Sunday Notes: Garrett Richards Has Elite Spin, But His Sinker May Hold the Key

Garrett Richards has an uncanny ability to spin a baseball. Per Statcast, the 32-year-old right-hander — recently signed to a free-agent contract by the Boston Red Sox — was 99th percentile in curveball spin last year, while his four-seam spin ranked in the 97th percentile. Moreover, the most-effective weapon in his arsenal, a 2,746-RPM slider, was topped only by Sergio Romo’s 2,913 RPMs among hurlers who threw the pitch at least 200 times.

Richards’s least-effective offering in 2020 was a two-seamer that’s hard to put a positive spin on. The erstwhile San Diego Padre threw 66 of them, and the ones that were put into play tended to get punished. Opposing hitters whacked them to a tune of a .467 batting average and an .867 slugging percentage. And it was even worse in 2019. While a 28-pitch sample obviously needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, numbers like .500 and .875 stand out like a sore thumb. I asked Richards about his plans going forward, anticipating that the pitch might be going into mothballs.

Au contraire.

“It’s definitely not a pitch that I’m not going to throw,” said Richards. “I’ve always been able to cut the ball to both sides of the plate, but it’s nice to have something moving in the other direction. I need to get it back to sinking, or even having some more arm-side run. Come spring training, I’ll be back on the mound, trying to figure it out.”

Richards elaborated, saying that in 2014 and 2015 — before injuries began wreaking havoc on his career — he was able to sink the pitch pretty consistently. That having no longer been the case, he hopes, and quite possibly needs, to flip that script.

“If I start a pitch mid-thigh, I expect it to be at the knees,” said Richards. “If I throw a pitch at the mid thigh and it just moves sideways, it’s still mid-thigh. So I think it’s just more of a location, downward-in-the zone, issue.”

Armed with a reliable sinker that he threw far more frequently, Richards was a quality starter in his pre-injury days with the Angels. It’s not unreasonable to believe that a revival of that particular pitch could be the key to a successful stint with the Red Sox. While his four-seamer is top-self in terms of raw spin, it’s also bottom-shelf in spin efficiency. Living upstairs isn’t a viable option. Finding a way to return to the high ground-ball rate he had at his healthy best is.

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Marcell Ozuna re-signed with the Atlanta Braves on Friday, which came as a surprise to many. The 30-year-old slugger saw the majority of his action as a designated hitter last season, and with no DH expected in the NL in 2021, it’s been assumed he was AL-bound. Fairly or not, there is a perception that Ozuna lacks the defensive chops to adequately hold down an outfield position at this stage of his career.

I asked Alex Anthopoulos about that during a Zoom call yesterday. The Atlanta GM responded by saying that Ozuna played 21 games in the outfield last year — 17 in left, and two in right — adding that “for those who want to look it up on Statcast, he runs well, he has good speed.” In his opinion, Ozuna “can be very solid in left.”

Following up, I asked Anthopoulos if he feels the criticism of Ozuna’s defense is unwarranted.

“I think what happens is, Marcell was a centerfielder and a Gold Glove,” answered Anthopoulos. “When you’re a star player like he is — when you’re a great player — everyone looks at every little thing. If you make one bad play, people remember that [even] when there are a bunch of good plays. He robbed a home run last year. I’ve seen him make a lot of really good plays.”

The next question in yestrday’s media session was addressed to Ozuna. An Atlanta-based reporter wanted to know what he thinks when pundits claim he’s poor defender.

“It makes me feel bad, but at the same time, I know who I am,” said Ozuna, whose positivity shone bright throughout the session. “I don’t worry about it when people say, ‘You can’t play the outfield.’… I take the positives to myself, and the negatives, I play away.”

Jay Jaffe took an in-depth look at the signing here.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Fred McGriff went 7 for 7 against Ryan Glynn.

Pablo Sandoval went 6 for 6 against Francisco Cordero.

Dave Parker went 6 for 6 against Greg Maddux.

Max Flack went 6 for 6 against Petie Behan.

Robinson Canó is 6 for 6 against Shane Greene.

