The San Diego Padres designated left-handed starting pitcher Clayton Richard for assignment this afternoon. This was first reported by Eric Stephen of SB Nation.  He’s owed $3M for the 2019 season. With the Cincinnati Reds still looking to “get the pitching”, is he someone worth looking into picking up? Let’s dive into this quickly and see if there’s some potential upside to acquiring him.

On the surface, things did not go well for Clayton Richard last season. Or the season before. In 2017 he led the league in losses, hits allowed, and strangely enough, complete games. That came along with a 4.79 ERA – which is worse than it seems thanks to how the ballpark in San Diego plays. In 2018 things were even worse. His ERA jumped up to 5.33 while watching his walk rate and strikeout rate both get worse.

WAR is a bit funny, especially when it comes to pitchers. Baseball Reference and Fangraphs use very different versions of WAR for pitchers and will at times spit out very different numbers. Baseball Reference had Clayton Richard with a -1.2 WAR in 2018. Fangraphs, on the other hand, gave Richard a 0.7 WAR for 2018. That’s a 2 win difference – which is the difference between a league average starting pitcher and a replacement level player. In either case, he didn’t perform well and was somewhere between a well below-average pitcher and one of the worst pitchers in baseball during the 2018 season.

So, how could that guy help the Cincinnati Reds? That’s a good question. But, as we’ve seen time and time again, sometimes different roles can take players that seem to really struggle, and resurrect their careers. The Reds new manager and pitching coach seem to be willing to use players in less than traditional roles. The Brewers, where pitching coach Derek Johnson worked last year, had a rotation that was often working shorter starts and relying on the bullpen to fill the innings. It’s possible that the Reds could do this some, too, thanks to more than a few former starters that could be in the bullpen who could serve in multi-inning roles.

But does Clayton Richard possibly fit as a guy who could be a “short starter”? Maybe. In the first half of the season, he was significantly better than he was in the second half. That could be a good thing, or it could be a bad thing. He didn’t pitch at all in September after having surgery on both of his knees. He is expected to be at full strength for the start of spring training.

In 20 starts over the first half his ERA was 4.43 and he had a 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. He also allowed just 11 home runs in 124.0 innings. And after a tough start in April, he was actually quite good in the 12 starts he made between April 27th and June 27th, posting a 3.83 ERA with 20 walks and 62 strikeouts over 80.0 innings.

His second half was, to put it bluntly, an unmitigated disaster. He made seven starts with an 8.57 ERA. He threw just 34.2 innings and had 13 walks and just 16 strikeouts. Oh, and he allowed EIGHT home runs in that span. Knowing what we know about his knees, there’s a reason that could explain the fall off.

That reason, however, is a real concern. You just don’t know how he will return from not just one knee surgery, but two knee surgeries. There would certainly be a small gamble in picking him up. The cost, though, would be low.

Getting back to whether or not he would fit into the “short starter” category, he, like most every pitcher in the history of the game, is better the first time through the lineup. Hitters had a .247/.313/.379 line against him with 17 walks and 40 strikeouts in 2018 the first time he faced them in a game. That jumped up to a .256/.340/.417 line with 24 walks and 38 strikeouts the second time he saw a hitter. The third time saw batters hit him to the tune of .291/.372/.525 the third time.

There is certainly an argument that could be made that he could potentially fill a role as a guy to throw the first 4-5 innings of a game, then be pulled for a long-reliever in a “piggy back” kind of system where maybe Amir Garrett, Sal Romano, Keury Mella could come on for another 2-3 innings to get you to the back end of your bullpen.

Clayton Richard is also an extreme ground ball rate pitcher, if that’s your kind of thing. Over the last three seasons, of pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched, his ground ball rate of 59.3% ranks second in baseball to Marcus Stroman. Maybe he could slide into the bullpen role as a 1-2 inning guy where he wouldn’t even face a lineup a second time, and be a ground ball machine.

There are a few things to like here. And there are a few things that should leave you very hesitant here, too. The price should be low, and with creative usage, this could be a decent pick up. And if it doesn’t work out, because the cost will be low, it should be easy to cut bait and move on rather than force the situation because of the cost.

