I know I’m not alone in thinking that Trevor Richards has impressed as a rookie. The Marlins were looking for steady arms earlier this season; fresh off being named their 2017 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Richards earned a call up to fill the void in April. Entering Wednesday with 90 1⁄3 MLB innings under his belt, the right-hander owns a 4.28 ERA and 1.44 WHIP, emerging as one of the most effective options in Miami’s rotation. Hitters are only hitting around .250 against him.
Richards is not our little secret anymore.
Opposing hitters are now fully aware of his changeup...and still helpless against it.
Trevor Richards, Filthy 81 mph Changeup. pic.twitter.com/7QmxeZ81fj— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 8, 2018
Trevor Richards, Filthy 83mph Changeup (for his 9th K tonight). pic.twitter.com/bXP8QcnBYn— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 26, 2018
If I show more, I’ll have to call a doctor: dude has a sick pitch on his hands.
That being said, Richards’ present and long-term success rely on his full arsenal. He’s more than a one-trick pony.
Let’s examine how it all works together.
In this brief highlight of his recent start against the Phillies, Richards shows how he uses his whole repertoire to pile up strikeouts. His changeup is the No. 1 weapon, but he also uses his fastball to collect K’s at times. He has finished off 52 strikeouts with the change and another 32 with the heater, according to FanGraphs.
Richards subscribes to the increasingly popular approach of “pitch tunneling” to create deception and screw with hitters’ timing. They can’t distinguish between the two offerings and end up swinging either too early or too late.
Richards averages about 91 miles per hour with the four-seam fastball, but occasionally struggles to locate it, amassing 25 walks on the pitch. Many of these walks are not necessarily because of poor location, but rather hitters taking on the edges of the plate.
When you observe his pitch distribution, Richards places his fastball almost 80 percent of the time within the lower two-thirds of the strike zone. This is a common approach to limit fly balls, yet he’s not getting the desired outcome with a 34 FB%. He has served up six fastball home runs and gets hit at a .313 clip.
Richards generates relatively low spin on the fastball, but that’s partly by design. When hitters don’t square it up, they’re vulnerable to ground balls, which creates easy defensive chances for the Marlins.
Obviously, the 25-year-old needs to mix in secondary pitches to compensate for his lack of velocity.
It’s an inconsistent pitch for Richards. The slider will rack up swinging strikes if he gets late break on it, but too often, that ingredient is missing.
When moving on the same plane as his fastball, the slider is a barrel magnet. The contact percentage on this pitch is 80% with a hard hit rate against of 43%.
Richards using the slider only 13.7 percent of the time, and that’s for the best.
Richards’ signature pitch has tremendous two-plane movement. According to Quality of Pitch, it ranks above the 70th percentile in the terms of both horizontal and vertical break. Ty Blach of the Giants is the only other MLB pitcher who’s doing that in 2018 (min. 300 changeups thrown).
Although it’s been widely categorized as a change, this Richards pitch behaves more like a classic screwball. He creates a dilemma for hitters, who can’t align their bats with its ultimate location.
His “changeup” actually has a higher spin rate than his other pitches—2,222 RPM compared to 2,089 RPM and 2,058 RPM for the fastball and slider, respectively. To put that in perspective, Pablo López’s changeup is at 1956 RPM, good enough for López to maintain a .143 batting average on it.
Richards has a simple formula. He leans heavily on the fastball (55% usage) and changeup (31% usage), keeping opponents guessing which is which with his steady arm action. When going offspeed, the balls put in play are mostly harmless.
A fixture in the Marlins rotation for most of the season, Richards has surrendered just nine extra-base hits on changeups. That’s it!
Beyond the overall results, Richards save his best work for clutch situations when the score is close and the other team attempts to rally.
He finishes guys off with the game hanging in the balance and he does it all the time. Hitters typically put up a .263/.344/.421 against Richards, but that plummets to .235/.316/.313 in high-leverage spots.
As a student (and teacher) of pitching strategy, I have found these three rules to be necessary to create a competitive advantage:
- Be unique
- Be hard to imitate
- Make yourself difficult to predict
Trevor Richards is 3-for-3 and I don’t see him losing his competitive advantage anytime soon.
Overlooked and completely undrafted coming out of Division II Drury University, he had to out-smart flashier prospects to make it this far with his limited repertoire. So he “changed” the odds in his favor and continues to prove himself as a legitimate out-getter in the majors.