Angel On The Mound

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Earlier this season, I touched on the fact that Garrett Richards was flying under the radar in most fantasy leagues and with the media, but didn’t go into great depth about any facets of his game. Now that we’re approaching July, and Richards is still performing at an extremely high level, it seemed like a good time to give him a thorough review and examine why he’s been so good this year.

Hit the jump to see why it’s time to pay serious attention to the Angels flame-throwing righty.

This has been the first season of Richards’ young career where he’s been used solely as a starter. He broke in to the big leagues in 2011 and was used mainly as a reliever, with some spot starts sprinkled in every now and then when it was needed. However when Jered Weaver broke his elbow last year, Richards stepped into the starting rotation and showed serious promise in his future role. Let’s start by taking a look at the more basic baseball statistics and then get into the advanced metrics.

Richards currently has a 2.79 ERA to go along with a K/9 of 9.03 and an average FB velocity of 96 mph; in the most basic terms, he lets very few runs score and strikes guys out. His walk rate isn’t high at 3.17 per 9, so while it would be nice for that number to come down a touch, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it and is fairly common for a strikeout pitcher. One of the main reasons for Richards’ success is the fact that he’s incredibly adept at keeping the ball in the park. Whether it’s been luck or the way he pitches to power hitters, the fact of the matter is that his HR/9 rate is a minuscule .19, which ranks him 1st in Major League Baseball for qualified pitchers. While his BAbip of .277 suggests that his numbers may slightly increase in the near future, that number isn’t outrageous as some pitchers do have the ability to induce weak contact throughout their careers. Now that we’ve covered the simpler statistics of the baseball world, it’s time to move onto the more advanced ones.

Richards has been able to improve upon his FIP and xFIP for the past three years, which has culminated in his incredible success this season. The graph shows a steep decline since 2011, and both slopes have remained remarkably consistent, with the biggest difference in the two metrics coming in 2014.

The reason for the larger gap between FIP and xFIP in 2014 is largely due to his extremely low HR/9 rate. xFIP tries to show what a pitcher’s FIP should be with an average HR-FB rate ,and since Richards has kept his rate extremely low, it’s not surprising that xFIP would point to some regression in the near future; however if his HR-FB rate isn’t a fluke, but rather something he is truly great at, his FIP may be more indicative of what’s to come. Even still, an xFIP of 3.28 is considered great by Fangraphs’ standards, and is something you can be confident in as a fantasy owner going forward.

In addition to his consistent improvement in FIP and xFIP, Richards has also improved on his SIERA every year since 2012. According to Fangraphs, an average SIERA is 3.90 while great is 3.25.

Apart from 2012 where his SIERA was very high at 4.93, Richards has been above average, and is bordering on great with his 3.36 value. If he can improve upon these numbers, he will continue to see incredible results; but if his SIERA stays around 3.36, there won’t be a single person complaining as that number is very respectable. For comparison, Jeff Samardzija has a SIERA of 3.33, Michael Wacha a 3.53, and Sonny Gray a 3.55; all of whom are considered three great young talents and anchors of their respective staffs. While these pitchers get a lot more attention than Richards, it shouldn’t be long before most people start to take notice.

Lastly, I want to take a page out of MLB Network’s playbook, and show you heatmaps for two different pitchers without telling you whom they belong to. Obviously one of them will be Garrett Richards’ since this article is about him, but before revealing which one is his, and who the other pitcher is, let’s take a look at them both. The following heatmaps represent the batting average that these pitchers are allowing on certain sections of the plate.

As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between these two heatmaps. Both are very good at limiting hits, and even when they throw pitches in the zone, neither of them is allowing anything higher than a .148 BA. While both have been fantastic in this area, one pitcher has been slightly better than the other and brings us to the big reveal of which heatmap belongs to Richards, and who the mystery pitcher is. The map on the top belongs to that of the Angels righty, making him the better of the two in this comparison, while the map on the bottom belongs to none other than Yankees sensation Masahiro Tanaka. In fact, some of Richards’ peripherals are actually better than Tanaka’s. In the categories of HR/9, BAbip, and FIP, Richards comes out on top, and is only 1 point behind Tanaka in FIP minus. This isn’t to say that Richards and Tanaka are the same pitcher, but rather to point out just how great Richards has been this season.

With everything I’ve looked at, and all the statistics that are at your disposal, the one conclusion that can be reached is that Richards is a bona fide ace. While he doesn’t get the attention he should in the media (largely due to the fact that he plays on the same team as Mike Trout), he’s a must have for any fantasy team, and a must see pitcher every 5th day. If you can work out a trade for him, or by some miracle he’s sitting in the free agent pool in your league, go out and get him now. Richards is just beginning to show how bright his future can be, and you’ll want to be a part of it if you can.