Drafted way back in the eighth round of the 2005 MLB Draft, Clayton Richard has had one wild professional career to date. Richard was a quick mover through the White Sox system out of college, making it all the way to the big leagues in just about two years from his first professional inning. After posting sub-2.50 ERAs in both Double-A and Triple-A for the White Sox in 2008, Richard got a late-season big league call-up. Richard made eight starts and also appeared in five games in relief, throwing 47 and two-thirds innings in total. Although he posted an ERA above 6.00 with a .302 batting average against, it was still a solid debut for the lefty.
Mid-way through the following season, Richard found himself traded to the San Diego Padres as part of the big deal that sent Jake Peavy to Chicago. After a somewhat solid start to his season with Chicago, Richard was not nearly as good in San Diego as his walk rate climbed another three percent from nine to 12 after it raised from six to nine from the year before. Richard had a bit of a breakout year in San Diego in 2010, throwing over 200 innings for the first time in his career, posting a 3.75 ERA, and showing the potential the Padres saw when he was acquired via trade. More importantly, Richard saw a slight uptick in his strikeout rate and a notable decrease in his walk rate, a combination that benefitted him greatly on the hill.
Although his ERA numbers looked solid in 2011, Richard took an overall step back, seeing his strikeout rate fall by almost five percentage points while his walk rate remained about the same. On top of that, Richard was unable to hit 100 innings on the season, as a shoulder injury ended his season in July. Richard had a pretty solid bounceback from injury in 2012, as he threw over 200 innings and posted a 3.99 ERA. However, his peripheral numbers told a bit of a different story. While his walk rate fell to a career-low 4.6 percent, his strikeout rate declined further and his FIP climbed into the mid-4.00s (up from 3.81 in 2010 and 4.21 in 2011). Despite getting healthy, Richard’s performance took a bit of a step back again in 2012.
More shoulder injuries derailed Richard’s 2013 season, as the left-hander pitched only 52 and two-thirds big league innings before once again undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in July. For the second time in three years, Richard’s season was shut down halfway through because of shoulder issues. Following the season, Richard refused an outright assignment and became a free agent. Richard underwent Thoracic Outlet surgery just prior to Spring Training and he didn’t sign a new contract until July when he signed a minor league contract with the Padres’ division rival, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Richard made four starts in the D’backs minors and found limited success.
Following the season, Richard gave the minor league contract route another go, this time signing a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After posting a 2.09 ERA in 56 Triple-A innings in the Pirates’ organization, Richard was traded to the Chicago Cubs for cash. The Cubs saw value in Richard being a big league reliever and called him up to pitch out of the bullpen. Richard ended up pitching 42 and a third innings for the Cubs, mostly in relief, prior to the conclusion of the season. With a 3.83 ERA and much-improved walk rate, it seemed like Richard had finally made his way back to the big leagues for good, albeit in a different role.
However, Richard hit another roadblock after a strong showing in relief in 2015. Prior to being released in August, Richard threw only 14 innings for the Cubs in 2016, posting a 6.43 ERA. A mere three days after being released by the Cubs, Richard found his way back to San Diego. And the fit was a perfect one. Over the last 52 and two-thirds innings of his season, Richard posted a 2.52 ERA in mostly a starting role. It seemed like Richard had, once again, put his career back together.
After his late-season resurgence, the Padres re-signed Richard to a one year deal in December of 2016. And shockingly enough, Richard was the Padres’ most consistent and productive pitcher in 2017, throwing 197 and a third innings, his most since the 2012 season, and starting 32 games for the Padres. While his ERA, 4.79, wasn’t great, his peripheral numbers told a slightly better story, as Richard was able to post a solid 17.6 percent strikeout rate with a 6.9 percent walk rate. On top of that, Richard was able to post one of the best groundball rates in all of baseball, just shy of 60 percent. Near the end of the season, Richard was given yet another extension by the Padres, this one for two years. It seemed like the comeback was finally fully complete.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Steamer: 31 games started, 191 innings, 16.8% strikeout rate, 7.5% walk rate, 3.92 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 2.8 fWAR
If I asked you three years ago which pitcher would be the most productive Padre in 2018, left-hander Clayton Richard would have never crossed your mind. Well, here we are, as Steamer projects Richard to easily be the most productive Padres’ pitcher by fWAR. This may be due to his lofty inning projection more than anything else, but with an ERA and FIP projected right around four, Richard looks to build off his solid 2017 season back in the rotation. The Padres signed Richard to a two-year extension following last season in the hopes that he would be a solid innings eater type starter. Looking at these projections, it seems like he has a chance to be even a bit better than that. Richard likely won’t play much of a role on the next good Padres’ team, but he certainly will be an important part over the next two years as the Padres start to turn the corner. If Richard lives up to the projections, he could even end up being a trade piece at some point this year. Wouldn’t that be something?