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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Moura: Angels’ Richards surpasses all sabermetrics expectations

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.

Repoz Posted: June 22, 2014 at 09:02 AM | 16 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: angels, sabermetrics

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   1. cardsfanboy Posted: June 22, 2014 at 11:58 AM (#4732651)
This is one of those articles that is talking about the guy during his hot streak. Write this article on May 30th, and you have a guy having a good year meeting his 90th percentile with a 3.65 era, 64 strikeouts in 66 innings and only 2 homeruns allowed while walking a reasonable 27 batters in those 11 starts. His month of June has been nice, 4 starts, 27 ip, 30 strikeouts 0 hr, .67 era and 6 walks.

Yes it's a nice month, but he's in middle of a hot streak(like talking about Utley hitting .400 because his hot streak happened to start at the beginning of the season)
   2. PreservedFish Posted: June 22, 2014 at 12:12 PM (#4732659)
Gotta write about something. The guy is having a great year.
   3. puck Posted: June 22, 2014 at 01:26 PM (#4732688)
Yup. Whenever a player beats his projections, there's this sort of battle to reason why he's taken a leap rather than just on a hot streak (or even just having a great year).

Though along those lines, I guess there's always the chance a pitcher has picked up something new. Does that actually happen, or has Mike Scott's career been overly influential on the mindset of a baseball fan of a particular age?

   4. PreservedFish Posted: June 22, 2014 at 01:33 PM (#4732695)
Doesn't it happen all the time?
   5. Jim (jimmuscomp) Posted: June 22, 2014 at 01:49 PM (#4732714)
Richards has been great except for one abysmal start though. Yeah, they all count, but he has been looking great since April 1.
   6. PreservedFish Posted: June 22, 2014 at 01:49 PM (#4732715)
Also, Richards was a first round pick, he's 26, he throws in the mid-90s, he's in his second full season ... this doesn't seem exactly shocking.
   7. cardsfanboy Posted: June 22, 2014 at 01:52 PM (#4732719)
Though along those lines, I guess there's always the chance a pitcher has picked up something new. Does that actually happen, or has Mike Scott's career been overly influential on the mindset of a baseball fan of a particular age?


I'm pretty sure that happens frequently. Tim McCarver was talking about how Bob Gibson taught Steve Carlton the change up in 1968 and the impact it had on his career. And you hear stories all the time of players picking up new pitches or approaches. Often times it doesn't last(see Francouer) but other times it makes a career difference.

I'm not trying to bad mouth the article (as post two points out, gotta write something, and guy is having a good year) it just seems that more frequently, with the increased availability of numbers and internet writers, that people are more often looking for that leap from a player or the player has 'turned the corner' and want to be the first to proclaim it. (I'm fully and proudly guilty of that, even though I'm not an internet writer)


Richards is at the age where it does seem a lot of mediocre, pitchers do figure things out, so it's not out of the question he has made a leap, I'm not sure he's made the 2.50 era leap that fip is saying he is at right now, but it wouldn't shock me at all to see him being a legit 3.20 era pitcher going forward. (he was 3.6 last year)
   8. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: June 22, 2014 at 01:59 PM (#4732724)
We all remember Esteban Loiaza picking up a new and highly effective way to cut the ball, right? Er. I meant grip the ball, of course.
   9. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: June 22, 2014 at 02:15 PM (#4732733)
JJ Putz was mostly at about 6.5 K/9 in the minors and then 2 years in the majors 1t about 6.7 K/9. Then all of a sudden in 2006 he was over 10 K/9 and basically stayed there. All of it was in relief, so it wasn't a switch to the bullpen.

I don't know whether he learned a new pitch or what.
   10. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: June 22, 2014 at 02:49 PM (#4732748)
Considering there are >750 MLB players, shouldn't at least 75 players exceed their 90th percentile each year?
   11. Willie Mayspedester Posted: June 22, 2014 at 03:44 PM (#4732788)
Cliff lee ended up a lot better than I thought he would.
   12. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: June 22, 2014 at 05:10 PM (#4732848)
Considering there are >750 MLB players, shouldn't at least 75 players exceed their 90th percentile each year?

You hush your math.
   13. Matt Welch Posted: June 22, 2014 at 09:19 PM (#4733178)
He always had dynamite stuff, but confidence/clue issues possibly exacerbated by being yo-yoed back and forth between the rotation & relief without any evident pattern or plan. This offseason was the first time they told him the job was his.
   14. Walt Davis Posted: June 22, 2014 at 10:12 PM (#4733200)
A reminder of how much effect tiny differences can have in baseball ... which is not necessarily to say that's what's going on here but ...

his BABIP this year is 277 vs. a league average of 296. That doesn't seem like a big deal even if we ascribe it entirely to luck. And it's not a BIG deal but he's had about 250 BIP this year so that's 5 fewer hits which is about 4 fewer runs (on average). Again, that seems no biggie. But 4 fewer runs in 94 innings is nearly .4 worth of ERA. Give him an ERA of 3.19 and his ERA+ is down to about 117. That's still good and a substantially better outcome than before but .4 R/9 is a pretty big swing due to seemingly trivial, surely statistically insignificant, random variation.

The other seemingly flukey thing is the very low HR rate while having a lower G/F ratio than last year (i.e. contact PAs are more likely to be FB). Some of that is giving up contact PAs at a much lower rate due to the Ks but part of it looks like flukey low HR/FB numbers (1.8%). Give him another 4 HR (still best HR/FB of his career and better than league-average) and that's another 6-7 runs -- in conjunction with BIP, we're basically back to league average.

Apply his 2013 FIP to 94 IP and he's 9 earned runs (and about 12-13 total runs) below where you'd expect him. That could be nothing but below-average BABIP and quite flukey HR/FB.

Not to cherry-pick the guy to death. We'd also expect his LD% to get a bit better, to have them turn more DPs behind him and probably a few other things that would help him. I'm not predicting a "collapse", just pointing out the big impact of seemingly small changes.
   15. thetailor Posted: June 23, 2014 at 06:03 PM (#4733997)
I cannot believe this guy gets paid for his writing. Forget the substance of it (which is also vapid) but... the writing.
   16. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: June 23, 2014 at 11:35 PM (#4734135)
Richards is at the age where it does seem a lot of mediocre, pitchers do figure things out, so it's not out of the question he has made a leap, I'm not sure he's made the 2.50 era leap that fip is saying he is at right now, but it wouldn't shock me at all to see him being a legit 3.20 era pitcher going forward. (he was 3.6 last year)
He's 26, not 32. Not only isn't it out of the question (and far to young to judge a guy "mediocre"), it's perfectly reasonable to expect a guy with talent (average FB sitting over 95) and a good minor league track record to to develop into something.

FWIW, after seeing his slider in 2012, C.J. Wilson called it the best in the league — and that was when Richards was getting knocked around in his first full season in the bigs. Richards isn't some dude having a good week, he's the promise of talent being fulfilled.

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