Clayton Richard, Another Pitcher

Padres sign LHP Clayton Richard to a one-year, $1.75 million deal (plus incentives).

Richard was on the last good Padres team, way back in 2010, three or four regime changes ago. He was in that year—and in his other “good” seasons—very much a not-quite-league-average innings-eater. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, really. Throw together enough Richards and Jon Garlands and Wade LeBlancs and, somehow, you end up with 90 wins.

Richard left San Diego in 2013, spent 2014 in the minors and/or hurt, and resurfaced in 2015 with the Cubs, this time as a (league-averageish) reliever. After a disastrous start to 2016, the Cubs cut ties with the lefty, and the Padres brought him back. In 13 games in San Diego, primarily as a starter, the 32-year-old defied the odds. He posted a 2.52 ERA while balancing on a tight rope and juggling three mint condition Chris Denorfia bobbleheads. In other words, he struck out 34 and walked 24 in 53 2/3s innings, which isn’t supposed to work out to anything close to a sub-3 ERA.

Maybe this goes without saying, but he’s unlikely to repeat that ERA. All of the peripheral-based metrics—DRA, FIP, cFIP, etc.—say his performance last year with the Padres was closer to average, and the projections, which will include his numbers (or lack thereof) from recent seasons and his age, will probably conclude that even average is too rosy of an outlook going forward. If there’s anything interesting to watch with Richard, it might be his groundball rate. It used to hover near—you guessed it—the league average, but since his return to the bigs in Chicago, Richard has gotten ground balls at like a 64 percent clip, using his sinker a touch more often than he used to. Among pitchers with at least 50 innings last season, Richard’s 65 percent grounder rate ranked fourth in the majors, behind only Zach Britton, Blake Treinen, and Sam Dyson.

Richard doesn’t seem to offer Jhoulys Chacin-like upside, but this is what a couple million bucks gets you these days. Ground balls and familiarity.

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