Toronto Blue Jays 2023 Season Preview: RHP Trevor Richards
Next up in our Toronto Blue Jays 2023 season preview series is right-handed pitcher Trevor Richards.
Addison Barger, Anthony Bass, Chris Bassitt, Brandon Belt, José Berríos, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Matt Chapman, Adam Cimber, Hagen Danner, Santiago Espinal, Matt Gage, Yimi García, Kevin Gausman, Chad Green, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Thomas Hatch, Spencer Horwitz, Danny Jansen, Leo Jimenez, Kevin Kiermaier, Yusei Kikuchi, Alejandro Kirk, Otto Lopez, Nathan Lukes, Alek Manoah, Orelvis Martinez, Tim Mayza, Whit Merrifield, Nate Pearson, Zach Pop
Before we hop into this, here's a quick refresher on the projection models we look at, as well as what they're saying about Richards for 2023:
STEAMER: 54 G, 3-3 record, 3.92 ERA, 60 SO and 20 BB in 54 innings
ZiPS: 50 G (7 GS), 5-4 record, 4.31 ERA, 89 SO and 33 BB in 77 innings
2022 stats: 62 G (4 GS), 3-2 record, 5.34 ERA, 82 SO and 35 BB in 64 innings
The projections are all over the place on the 29-year-old hurler. STEAMER predicts that his ERA is going to come way back to Earth but also sees him striking out less batters. ZiPS predicts his ERA will come down as well but not below 4.30. The latter also sees his strikeout numbers staying up as they were last season.
Richards is a starter-turned-reliever (who served as an opener four times last year) and had fared well in a relief role before the wheels fell off last season. Heading into 2022, he had been coming off of a 53-game showing the year before in which he put up a 3.50 ERA and 124 ERA+ while suiting up for three different teams.
Last year was his first full season in Toronto and things just never took off for him past the first month of the season. In his first nine outings, he allowed one earned run and struck out 11 batters in just over eight innings, good for a 1.08 ERA along the way. Things began to spiral after those first nine outings and his numbers never really seemed to recover.
Richards has been the subject of his fair share of criticism this offseason as the Blue Jays are looking to strengthen their bullpen and his lack of options make him a prime DFA candidate. However, players like Anthony Kay and Matt Gage were let go instead of him, which could actually end up being a move the Jays will be glad they made.
His Statcast percentile rankings tell two vastly different tales from last year. While he struggled with HardHit% (36th percentile), Barrel% (fourth percentile) and BB% (fourth percentile), he struck out a boatload of batters and ranked near the top of the league in both Chase Rate and Whiff%.
Richards relies primarily on a two-pitch mix consisting of a decent if not uninspiring fourseam fastball and a changeup that was quietly one of the best in the game last year.
On his mid-80s changeup, Richards ranked in the 82nd percentile in PLUS%, meaning the percentage of times it resulted in a positive event for a pitcher. He also allowed just a .181 batting average on this pitch while the league-average was .241. The pitch moves a ton as well, as you can see below. His Spin RPM ranked in the 99th percentile last season per Pitcher List.
The odds of Richards contending for Reliever of the Year are obviously quite low. However, there's reason to suggest that he is just a few tweaks away to becoming the strong relief pitcher he was just one year ago.