The Angels lost to the Cubs 9-0 on Monday. Garrett Richards didn’t allow all of those runs, but he did allow more than zero runs, so he took the loss. He needed 97 pitches to go five innings, and he allowed six hits and three walks, so it’s not like Richards just had the game of his life. If I were most people, I’d probably take this opportunity to write some happy words about Jake Arrieta. But I’m not most people, and I’m particularly enthusiastic about Richards’ changeup. Yesterday kicked off the slate of games that matter, and Richards threw nine changeups. Why is that important? Last season, Richards threw one changeup. The season before, he threw all of 15. This is a legitimate thing, now. Richards is going to try to throw changeups. Now we’re going to watch all of Monday’s.
Richards threw lots of changeups in the spring, but that isn’t unusual. The spring is when you want to work on stuff. To actually bring something like that into the season — that’s plenty more meaningful. Not that Richards didn’t try to prepare us:
“I’m definitely going to use it,” Richards said. “All year.”
That would’ve been an easy statement to dismiss, though. You can feel good about whatever you want in March. Someone asked me in a recent chat how many changeups I expected Richards to throw on Monday, and I said two. He threw nine. About a tenth of his pitches. Those changeups averaged 90.3 miles per hour. If it were to stand, that would be the hardest changeup thrown by a starter that we have on record. (Richards, of course, throws his fastballs around 96.)
Already, this is a freak-ish kind of offspeed pitch. Richards threw his changeups harder on Monday than Felix Hernandez threw his fastballs. More important than the number of changeups, though: How were the changeups? Let’s watch them, in order.
Changeup No. 1
The first one was a doozy, coming in at 92 miles per hour to start off an at-bat against Ben Zobrist. Three promising signs, here. One: The pitch itself was good. Two: Richards used it to start an at-bat. Three: Richards used it to start an at-bat with a runner in scoring position. You see indications of confidence, and then a reason for the very existence of that confidence in the first place.
Changeup No. 2
This time, less of a doozy. And at 93 miles per hour, you might be wondering if this was actually a fastball, but, no, it wasn’t. You can clearly see Richards’ circle-change grip in the super-slow-motion replay:
So we know for sure this was a changeup. And it was thrown at 1-and-1, to an excellent hitter, which again shows some confidence. Typically, when a pitcher is folding in a new pitch like this, you mostly only see it when he’s ahead and can afford to make a mistake. The problem is that Richards left the pitch up. It’s not like Anthony Rizzo killed the ball or anything, but this pitch wasn’t properly executed. Richards wants that changeup down.
Changeup No. 3
2-and-2 and going for a strikeout of Miguel Montero. Missing out of the zone is better than missing in the zone, but Richards held on to the ball a little too long. So, another changeup poorly executed.
Changeup No. 4
This one’s tough. See, Richards got the called strike. He messed with Jason Heyward’s timing and was able to get ahead. At the same time, this changeup was left over the middle, about belt-high, and that’s not where the pitch was supposed to go. So I don’t actually think this pitch was properly executed. Sometimes you just get a break, even when you don’t do what you wanted. And there’s a lesson here: Richards’ changeup can increase his margin of error. He doesn’t need to be perfect with it, because his heaters are so hard. Note that this was a first-pitch change, to a good hitter, with two on and nobody out. That’s commitment to the weapon.
Changeup No. 5
The very next pitch. It was the only time Richards threw back-to-back changeups. Unlike the first changeup, this one was on the black, and a little more down. Richards would’ve still preferred this more down, but it was a good pitch. Heyward swung through it, and you can see Carlos Perez give Richards a positive gesture. So, in Perez’s estimation, this was executed well. Heyward struck out two pitches later, after two sliders. All four pitches he saw were within one mile per hour, but they all broke in different ways.
Changeup No. 6
Look at that. That’s perfect. This is how Richards kicked off what would be a rocky top of the fourth. Rizzo had singled earlier against a changeup that was elevated, but this one ran away from him and was down another foot and a half. It clocked in at 90.7 miles per hour. Great way to capture a first-pitch strike on a first-pitch ball.
Changeup No. 7
Less perfect. In the spring, Richards talked about how he liked his new changeup because he knew how to keep it down, even with his misses. He didn’t keep them all down Monday, and this one’s just a throwaway. There were 37 pitches in between this changeup and the previous changeup. There were two walks, two singles, and two outs. I don’t know if it means anything that Richards didn’t use his changeup when he was trying to get out of a long inning, but, here we are.
Changeup No. 8
Now we have a 1-and-0 changeup, which is the only one Richards threw when behind in the count. It’s a great sign when a new offspeed pitch gets thrown in a traditional fastball count. Heyward, to his credit, seemed to have the timing, but he still bounced the ball straight back. This changeup was pretty similar to the previous one that Heyward had swung right through. Good pitch to give Heyward something to think about.
Changeup No. 9
Great changeup to end on. After consecutive two-strike sliders, Richards came at Rizzo with a two-strike changeup, and Rizzo just got a piece. I think you can tell from Richards’ body language he thought he had Rizzo struck out, because he executed the pitch he wanted, but great hitters are great hitters for a reason. In the small picture, that might be frustrating for Richards, but in the big picture, he did wrap up a start with strong stuff, where he folded in a brand-new weapon. As pitch debuts go, Richards’ changeup was solid.
Which he understands. By my own subjective estimation, of Richards’ nine changeups, he executed five of them well. I don’t have a frame of reference for what’s normal or acceptable, but I don’t think that’s bad, especially for something he just started throwing. Sure, Richards’ second changeup went back up the middle to drive in the game’s first run, but most pitchers would take a grounder as an outcome. There were three swinging strikes. And the way Richards and Perez went to the pitch suggested there is real confidence there. Richards used it in a variety of counts, in a variety of situations.
Could be, the changeup gets worse and goes away. But I think now we can say something for sure: Garrett Richards, officially, has a changeup in his arsenal. He’s not afraid of using it, and he throws it harder than any other starter in the game. Just what this does for him, we’ll see, but it’s probably going to help. It’s hard to imagine why it wouldn’t.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.