18 Responses

  1. JB WV

    If he was relatively young it would be worth a shot. But not at 35. Love to see another quality lefty in the pen though, maybe Reed. Wandy needs to go.

  2. Choo Choo

    I asked you this very question on your other site immediately after the release became public! For league minimum + incentives, I would def do! Gives them a LH option for innings, at lower price point! Still go after the Wood/Puig trade & possible Kluber, though!

  3. scotly50

    Yes but there are rumors of players the Reds mgmt are going after almost daily. Very exiting for Reds fans !!!!!

  4. Seat101

    Jeepers!

    It doesn’t matter to anyone else signs we will still hear “my goodness gracious! The Reds should’ve signed that person!”

    Why don’t we save the pearl clutching until July?

    • earmbrister

      You’d think that this was a NYY’s blog …

    • George

      101;
      Absolutely. The REDS have a new pitching coach who needs to really see and hear the ball being thrown by our current pitchers. At this point I don’t think any of the new field people know what is going to be in Goodyear. Most of us should know that a bad April isn’t the end of the world if the new coaches see what the current batch of pitchers can do.

  5. Mason Red

    And the hits just keep coming….

  6. earmbrister

    Do you think that they can get him on a minor league contract with an invite?

  7. earmbrister

    If everyone passes on him because of his knees, does that make him “knock kneed”?

    Apologies … Happy Holidays!

  8. Jason

    As soon as I saw this. I said to myself oh look bet the Reds give this guy a try..

    Please god no… I am starting to think this team is just giving lip service to the fans. The trade with Washington was fine, but more and more names are falling off the board and thus far Cincinnati has only slightly improved the rotation and that’s it.

    This is the comment I read somewhere, “We are being very aggressive in talks”

    This is great and all but you have to fork out some extra money for a free agent pitcher to ever want to sign in Cincy.

  9. Goat

    I think I would pass on this. That what they’ve done for years is get Pitchers nobody else wants. I read the Reds weren’t willing to give Harvey 11 million guaranteed. What is in their budget? They will find out by years end it was a huge mistake not resigning him because when he signs a deal next year it’s going to be for a lot more years and a lot more money.
    Why sign a 35 year old pitcher coming off two disastrous seasons, along with both knees being operated on? Sign younger pitchers who have upside, not older pitchers whose careers are virtually over. Theres still plenty of good free agents who can be had for reasonable amounts of money.

    • scotly50

      This is the Reds we follow.

      What gets me is the Reds look at Sanchez and deem him “not worthy” for a Reds uniform and trade for Roark. But the Nats sign Sanchez, to fill Roarks’ spot, and they have Rainey also.

  10. B.S Meter

    The reds won’t spend a dime and they’re so freaking cheap! Looks like lowballing is their strategy here. What did they think they were gonna sign harvey for? I call B.S on this whole organization. “We’ll spend money”. Yeah right. Walt is still running this team.

  11. CFD3000

    For a lot of reasons I vote no (as if RLN gets a say). But the one reason I’ll focus on here – health, age, and past results have already been discussed – is the opportunity cost. Assuming the Reds acquire Keuchel or Wood there is likely to be one starting spot open in April. The Reds will have, at least, Reed, Mahle, and Lorenzen vying for that spot with real promise, and Romano, Stephenson, perhaps Garrett and maybe more eyeing it as well. I believe at least one and maybe all three of that first group will develop into really solid starters. I don’t want a questionable scrap heap pickup taking the inside track and relying or preventing that development. Reed, Mahle and Lorenzen need to pitch. If the San Diego stud might make sense as a Loogy then maybe, but as a starter – no thanks.

    • CFD3000

      *that should say delaying or preventing that development…

  12. Nate

    With a new coaching staff, all things should be considered. At $3mil I would pass but if he clears and becomes a free agent I would definitely pick up the phone to see where his head is at on the possibility of being reliever but given the chance to compete as a starter. I expect less than 90 loses but also feel like the team is still in a sorting not contending stage. On top of that, David Bell said in an interview that Lorenzen could make it possible to carry one less position player and one more arm. That only works if you have enough arms worth considering.