Trevor Richards made his first appearance for the Rays on Sunday, a laborious outing in which he failed to make it out through four innings. He surrendered eight hits, a walk, and two runs on a Harold Castro home run. In between the loud contact there were glimpses of why the Tampa Bay Rays wanted to pick him up along with Nick Anderson at the deadline.
Richards, a former indy baller and substitute teacher, is more than a good story. Richards offers a lethal changeup. Thrown with a circle-change grip, Richards’ changeup features armside movement that can tie right-handed hitters in knots.
By pitch values, it has been the third-best changeup in baseball since 2018. Only Hyun-Jin Ryu and Luis Castillo have better offspeed weapons. Hitters have just a .256 xwOBA against his changeup this year, and they’ve whiffed on 29.5 percent of their swings. That whiff rate is down from 41.5 the year before.
It’s an elite pitch in terms of movement, but that hasn’t created elite results.. Richards has been a roughly average starter in his young career. In 241 2/3 career innings, Richards has a 4.47 ERA and a 99 DRA-. He’s struggled with his walk rate certainly; a 10.1 percent mark is hard to pitch around as a starter. A larger issue is that Richards hasn’t established a third pitch he can depend on.
Richards’ fastball boasts neither velocity nor spin—it sits 90-91, and his spin rate ranks in the 18th percentile—but Richards makes the heater work. It’s been more effective this year now that he’s throwing it higher in the zone.
Hitters still pound his fastball when they make contact. That much was evident on Sunday when the Tigers collected five of their eight hits off his fastball. The difference is that they’re making contact less often. His whiff rate on the fastball rose from 12.8 to 27.2 percent.
Beyond the fastball and the changeup, Richards has tried a few different options. In his rookie season, he experimented with a slider, but hitters easily squared it up. This season, he came in with a cutter and a curveball but neither have been effective.
Shortly before joining the Rays, Richards appeared to have dropped the cutter and curve entirely though that might have been a symptom of moving to the Marlins’ bullpen.
The cutter doesn’t appear to have made it to Tampa as he didn’t throw one in the 71 pitches he threw in Sunday’s start. He threw just six curves and didn’t get a whiff or a called strike on any of them. If this start is any indication, Richards might primarily be a two-pitch pitcher who only occasionally mixes in the curve for the rest of 2019. For the time being, the cutter is retired and that might be for the best.
The quest for a third pitch continues for Richards, but if the Rays are going to limit his innings and thus his times through the order, being a two-pitch pitcher could work until he improves the curve. Richards is a pitcher with a lot of potential, but that final piece has remained out of reach.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.