I hadn’t seen a Richards treated this badly since Frank “Cannonball” Richards and that Tsar Howitzer prank!
Very few expected this from him, as sabermetrics help show us. Luckily, they also show us why so few expected it — and how he’s been so much better than expectations.
...There’s also Steamer, ZiPS, and CAIRO, among others. This winter, all of them projected Richards to throw between 139 and 173 innings in 2014 and post an ERA between 3.80 and 4.71. None of them thought he could strike out much more than six batters per nine innings. Essentially, none of them thought he was more than a back-end rotation piece.
Well, it’s June 22, almost half a season, and out of nowhere Richards has unequivocally been one of the best pitchers in baseball. He has struck out 94 in 932/3 innings, while barely raising his walk rate, and recorded a 2.79 ERA. He is on pace to break 200 innings with a start to spare.
...No qualified starting pitcher in the majors has allowed long balls at a lower rate. Remarkably, Richards has not allowed a single homer to a right-handed hitter.
The last time a starting pitcher did that over a full season was Pedro Martinez in 2003. The time before that was Roger Clemens in 1990.
Obviously, Richards isn’t likely to keep that up for the rest of the year, but even so he is in rarefied territory.
Projections are often right, and when they are, we don’t usually notice. But when they’re wrong, like all of them were about Richards, we do.
PECOTA issues percentile projections, kind of like the SAT. They give 90th-percentile projections and 10th-percentile, one for each player, essentially their best- and worst-case scenarios.
Richards’ 90th-percentile projection for 2014 was a 3.62 ERA. He has been significantly better than his best-case scenario, and that sums it up quite nicely.
Will his surge continue? There are projections for that, too. They’re more favorable, now.
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