The Key to Clayton Richard’s Success

Credit: USA Today Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Clayton Richard has faced more batters than any pitcher in the National League this year. More than Max Scherzer. More than Jacob deGrom. More than Jon Lester or Aaron Nola.

How does a guy with an ERA more than double that of deGrom face more hitters than the league leaders in ERA?

You might think the answer is obvious – he gives up more hits and walks than these guys. And you’d be right about that. Richard has allowed 99 hits, more than anyone in the league besides Jon Gray. His 33 walks are middle of the pack for a starter.

But with all those extra baserunners, Richard is fourth in the league in innings pitched, only a third of an inning behind deGrom.

The top four in batters faced are, in order: Richard, Scherzer, deGrom, and Nola. The other three guys are numbers 1, 3, and 6 in ERA, as you’d expect.  The better you pitch, the longer you stay in the game, right?

So how is Richard, with his 4.29 ERA, throwing as many innings as the league leaders?

First, he doesn’t miss starts. The Padres’ opening day starter is not here to be the staff ace and lead the team to a championship. He’s on this team to eat innings and to set an example for the myriad young pitchers who’ll see time in San Diego this year.  He’s been successful at both.

He’s toed the rubber every time his turn has come up. In fact, he hasn’t missed a start since rejoining the team back in 2016. Management wants an example, Richard provides it. He takes the mound every five days, come hell or high water. But 25 other NL hurlers have matched or bettered the Padres’ horse’s 17 starts this year, and none have seen as many hitters as Richard. Why does he see more hitters per game than any of these guys with sub-4.00, or even sub-3.00 ERA’s?

Credit: Dennis Poroy/Getty Images

It may not be sexy, but the answer is efficiency. Richard may not lead the league in strikeouts or WHIP, but he does lead in one category you may gloss over as you’re poring over stats: fewest pitches per plate appearance.

At 3.57 pitches per batter, Richard throws nearly a quarter of a pitch less per hitter than deGrom. Over the course of 24 hitters, he saves six pitches. So he can give up those extra two baserunners a game and still log as many innings as the top guys in the league.

You know who doesn’t do that? Mike Foltynewicz and his 2.02 ERA. The surprising Brave throws a whopping 4.28 pitches per hitter, more than seven-tenths of a pitch more per batter. If he and Richard both throw 100 pitches, Richard is getting through 28 hitters, Folty is getting through 23. Even if Clayton is giving up two extra hits, he’s still pitching into the seventh while Foltynewicz is coming out after 5.2.  Think that doesn’t have an effect on the mentality of the guys in the bullpen?

This isn’t a new trend, either. Richard led the league in hitters faced last year, averaging even fewer pitches, with 3.55. Not surprisingly, he finished eighth in innings pitched with 197.1. Not bad for a guy who gave up 35 hits more than anyone else in the top ten and had an ERA just this side of 5.00.

Richard may not be the star of your fantasy team, but he’s doing the job he’s here to do. Efficiently.

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