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Examining Garrett Richards Start to the Season

Is there cause for concern or just early-season noise?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Garrett Richards is now through his first three starts as a Red Sox, and so far the overall line doesn’t look great. As we talk today, he stands 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA to go with 10 strikeouts and seven walks through 12 innings of work. It being such a small sample, a lot of that damage can come in one outing, and that’s the case here. In this case, we’re talking about his season debut where he was rocked for six runs in only two innings. Since that first poor outing, though, he has looked better, only allowing two earned runs over the next 10 innings pitched. As Richards gets set to make his four start for the Red Sox Wednesday against Toronto, what have we learned from his start to the season so far?

Well first and most notably, through Richards's first two starts his velocity on his fastball was down, averaging 93 miles per hour, two ticks below his career mark. That said, after his third start, he’s now averaging 94 mph on the season and he topped out at 94.8, a mark he hit twice against the Twins his last time out. That uptick in his last start is important for a couple of reasons. The first of which being that in spring training Richards had talked about dealing with some mechanical issues with his delivery. It's possible the dip in velocity was due to some lingering effects in his mechanics that he’s starting to get figured out.

In addition to that, the uptick in velocity corresponds with an uptick in the spin rate of all of his pitches. This is why I believe his slow start was, and is, still connected to the mechanics he had talked about last month. The spin rate on all three of his pitches was down 200 rpm across the board in his first start and has subsequently increased with each of his outings. His fastball has jumped over 300 rpm since his first outing and was responsible for two of his four strikeouts in Minnesota. Whatever is the issue was, mechanical or maybe just adjusting to the cold weather starts to kick the season off, Richards peripherals are certainly headed in the right direction. They are, of course, definitely still worth keeping an eye on as he progresses.

Another piece of his stat line that jumps out in the early going is his walks. Currently walking 5.3 of his opponents per nine innings, the worst rate since his 2019 season where he only threw eight innings and then required Tommy John, Richards has been rather wild through all three of his starts so far. It’s hard to say whether this is also attributed to his mechanical issues, but his walks have kept him from getting deeper into games and have served to quickly run up his pitch count.

The rise in his spin rates has me leaning towards this not being a mechanical issue or a potential injury issue like his 2019 season, but more due to his pitch selection and sequencing. So far this season, Richards is throwing his fastball more than he ever has at any point in his career at almost 55 percent of the time, per FanGraphs. His career fastball usage sits 40 percent, so this is a major jump. Because of this, he’s been more predictable and his O-Swing Rate (the rate at which a batter swings at a pitch outside the zone) is way down from his career average, and his Z-Swing Rate (the percentage of time a batter swings at a pitch inside the zone) is way up.

Being more predictable, and with decreased effectiveness of his arsenal, Richards had a tough first few innings with the Red Sox. Seeing an increase in velocity and in the spin rates of all his pitches in his last start though is a strong step in the right direction to keeping the momentum from his last two starts going. If Richards keeps the progress of his velocity going, and can find a nice balance in his offerings, we should be able to see very effective pitching going forward for the Red Sox.