Here at Bleacher Nation, we love us some Super Utility Pitchers. The prospect of using 3-4 guys out of the pen in multiple roles – swing/spot starter, clean-up, match-up, full inning, high-leverage, etc. – is so enticing, because it stretches the rotation and bullpen in multiple, useful ways. We currently think of the Cubs’ four super utility pitchers as Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood, Adam Warren and Clayton Richard.
The last one there probably gets the least attention, but he deserves a discussion.
Clayton Richard came to the Cubs in the middle of the 2015 season from the Pirates, thanks to an “upward mobility clause” in his contract. The clause forced the Pirates to either a) add Richard to their 25-man roster or b) let him go to a club that was willing to do so. The Cubs needed a starter at the time, and Richard was the answer.
Well, for a while, at least.
By the end of the season, Richard made his way into a swing role, splitting time between the rotation (18.0 IP) and the bullpen (24.1 IP). Richard figures to be a reliever once again in 2016, but was that his most effective role in 2015?
Let’s take a look at some of his splits from last season to get a sense of how he was performing in various roles and match-ups.
Clayton Richard (The Starter):
- 18.0 IP
- 3.00/4.02/3.40 ERA/FIP/xFIP
- 11% K-rate, 2.7% BB-rate
- 14.3% soft contact, 57.1% medium contact, 28.6% hard contact
- .277 wOBA against
Clayton Richard (The Reliever):
- 24.1 IP
- 4.44/3.26/3.45 ERA/FIP/xFIP
- 13.0% K-rate, 4.6% BB-rate
- 25.0% soft contact, 52.3% medium contact, 22.7% hard contact
- .328 wOBA against
So then, all throat clearing aside, Richard had better results as a starter, but arguably better peripherals as a reliever. As a reliever, his ERA spiked, but that’s most likely because of a jump in his BABIP from .246 (as a starter) to .333 (as a reliever). What is most important about the numbers above is that he increased his strikeout rate, kept his walk rate down, and induced far more soft contact (at the expense of hard and medium contact) as a reliever.
Why was he better out of the pen, then? The most obvious reason is because of the increase in velocity. In short doses, Richard was able to dial up his fast ball about 1.5 mph over where he was as a starter. Given the uncertainty of his role at the time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that increase even more in 2016. Next year, he’ll have clearer expectations and perhaps can unleash his velocity accordingly. He’ll also be a year further removed from his 2013/14 shoulder troubles.
It also appears that Richard is, perhaps unsurprisingly, more effective against lefties than righties, even if he wasn’t used exclusively as a LOOGY for the Cubs in 2015.
Clayton Richard (vs. Lefties):
- 17.1 IP
- 2.63/2.50/3.10 ERA/FIP/xFIP
- 14.9% K-rate, 3.0% BB-rate
- 37.0% soft contact, 46.3% medium contact, 16.7% hard contact
- .240 wOBA against
Clayton Richard (vs. Righties):
- 25.0 IP
- 4.68/4.33/3.66 ERA/FIP/xFIP
- 10.5% K-rate, 4.4% BB-rate
- 11.3% soft contact, 58.8% medium contact, 29.9% hard contact
- .347 wOBA against
Again, this is a small sample size, but that’s a strong split. Richard was decidedly worse against right-handed batters in 2015. His strikeout rate against southpaws (14.9%) is already quite low for a starter or a reliever, but his strikeout rate versus righties (10.5%) is almost unusable.
- 23 Total Appearances
- 3 Starts
- 7 multi-inning appearances (not including starts)
- 13 relief appearances of 1 inning or less
Given his struggles against righties, increased velocity out of the pen and better performance as a reliever in general, I think Richard will be used primarily, if not exclusively, as a reliever (even in super utility type role) in 2016. Or, to put it another way, I suspect he will be the last of the super utility pitchers to make a spot start (out of necessity) throughout the season. I don’t think he will be used as a LOOGY exclusively, but it may start out that way (or otherwise in a clean up role) as the season begins.
Despite how you may feel, Richard does offer a lot out of the pen. His ability to start and swing between roles is just one component of that total value. He might not be the most effective pitcher on the Cubs, but he adds value in many ways – many of which aren’t entirely visible on a stat line.