Like most of the Padres’ pitching staff, Clayton Richard is off to one heck of a start this season. His ERA is 2.73, his FIP is 3.07, and he’s amassed 1.3 Wins Above Replacement. That’s good—both his FIP and WAR lead our regular starting staff. The question is, how has he done it? Let’s take a look at his numbers, and see if we can figure it out.
When the Padres got Clayton from the White Sox in the Jake Peavy trade, he came with a reputation as a #4-5 pitcher. Here are his total 2009 numbers:
153 IP, 6.71 K/9, 4.18 BB/9, 1.00 HR/9, .301 BABIP, 72.0% LOB, 48.3% GB, 4.50 FIP
Those aren’t bad numbers. They’re solid, back-end starter material. Now, let’s look at this current 2010 numbers:
56 IP, 6.59 K/9, 3.54 BB/9, 0.16 HR/9, .312 BABIP, 79.1% LOB, 51.2% GB, 3.07 FIP
There’s some definite improvement there. The strikeouts are about the same and the walks are somewhat less, but the biggest single improvement in his performance has been his stinginess with the longball. Clayton has been taken deep only one time through 9 starts and 56 innings (in his start in Cincinnati), which is good for the third best HR/9 rate in the major leagues—only Ubaldo Jimenez and Barry Zito have been better in that regard. Richard has done this by improving his two-seam fastball, and by using it much more.
Iin 2009, Richard threw his 4-seamer 51.3% of the time, and the 2-seamer only 19% of the time. In 2010, he’s dropped his usage of the 4-seamer, throwing it only 23.8% of the time, and upped the use of the 2-seamer, now throwing it 35.6% of the time.
Richard has also increased the velocity of his 2-seamer. Where in 2009 he averaged 87.6 mph, this season he’s throwing it at an average of 91.2 mph.
The results of this have been clear—Clayton has significantly increased his groundball rate from 48.3% in 2009 to 51.2% in 2010, and he’s been able to significantly reduce his number of home runs surrendered. Fangraphs doesn’t distinguish between 2-seam and 4-seam fastballs when calculating the run values of pitches, but we can look at the overall value of his fastball and see an immediate difference. In 2009, his fastball was worth 6.2 runs above average overall and 0.38 runs per 100 pitches. In 2010, it’s been worth 10.1 runs over average and 1.95 runs per 100 pitches.
Whether or not he can keep this up over the whole year is an open question. He probably won’t keep up a 0.16 HR/9 rate. For comparison, in 2009 Chris Carpenter had a HR/9 of 0.33, and Tim Lincecum had a HR/9 of 0.40. But Richard appears to be an improved pitcher from 2009. Moving to the National League and pitching in Petco certainly helps. Richard probably won’t be a big strikeout pitcher—his career minor league K/9 is 5.80. But if he can keep his groundball rate high and home run rate low, he could be a good, above average pitcher.