their season (Outside of Mike Trout of course). This being, Garrett Richards finally getting a crack at the rotation. While he didn't take the world by storm, he didn't look bad either. In a little over one-hundred innings he put up the following line:

Name HR/9 K% BB% GB% LOB% ERA- FIP- xFIP- ERA FIP E-F xFIP
Garrett Richards 0.7 16.40% 7.40% 56.80% 67.00% 109 95 92 4.18 3.61 0.57 3.66

A few things jump out right away when we read this. The first thing that stands out is his ERA lags behind his peripherals by a decent margin. We also see a 67% LOB rating, which could have contributed to his inflated ERA. Given that stranding runners wasn’t an issue for him in the minors, I’d expect this to even out with more seasoning. The next thing that stands out is a fantastic groundball percentage. In fact it was good enough for 5th in all of baseball, among starters with 100+ IP.

Up to this point, Garrett Richards has been a bit of an enigma in his career. Despite having all the ingredients to succeed, the results have lagged behind. He’s always possessed elite velocity, topping at 98 MPH. Last year, among highest average velocity starters who threw 100+ innings, his fastball tied for 5th at 94.8 MPH, with Chris Archer and Jose Fernandez.

Richards also possess two tremendous breaking pitches. Using Baseball Prospectus leaderboards, Richards’ slider and curveball tallied for -6.15 and -13.57 inches of vertical movement respectively, both among the most in the majors. His most prominent pitch is his slider as seen below.

Frazier1

via www.fangraphs.com

Admittedly, Todd Frazier probably makes this pitch look better than it really was, but nonetheless it still has good bite on it. If you’re not convinced here is his slider on display from last night.

Clip0018_1_medium

And here is a look at one of his curveballs from last night.

Clip0019_1_medium

Last year, Richards was capable of getting batters to whiff on his slider nearly 39% of the time. That is right on par with Chris Sale and Ervin Santana levels. Couple that with a 55% groundball rate and you have the makings of an elite pitch. While his curveball didn't get as many swings and misses (29.03%) as his slider, it's at least league average, and it's clear the potential for it to do so is there. If he continues to develop the curve, it's not a stretch to say it, too, could become an above average pitch.

Heading into the 2014 season, Garrett Richards is slated for the number three spot in the Angels rotation behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. The question that remains is can he finally live up to the hype? With the added experience last year, more seasoning this year, and his repertoire, I believe Richards is on the cusp of turning into an above average starter. It’s just a matter of putting it all together now.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus Leaderboards.

Anthony Joshi-Pawlowic is a contributing writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AJP13237.

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