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2019 Marlins Season Preview: Trevor Richards

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The secret’s out on the comeback story and the magic changeup. 2019 is where the rubber meets the road.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

You know his story. You know his changeup.

Trevor Richards, an unassuming 6-foot-2, 190-pound starting pitcher, seemed to materialize out of nowhere in 2018. After bringing his career back from the brink in the independent Frontier League, Richards ended 2018 as one of the best pitchers on the Marlins staff. In all fairness, not the loftiest praise, but praiseworthy nonetheless. His K rate of 23.8% was good enough for second-highest among Marlins starters—trailing only that of Caleb Smith—and he posted an almost respectable 4.05 FIP.

Richards attained his modest success with three pitches, one of which was really good. The 25-year-old gained notoriety throughout the league with his changeup.

Richards preyed on batters by spotting changeups low in the zone.
Brooks Baseball

Going to the pitch in 32% of all counts and 45% of all two-strike counts, Richards found success by burying the pitch on the back foot of righties, and off the end of the bat against lefties.

Fish Stripes original GIF

Richards rushed up a whiff rate of 24% and the changeup—compared with rates of just six and eight percent for the fastball and slider, respectively—while suppressing slugging percentage on the pitch to just .227.

Richards’ iteration of “El Cambio” is so dynamic because of its spin rate. When it comes to measurable data, spin rate has become as household a stat as launch angle and exit velocity. We hear all the time about pitchers trying different strategies to get as much spin rate as possible on pitches, whether it be through use of foreign substances to increase tack on the ball, or joining specialized programs such as Driveline.

The funny thing is that spin rate applies differently to the changeup than it does to the fastball and curveball, where the parlance is often used. Spin rate is becoming a priority on fastballs because it tends to create the illusion that the ball is rising as it approaches the plate. In this aspect, fastballs with higher spin rates tend to more frequently miss barrels.

But Trevor Richards spins his changeup harder than he does his fastball, which is something that most pitchers likely couldn’t say. It’s also something most pitchers wouldn’t like to say, because most pitchers prefer the changeup to sink and dive.

While Richards’ pitch still seems to have plenty of sink and dive in spite of the high spin, it still makes for a unique pitch.

For the sake of comparison, Aníbal Sánchez’ best pitch is also the changeup, and in 2018, he averaged the 22nd-lowest spin rate in the league on the changeup. At 1,354 RPMs, Sanchez’ changeup averaged 889 fewer RPMs than that of Richards.

Pitcher List
Pitcher List

The resulting difference: while Aníbal’s pitch tends to express more depth, Richards’ has more horizontal ride. Two completely different, but equally effective versions of the same pitch. Science.

But enough about that; like I said earlier, we already knew that Richards’ changeup is good. Now that the secret’s out, hitters are going to retool their approaches to hone in on Richard’s fastball and curveball, both of which were lackluster in 2018. Richards is going to have to adapt.

Trevor Richards Pitch Usage & Outcome - 2018

Pitch Type Thrown Percentage BA Against SLG Against K's Whiff %
Pitch Type Thrown Percentage BA Against SLG Against K's Whiff %
Fastball 1222 54.77% .312 .524 48 4.58%
Changeup 720 32.27% .165 .284 76 25.42%
Curveball 289 12.95% .321 .491 4 7.61%
Clearly, Trevor Richards has work to do on his fastball and curveball in 2019. BrooksBaseball.net

Anyway, the projection systems don’t seem to have too much faith that Trevor Richards will make any significant leaps and bounds in 2019:

Trevor Richards Stats & Projections

Sample GS BB BB/9 K K/9 ERA WHIP FIP (DRA*) fWAR (WARP*)
Sample GS BB BB/9 K K/9 ERA WHIP FIP (DRA*) fWAR (WARP*)
2018 25 54 3.85 130 9.26 4.42 1.39 4.05 1.3
2019 BP Annual 24 NA 3.2 NA 8.90 4.00 1.25 4.69* 0.9*
2019 ZiPS 28 53 3.27 134 8.26 4.25 1.34 4.27 1.2
2019 Spring Training 5 4 1.9 20 9.30 1.86 0.621 NA NA
Fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com, and the 2019 Baseball Prospectus Annual

For those of you who like to invest stock in Spring Training performances, Richards has sprinkled an extremely impressive 19 13 innings pitched over five starts. If there was a spot to be won, he certainly won it with his performance this March. With the recent revelations that Wei-Yin Chen will start the season in the ‘pen, and Dan Straily will start the season not in Marlins colors, Richards takes the mound Friday night and every fifth day moving forward.

But looking down the barrel at 2019, both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus have Richards standing pat in a comparable number of starts as last year, and rightfully so. With just one season under the bright lights, Richards has a lot to prove heading into Year 2.

BrooksBaseball.net

This is where Trevor Richards threw his changeup in 2018. Did it get swings and misses? Yes, we’ve already discussed that. Did it get strikes? Yes, but only about 5-10 percent more than the fastball and curveball, and that’s likely because most of the time, he threw it outside of the zone, as seen by the chart. What does it mean if Richards is throwing his changeup out of the zone? It means that when major league hitters find out when the changeup is coming—and rest assured they will—they are going to lay off of it, and wait to keyhole the fastball and the slider, which, as we discussed, were the bane of Richards’ performance in 2018.

So the gauntlet has been thrown. We know that Richards is going to return with the ol’ Bugs Bunny. The rest of his repertoire has changed, though. As told to Wells Duesnbury of the Sun Sentinel, the new-found security of a major league salary allowed him to spend the offseason fully focused on his craft (rather than juggling a seasonal job to make ends meet). Training at his alma mater, Drury University, Richards scrapped the slider for a curveball with sharper break, and learned a new cutter grip.

Now he needs to show some game and prove that different is indeed better. Someone who has pulled himself up from the bowels of the Frontier League to the bright lights of Marlins Park likely has the craft to do just that. Hopefully, that’s not just wishful thinking.


Statistics courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, BaseballSavant.mlb.com, Fangraphs.com, and Baseball-Reference.com.