The last two healthy seasons for Clayton Richard have led to 28 wins with 14 in each season (2010, 2012). Richard has also posted an ERA under 4.00 each of the past three years. He’s coming off a season with a career-high in innings pitched (218.2) and a career best WHIP (1.23). That certainly sounds like enough to vault Richard up anyone’s rankings when considering how to evaluate rank pitchers for the 2013 season. So why is there so much trepidation when the name of Clayton Richard is brought up in fantasy circles?
Let’s begin by looking at what Richard does well. His chief skill is his ability to induce grounders and to keep the ball off the fat part of the bat. For his career Richards has an 18.9 line drive rate which is on the low side of average. Over the past four seasons that number has never reached 20 percent so he’s consistently been average or slightly better than that. Richard has also induced grounder after grounder. In his career his GB-rate is 49.8 percent, and the last two seasons that number has been over 50 percent including a career best 54 percent mark in 2012. Obviously with this type of batted ball distribution on his resume his GB/FB ratio is going to be good, and it is. For his career the mark is 1.60 and last seasons 1.93 GB/FB ratio was the 7th best mark in the National League. That’s pretty impressive work.
At this point the other skill that Richard has, an I would bet you that 95 percent of the people reading this already know what I’m going to type next, is Petco Park. Obviously that’s not a “skill” but you get the point. The fact is that Petco is a hard place to drive the ball, an a pitcher like Richard who keeps the ball on the ground is going to have a ton of success in a yard that will help to cover up mistakes he makes up in the zone. Now that wasn’t exactly true in 2012 as his HR/9 mark swelled to 1.28, a career worst, but you can blame that on a 50 percent increase in his HR/FB ratio from 10 percent (career) to 15 percent last season. That number should normalize in 2013 by the way. It is also true that the majority of that homer damage was done on the road (1.44 per nine) versus at home in San Diego (1.03 per nine). Moreover, Richard continued his relative domination at Petco continuing the trend that makes him, at worst, an excellent streaming option when he pitches at home.
2010 (home): 3.15 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in 17 starts
2011 (home): 2.30 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in eight starts
2012 (home): 3.02 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 14 starts
For his career Richard has made 45 starts at Petco Park. He’s won 19 of those games posting a 2.82 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. For some perspective on those numbers the third place finisher in the NL Cy Young Voting, Gio Gonzalez, finished the 2012 season with a 2.89 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. The fact is that Richard is actually a must start, no matter what the format, when he starts at home. Of course, the flip side is that he isn’t exactly the best road starter in the world, an in fact his career numbers are on the road are painful to look at: 23-23, 4.92 ERA, 1.53 WHIP in 382.2 innings. Hello Rick Porcello.
So, I can sum up this piece before I finish it with some of the simplest advice I have ever given. You’re crazy if you don’t start Richard at home. You’re crazy if you start him on the road. How is that for some insightful analysis?
Before leaving you for the day, a quick review of the rest of the things you need to know with Richard.
His strikeout rate is deplorable. The last two years he hasn’t even punched out five batters per nine innings and his career mark if 5.69, around two batters below the league average. The lack of punchouts severely dims his fantasy outlook. On the plus side he did something last year that he had never done as well before – he threw strike after strike. For his career he’s walked just slightly more than three batters per nine innings. Last season he dropped that mark down to 1.73 walks per nine, literally half of his total from 2010-11 (the mark was 3.46 in those two seasons). We certainly need more than just one season at that level to say he’s now that pitcher, but it’s an extremely heartening development for a guy whose perfect game would be 27 pitches with all 27 outs generated on ground balls.
Richard is nothing exciting to look at, and he comes with severe limitations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reap a substantial return on your investment with him if you deploy him properly.
By Ray Flowers