Analyzing Trevor Richards' New Arsenal: a search for a partner to his elite changeup
Trevor Richards is a fairly unknown starting pitcher for the Marlins. His team is part of the reason he’s unknown. His college(Drury) and draft slot(undrafted) are two more. His strange journey to the big leagues aside, he’s made a name for himself thanks to his nasty changeup. It was good enough to get him noticed in Indy ball and it hasn’t stopped being good enough, even against big leaguers. The problem is his changeup is just about the only piece of his arsenal that is “good enough.” Atleast that was the case last season.
Richards spent the offseason working with his pitching coach and a fancy Rapsodo Machine to help refine the effectiveness of his pitches. If you are unfamiliar with a Rapsodo then I’m sure this trailer video will clear everything up.
Wow, that video was shockingly useless. I guess I have to explain everything around here. Rapsodos are basically a radar gun that gives a ton of advanced information like spin rate, tilt and shape that can be used to tweak and build pitches.
I don’t think throwing baseballs in a dark, red-tinted room will make Richards any better so let’s hope he actually used the machine properly. Now that he is two starts into his 2019 campaign we should have the foundation to check and see what this Rapsodo Machine has done to his arsenal.
The 2019 arsenal
2019 Results(2018 in parentheses):
MPH: 82.3 (82.9)
Pitch Value: 3.0 (14.8)
wOBA allowed: .128 (.224)
Whiff Percentage: 21.88 (25.42)
The best showcase for this nasty changeup is simply showing you the sequence Richards used when he fell down 2-0 to Nolan Arenado in his first start of 2019.
That’s three straight changeups to one of the best hitters in the game and he got whiffs on all of them. Having a changeup that you can throw in any count with that kind of movement is a serious weapon. His changeup allowed a .224 wOBA and returned a ridiculous 25% whiff rate in 2018. As evidenced in the GIF above he uses his change against righties(36%) just as much as he uses it against lefties(35%). It’s a weapon so good that it can still be an elite changeup without even having a decent fastball to play off of.
2019 Results(2018 in parentheses):
MPH: 91.0 (90.7)
Pitch Value: -1.6 (-14.6)
wOBA allowed: .508 (.396)
Whiff Percentage: 14.08 (4.58)
Fangraphs’ Pitch Value metric had this as the 10th worst fastball in all of baseball last year. There are a number of ways a pitcher can hide a bad fastball and as you can see in the final pitch in the above sequence, throwing one right down the middle isn’t one of them. That is pitcher Jacob deGrom hitting a homerun off a lazy first pitch fastball at 90 MPH and it proves Richards doesn’t have the luxury of elite velocity to help him get away with location mistakes. The fastball has been in oddity so far this season with a monstrous .508 wOBA but he’s tripled his whiffs on the pitch which is a good sign that something has changed under the hood(we’ll get to it further down).
2019 Results(2018 in parentheses):
MPH: 79.5 (80.5)
Pitch Value: 0.1 (-3.3)
wOBA allowed: .176 (.360)
Whiff Percentage: 5.88 (7.61)
Richards’ curveball provides the most hope at turning into a good pitch. It was a fairly average pitch last year and nobody has been able to square it up this year, even if he’s earned only one whiff. That one whiff, you saw it above against David Dahl, was an absolute dandy and shows a bit more bite than he was getting on the pitch last season. In watching Richards’ first two starts he seems to have great command with this pitch and is constantly placing it at the knees or below.
2019 Results(2018 in parentheses):
MPH: 84.9 (N/A)
Pitch Value: -0.3 (N/A)
wOBA allowed: .304 (N/A)
Whiff Percentage: 0 (N/A)
New pitches are always the talk of spring training and it’s been fun seeing Richards work this into his tool belt in his first two starts. This isn’t a whipeout slider by any means. It lands more on the cutter end of the spectrum and provides a similar purpose as Jameson Taillon’s slider that he started throwing last year. Not necessarily a heavy whiff pitch(nobody has whiffed yet) but a strike stealer when behind in the count and can get a groundball. He’s thrown this new pitch more than his curveball so far this year which gives you an idea of how invested he is in its success. I hope to see more sliders like the first in the GIF and less like the last.
Now that you are sufficiently GIFed out and have a better idea of what Richards looks like —- wait a second —
There. Now you know what he looks like. He’s a secret Targaryen and he has officially taken the mantle of “best white-haired ballplayer” from Eli Whiteside.
Pies and lines and bars
With that out of the way we can get back to some actual analysis. It’s time to look under the hood a bit and see if we can figure out how the Rapsodo Machine has changed his arsenal. The first step is simply looking at his usage. A big change in usage can show a lot about what a pitcher thinks of his own stuff, especially when there is a new pitch being inserted.
