When the Padres signed Clayton Richard to a big-league contract last August, many people, including me, did not really take it too seriously.
It was a signing that was fun to look at, given his past history with the San Diego Padres, but nobody expected him to do very well. Prior to his release by the Chicago Cubs, Richard logged only 14 innings in 25 appearances, giving up 10 runs with seven strikeouts and seven walks. Given the Padres desperation for starting pitching with two months of games left, A.J. Preller, pretty much out of options, decided to sign Richard and bring him back to his former ball club.
Surprisingly, Clayton Richard ended up being pretty good as a Padre in 2016. Richard started nine games, going 3-3 with a 2.41 ERA. He also registered a career low (given, it was a small sample size) 0.67 HR/9-innings and ended up being a 0.5 WAR pitcher in very limited action for the Friars.
It has been reported by Dennis Lin that the Padres are interested in re-signing the 33-year-old southpaw for 2017 and perhaps even beyond. Manager Andy Green confirmed that notion as well. The pitcher could likely be had on a team-friendly deal, something that cannot be said for the better starters in a “weak” free agent class.
The question is, should the Padres re-sign him?
The answer is yes. However, it might be wise to taper off expectations a little bit.
It seems like a popular thing to compare Clayton Richard with Rich Hill. It seems even easier to make a comparison when both played baseball at the University of Michigan. Fox Sports Insider Ken Rosenthal did just as much, suggesting in early September that a comparison between the two might not be as far-fetched as people think.
Hill, a 37-year-old left-hander, has seemed to improve with age and has never been better. What makes Hill’s story even crazier is that he was playing independent ball two years ago. Hill’s curveball and creativity on the mound explains a lot of his late-blooming success. For Clayton Richard, his sinker is what led to his excellent end to 2016. Richard’s 63.2 GB% as a starter was nearly 10 percentage points above his previous career-high.
So Clayton Richard is going to be the next Rich Hill with a sinker, right?
Not exactly. Obviously, Rich Hill seems to be a likely comparison among starting pitchers. What he has done is so rare that we probably will not see it again for a long, long time.
The stats don’t really support such a comparison either. Although Richard registered a 2.52 ERA in 2016, the peripherals were not as impressive. The previously mentioned GB% is nice, but as a starter, Richard had a 31/22 K/BB ratio. He also gave up 0.7 HR/9-innings, something that would seemingly be almost impossible to repeat in 2017. Couple that with a 79.8 LOB% and a 4.17 FIP, and the Richard/Hill comparisons seem unfair for both parties. This isn’t a knock on Richard; I mean, there are only a handful of starters that compare to Rich Hill in this league.
That does not mean Richard cannot still be valuable, though.
All you need to do is take a look at the Padres 2017 projected rotation as it stands right now. Luis Perdomo and Christian Friedrich seem like locks to make the Opening Day rotation. After that, there are a ton of question marks. Jarred Cosart cannot seem to throw strikes consistently. Paul Clemens has a nice curveball, but everything else leaves a lot to be desired. Cesar Vargas and Tyson Ross are major question marks, and it seems very realistic that Robbie Erlin misses the entire 2017 season. It seems evident that farm hands Michael Kelly and Dinelson Lamet will be given chances during spring training to see what they can do as well. However, each are still young and need a lot of maturing.
With so many question marks in the rotation, why would you not take a flier on Clayton Richard? He might not be Rich Hill, but he has encompassed over 200 innings twice in his career, and, let’s face it, the Padres are going to need someone this season to eat innings. Best case scenario would probably be that Richard has a season in which he throws about 140-150 innings, has a ~4.20 ERA, and keeps the ball in the ballpark with that sinker of his. If he is signed by the Padres and has a season like that, the Padres would be thrilled.
Richard is also well-respected in the clubhouse and known across MLB circles as a hard worker, so perhaps his great habits and leadership would wear off on what is going to be a very young 2017 Padres squad.
Plus, Luigi loves him!
I am all for giving Clayton Richard a chance to see what he can do. He impressed in 2016, perhaps he can surprise us again in 2017.
Only 138 days until Opening Day. Go Padres!