The best Padres starter you definitely forgot about

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Credit: AP Photo

In a young San Diego Padres’ rotation, veteran pitcher Garrett Richards is undoubtedly a player flying under the radar. 

On Dec. 7, 2018, the Padres inked Garrett Richards to a two-year, $15.5 million contract with up to $2.5 million in incentives in 2019. At the time, the deal may have seemed perplexing to some Padres fan, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in July of 2018 and would be out for almost the entirety of the 2019 season at the very minimum.

However, there was some precedent for this deal, and one can look no further than the 2018 World Series hero Nathan Eovaldi to find it. On Aug. 16, 2016, Eovaldi elected to undergo surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon and a partially-torn UCL, forgoing a non-surgical rehab despite entering free agency that offseason. On Feb. 14, 2017, the Rays signed Eovaldi to a one-year/$2 million contract with a $2 million option for the 2018 season. Eovaldi went on to miss the entire ’17 season but came back in ’18 throwing 57 innings for the Rays and 76.1 innings for the Red Sox (postseason included).

Richards’ deal with the Friars was very similar, albeit at a much higher price tag, presumably due to his high level of performance and a higher talent floor – and ceiling – than Eovaldi when healthy. Between Rookie ball, High-A, and the major-league level, Richards only threw 18 innings last year, and his stat line was nothing to brag about. Between the three levels, he accumulated a 9.50 ERA, a FIP north of 6.00, and an 18.5 percent walk-rate. Not ideal.

His last two full seasons in the league were quite impressive, though. Coming off a 2014 season in which he pitched to a 2.61 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 24.2 percent strikeout rate, 7.5 percent walk rate, and an insanely good 3.9 percent HR/FB rate in 168.2 innings, the 2009 first round draft pick was finally showing his potential. Though he took a step back in the 2015 season (3.65 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 20.4 percent strikeout rate, 8.8 percent walk rate, and a 12 percent HR/FB rate), with the implementation of Statcast, we could finally see why Richards was so good. Two straight great years in a row, and it looked like it could only go up from there. Sadly, he hasn’t had a full season since, but there’s a lot that can be drawn in his limited time (147.1 innings) in the league since that 2015 season. Let’s talk about spin.

As soon as Statcast launched, Richards turned heads with his raw spin totals. Here’s a quick look at how Richards’ top pitches compared to the league in 2019:

Despite a barrage of injuries, his spin rate has remained consistent since 2015. Not only does he spin it at an elite rate, but his curveball has an extra 12.5 inches of break than average in 2019, and his slider has an extra 6.3 inches of break than average in 2019 (“average”  to other MLB pitch types within +/- 2 MPH and from within +/- 0.5 feet of extension and release, per Baseball Savant). Not to mention that despite recurring arm injuries, failed recoveries, and most recently Tommy John surgery in the four years since his last full season, his average 4-seam velocity has never dipped below 94.9 MPH, and he was able to top out at 97.7 MPH in 2019.

The keywords, when referring to Richards, are “potential” and “health.” He’s a solid number one when healthy, accruing a 3.60 ERA and 3.64 FIP over his career. If he can stay in good health, the Padres could have quite the 1-2 punch of Paddack and Richards at the top of the rotation (not to even mention the upside of Dinelson Lamet).

To end on a fun and satisfying note, here’s a gif of Richards throwing a nasty curveball to strikeout out Marwin Gonzalez.Showcase Richards' elite curveball

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