2018 Pitch Usage
2019 Pitch Usage
Easiest thing to notice is that his new slider is getting a legitimate look from him. This wasn’t just an offseason side project, like me trying to follow hockey. He’s still throwing it when the games matter and that is a good sign for its continued development. I’m surprised he’s throwing it more than his curveball because I think his curveball is pretty clearly his second best pitch. I’d be happier if it was closer to 15+% curve and 10% slider but he’s only two starts in and these numbers will certainly change a bit.
My favorite aspect of Richards’ usage pie is what he has done to his crappy fastball. 15% less is a huge dropoff and it is perhaps the biggest piece of evidence to me that Richards is going to be better this season. There is no reason to throw your worst pitch 55% of the time even if it is a fastball. We are no longer in an era of baseball where pitchers just blindly throw their fastball 50% of the time and I’m quite glad Richards is hopping on the “throw your fastball less if it sucks” bandwagon that helped lead to Patrick Corbin’s breakout.
Usage can show a lot about what a pitcher’s gameplan is but if we want a better look at what the Rapsodo Machine did to alter his pitches then we need to check out the movement he’s been getting on them.
Brooks Baseball can be intimidating to use but it’s an amazing tool that provides great movement and velocity charts. This first chart shows vertical movement, or the drop he’s getting on his pitch. You can get overwhelmed if you worry too much about why “gravity” is on a graph about baseball players so just focus on the movement for each pitch so far in 2019 compared to how the pitches looked throughout 2018. A pitch being lower on the graph means it is dropping more.
Here’s our first good look at what the Rapsodo Machine did for Richards. You can see that his curveball is dropping quite a bit more than it ever did last year. It’s also cool to see that the drop on his new pitch(the slider) is basically the same as his changeup. They move in complete opposite directions horizontally though, giving Richards four varieties of movement to work with.
Lastly, it might be more subtle than the curveball but his fastball is dropping almost two inches less. He’s getting three times the whiffs on his fastball this season and I think this is why. It’s much easier living at the top of the zone with a fastball if your fastball is dropping less. Considering that his velo on the fastball is the same I suspect a spin rate increase is behind this positive change.
Trevor Richards' Spin Rate (2018-2019)
And would you look at that! Richards has not only added to his fastball, but all of his pitches. Increased spin rate isn’t equally good for all pitches(some pitches, like splitters get better as spin decreases) but with fastballs and breaking balls more spin is definitely good for more whiffs. Spin rate is less important for changeups but given the extreme screwbally nature of Richards’ changeup I think this increased spin is a plus. In fact, his average spin rate of 2375 on his changeup is the highest in baseball for that pitch. It really is a special pitch and he might have somehow found another level for it.
His curveball has seen an impressive increase in spin rate this year and I think that speaks to the positive tweaks he made in the offseason. His curve is coming in a tick slower and with an extra couple inches of drop. We’ve yet to see that translate into more whiffs but it’s been his second best pitch this year and I think more whiffs will come.
Something that should not be missed is the spin rates gains in his fastball. It now has average spin which might not sound too great but his spin was below average last year and his fastball was bad. This spin rate increase explains the increase in whiffs he’s seen on the pitch and if he can locate the pitch at the top of the zone those whiffs should continue.
Even though we are only two starts into Richards’ 2019 season there is a lot to like with the changes he made in the offseason. Richards now has a 4th pitch that, while a work in progress, is distinct in interesting ways from his elite changeup. Richards still will rely heavily on his changeup this year as it remains one of the nastiest pitches in baseball and allows him to succeed against righties and lefties. Finally, the changes in spin rate to his fastball and curveball looks like it might have altered both pitches for the better. I’m not yet convinced that the fastball is a good pitch but it should be better than last year and the fact that he is throwing it considerably less than last year bodes well for his success. The curveball on the other hand looks like it could be significantly better. He’s shown great command with it at the bottom of the zone and the increased spin has given it more life.
None of these changes jump off the page but taken all together I think Trevor Richards will take a sizable step forward and be a top 40 pitcher that will go through an order three times and get league average strikeout numbers.
What to watch for
Fastball: Will he continue to throw it around 40% of the time instead of the 55% clip he was at last year?
Slider: Can he get whiffs with this? Is it successful at stealing first pitch strikes against righties?
Changeup: Just sit back and watch the best hitters in the world look foolish.
Curveball: Is he locating it at the bottom of the zone? Will he start throwing it more than just a couple times an inning?