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Ruben Amaro Jr. was coming off a good year when Terry Francona was hired to manage the Philadelphia Phillies following the 1996 season. A backup outfielder who excelled as a pinch-hitter, Amaro had slashed .316/.380/.453 in 130 plate appearances. Things didn’t go so well playing for Jim Fregosi’s replacement.

“Terry was a first-time manager in 1997,” said Amaro, who was featured on the most-recent episode of FanGraphs Audio. “I didn’t play very well, but coming off a pretty good season I was still kind of pissed off at him for not getting more playing time. Then I was back in 1998 — another year where I think I was probably forced upon him.“

Amaro didn’t come close to forcing himself into the lineup. His OPS in the two seasons under Francona was an uninspiring .579. Upon the completion of the 2018 campaign, Amaro was kicked upstairs.

“I became the assistant GM, literally right off the field,” explained Amaro, a Stanford University graduate whose father, Ruben Sr., played, scouted, and coached for the Phillies. “That was a very strange spot for Terry — for Tito — as I went from being a guy he didn’t want to play very much because I wasn’t very good, to basically being on of his bosses.”


Their tenuous relationship warmed over time. Amaro professes to having a ton of respect for Francona, who had not only been leading a team short on talent, but also dealing with the “harsh negativity that can come with being the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.” Amaro called Francona “one of the best managers in the game, no question.”

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A quiz:

Mickey Mantle has the highest career OBP (.421) for a switch-hitter. Who ranks second?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

Jorge Jarrin has retired after nine seasons on the Los Angeles Dodgers Spanish-language radio and TV broadcasts. His broadcast partner/father, 85-year-old Jaime Jarrin, will reportedly return to the booth for his 63rd season.

Grant Jackson, a left-handed pitcher for six teams from 1965-1982, died earlier this week at age 78. Primarily a reliever, his best season came with the Baltimore Orioles in 1973 when he went 8-0 with nine saves and a 1.90 ERA. Jackson went on to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was the winning pitcher in Game Seven of the 1979 World Series.

Wayne Terwilliger, an infielder for five teams from 1949-1960, died earlier this week at age 96. A native of Clare, Michigan, “Twigs” went on to manage in the minor leagues and coach for the Washington Senators, Texas Rangers, and Minnesota Twins.

Longtime Red Sox radio voice Joe Castiglione will be the featured guest on a SABR Boston Zoom event this coming Wednesday (February 10) at 7 pm EST. Registration is free.

SABR’s Games Project reached a milestone late last month with its 2,500th story. Information can be found here.

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The answer to the quiz is Lance Berkman, who finished his career with a .406 OBP. Mantle (.557) and Berkman (.537) also rank one-two in highest slugging percentage for a switch-hitter.

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This comp intrigues me, in part because Cincinnati’s current first baseman is viewed by many — yours truly included — as a future Hall of Famer:

Berkman: 1,905 hits, 366 HR, 400 wOBA, 144 wRC+, 55.9 fWAR.
Joey Votto: 1,908 hits, .295 HR, 400 wOBA, 150 wRC+, 56.7 fWAR.

Votto is of course still active, but given his age and recent track record, there is a non-zero chance that his rate stats will decline rather than climb. Meanwhile, Berkman received just 1.2% of support in his lone year on the ballot. That’s even more surprising when you consider that he slashed .317/.417/.532 with nine home runs in 224 postseason plate appearances. Maybe Votto’s Hall of Fame chances aren’t as good as many might think?

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Let’s look at a pair of former backstops:

Joe Mauer had a .306 batting average, 143 home runs, 123 wRC+. three batting titles, six All-Star berths, and one MVP award.

Ernie Lombardi had a .306 batting average, 190 home runs, 125 wRC+, two batting titles, seven All-Star berths, and one MVP award.

The duo combined to win five of the seven batting titles that have been captured by catchers. The other two belong to Bubbles Hargrave and Buster Posey.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Dominican Republic beat Puerto Rico 4-1 last night to capture the Caribbean Series title. Puerto Rico had advanced with a 2-1 win over Mexico, while the Dominican Republic punched their ticket by scoring twice in the bottom of the ninth inning on a two out, bases loaded single by Carlos Paulino to defeat Panama 4-3.

