There’s no question the Miami Marlins have disappointed out of the gate, particularly the offense. In fifteen games, the Marlins offense has managed to eek out 46 runs, which ranks as the 29th lowest total in the majors (the Tigers are last with 40 runs), and the pitching has been just mediocre (4.81 ERA — 20th in the league). One pitcher who has flashed promise and has performed well thus far this season is RHP Trevor Richards.
Richards’ journey and ascent to the majors is genuinely remarkable. He “went undrafted out of Division-II Drury University in Missouri, so he went and pitched for the independent Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League in 2015 and 2016. The Marlins signed him in July of 2016 and sent him to the New York-Penn League…” according to Jordan Shusterman of MLB.com. At one point in his minor league career, Richards even worked as a substitute teacher.
The minor leagues were no match for Trevor Richards, who recorded an ERA below two at each stop (A-, A, A+, AA, AAA) along the way, advancing to the MLB in year three of his professional career. In his first taste of pitching at the big league level, Trevor Richards impressed. His ERA was in the mid-4s, and he struck out over nine batters per nine innings (9.26). With that being said, he was fairly hittable (121 hits allowed in 126.1 IP) and erratic at times (3.85 BB/9).
Three starts into the 2019 season, it appears as though Richards has made numerous adjustments which have enabled him to pitch at a higher level…
Stats (per FanGraphs — as of April 15th)
Even more significant than his numbers are the changes he’s made…
1. Pitch Mix/Frequency
2018 pitch mix (per Pitch Info Pitch Type as found on FanGraphs)
- Fastball: 54.8%
- Changeup: 32.3%
- Curveball: 13.0%
2019 pitch mix
- Fastball: 40.9%
- Changeup: 39.2%
- Curveball: 7.3%
- Slider: 12.6%
So far this year, Richards has certainly done a better job pitching to his strength — his changeup — and cutting back on arguably his least effective pitch last year (his fastball). In 2018, Richards’ changeup played mind tricks on hitters, as conveyed in the video below…
Remarkably, hitters whiffed on nearly 25% of his changeups (in 2018), while on the other hand, they feasted off of his fastball (3.4% SwStr; .312 AVG; 9 HR).
Richards’ decrease in fastball usage can presumably be credited to new Marlins pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. (who was the pitching coach of the Mariners from 2016-18). In 2018, the Mariners threw fastballs only 48.7% of the time — the 2nd lowest rate in the majors. He has seemingly introduced this pitching philosophy to the Marlins…
2018 Marlins fastball usage: 59.0% (6th highest)
2019 Marlins fastball usage: 54.7% (12th)
2-3. Increased Fastball Spin and Improved Fastball Location
As you can see in the line graph above, the spin on Trevor Richards’ fastball has increased by over 100 RPMs, which is quite drastic…
2018 Fastball Spin Percentile (higher percentile indicating a higher spin rate; 566th out of 690 pitchers; minimum pitches thrown – 50): 18.0
2019 Fastball Spin Percentile (189th out of 266 pitchers; minimum pitches thrown – 50): 28.9
More spin equates to more movement, which should theoretically improve the overall effectiveness of the pitch. So far, it has yielded promise…
2018 Fastball SwStr%: 3.4
2019 Fastball SwStr%: 11.1 (~225% increase!)
Trevor Richards has also been locating his fastball higher up in the zone, which could also be contributing to its increased productiveness (2018 AVG against: .312 vs 2019 AVG against: .267). With an arsenal that now includes a solid fastball to complement a lethal change piece, Trevor Richards is likely poised to become a mid-rotation starter for years to come.