Thursday, December 4, 2014

Clayton Richard

Clayton Colby Richard, 31, has a lot of things the Bucs like. He's a tree physically, at 6'5"/240 pounds, he's lefty and he throws a two-seamer that gets beat into the ground a whole lot.

Richard actually earned his teen rep as Mr. Football in Indiana, getting a scholarship to Michigan back when it meant something special in 1983. But after a red shirt year and plucking splinters while watching Chad Henne took the snaps, the bored Richard joined the Wolverine nine, replacing the pigskin with horsehide and leather. He did pretty well pitching from the UM pen, and was drafted in the 8th round of the 2005 baseball lotto by the Chicago White Sox.

The lefty zoomed through the system, and in 2008 started in AA, went to AAA and then made his MLB debut in July. The White Sox used him both as a starter and from the pen, and though his numbers weren't shiny (6-8, 5.14), he was considered an up-and-comer. At the 2009 deadline, Richard was traded along with Aaron Poreda, Adam Russell and Dexter Carter to the San Diego Padres for 2007 Cy Young Award-winner Jake Peavy.

Clayton Richard (picture via MLB.com)
The Friars used him as a starter, and  Richard put up 5-2 record with a 4.08 ERA over 12 Padre outings. In 2010, he tossed his best ball.  The southpaw started 33 games and went 14-9 record with a 3.75 ERA over 201-23 innings.  In 2011, he remained a workhorse with roughly the same performance. He was 5-9/3.88 when a  left shoulder strain put him on the DL in July and later required arthroscopic surgery, ending his season.

In 2012, Richard returned and was the San Diego baseball writers' Pitcher of the Year with a 14-14 record and 3.99 earned run average. His 33 starts were second in the NL and he was fourth with 218-23 innings pitched. he was inked to a $5M+ contract.

But though he remained an inning eater, his K rate dropped dramatically, from around seven whiffs per nine up to 2010 to under five in 2011-12.  The next campaign would trigger a rough chain of events for Richard.

He had a tough start on the hill, then was leveled by a stomach virus that eventually placed him on the DL. That was followed by shoulder surgery as his bones were rubbing together. Bad news does indeed travel in threes: he had a Thoracic Outlet Syndrome procedure in early 2014. Basically, his nerve was compressed against his rib cage, requiring the removal of some muscle and a rib.

Richard has a reputation as one of the hardest working players in baseball, and he pounded his rehab. In August, he signed a minor league deal with Arizona, and it was probably a case of too much too soon. He wasn't very effective at the AA/AAA level in his four starts, and became a FA again at the end of the year.

Can't fault either the Pirates nor Ricard for getting together. Ray Searage is no doctor, but he can put Richard's sinker mechanics in line if the shoulder is willing. And if you're Richard, well, no better place to begin the journey back than in Pittsburgh, where the tempest-tossed find refuge.

We'd not be surprised to see Pittsburgh try to bring Richard back on a slower track. The team needs a lefty reliever, and Richard seems like the kind of project who logic suggests easing back into action, so the pen looks like a match. After all, it's where he started from in college and the White Sox, so it makes sense that he stretches out there.

He would, of course, have more value as a starter. Richard's not a top three guy, but he has a history of eating some innings and would slot nicely as a #4. Whether he can return to that status is the question, and it's not just a matter of rebuilding arm strength.

Petco Park has quite a bit to do with his success. He's 21-18 there, with a 2.99 ERA; his road ERA is 5.19. And his overall ERA of 4.33 seems to be about where it should be. His xFIP is 4.24 and his SIERA is 4.43, so there are no sabermetric flags attached that would suggest any greater upside. As mentioned earlier, the drop in K rate is the only alarm bell, and that could be injury-related.

It's a good deal for the Bucs' FO. They're chipping away at the edges, and for every Jonathan Sanchez they sign, a Vance Worley cancels him out. They've found an inexpensive and inexhaustible pipeline that leads pretty uniquely to Pittsburgh, and that's one of the little things that will help keep them competitive in the long run.
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