Spring training started this past Monday for NPB teams, albeit with restrictions in place due to the ongoing pandemic. Preseason games are currently slated to begin on February 23, with the regular season scheduled to begin on March 26.

Nathan Wiles has a 1.61 ERA to go with 30 strikeouts and just four walks in 22-and-a-third innings for the ABL’s Perth Heat. The 22-year-old southpaw was an eighth-round pick by the Tampa Bay Rays out of the University of Oklahoma in 2019.

Brisbane Bandits right-hander Drew Anderson has 28 strikeouts and hasn’t allowed an earned run in 13-and-a-third relief innings. The 26-year-old Reno, Nevada native has pitched in 10 big-league games, including one with the Chicago White Sox last August. Anderson signed with the Texas Rangers last month.

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This past Tuesday, my Twitter timeline included a prompt asking people to reply with their “worst/most problematic baseball takes.” My response was to say that a big reason Grady Little stuck with Pedro Martinez in 2003’s ALCS Game 7 was the ninth inning of the right-hander’s complete game against the Angels in early August, and that Little’s fateful decision in the ALCS wasn’t totally unreasonable.

How much earlier Little should have lifted Martinez — the best pitcher of his generation — and brought in either Alan Embree (a lefty with reverse splits) or Mike Timlin is a question that can be debated until the cows come home. While the non-move proved cataclysmic, it’s not as though Little had Mariano Rivera warming up in the bullpen.

As for a game in August having been a catalyst for what happened in October, that’s something I’ve always wanted to ask Little about. If it wasn’t in the forefront of his mind, it certainly was in the back of his mind. Here is what happened.

The Red Sox led the Angels 4-1 in the top of the ninth inning, and Pedro needed just one more out. With his pitch count north of 100, he gave up a line-drive single that plated a second Anaheim run. He then gave up a ringing double. Next came a HBP to load the bases. Tim Salmon, who had a pair of hits on the night, proceeded to stride to the plate as Red Sox fans squirmed in their seats. Little remained perched in the dugout, trusting his ace to the end.

Pedro held up his end of the deal, fanning Salmon with his 128th pitch of the outing. In the process, he quite likely influenced a decision that will forever live in infamy. As history shows, Pedro’s 123rd and final pitch on October 16, 2003 resulted not in a K, but rather as a harbinger to heartbreak.

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Another Tweet that crossed my timeline strongly suggested that Rick Porcello shouldn’t have won the American League Cy Young Award in 2016. Most people who responded agreed, with some opining that Porcello should have finished no higher than third or fourth. Justin Verlander was the top choice of said responders.

Here are some numbers from that year’s top candidates (including won-lost records, as they likely influenced at least some of the BBWAA voters):

WAR: Verlander 5.4, Sale 5.3, Porcello 5.1, Kluber 4.9.

IP: Verlander 227.2, Sale 226.2, Porcello 223, Kluber 215.

ERA: Verlander 3.04, Kluber 3.14, Porcello 3.16, Sale 3.34.

FIP: Kluber 3.26, Porcello 3.40, Sale 3.46, Verlander 3.48.

SO/W: Porcello 5.91, Sale 5.18, Verlander 4.46, Kluber 3.98.

W/L: Porcello 22-4, Kluber 18-9, Sale 17-10, Verlander 16-9.

Was Verlander, or perhaps one of the others, more deserving than Porcello? Quite possibly, but the margins in most all of these categories are pretty narrow. No one pitcher — not even Verlander — was far and away the cream of the crop.

And then there was Zack Britton, who finished fourth in the official voting. The Orioles closer threw 67 innings over 69 relief appearances, and had 47 saves, an 0.54 ERA, a 1.94 FIP, and a league-best 6.33 WPA. In my opinion, he’s the one who should have gotten the award. Britton’s dominance was unmatched by any pitcher in the league that season.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince wrote about left-handed-throwing catchers, including former Pittsburgh Pirate Benny Distefano.

Yogi Berra is being honored with a United States Postal Service stamp, and Emma Baccellieri wrote about it at Sports Illustrated.

Lookout Landing’s Amanda Lee shared the story of Lanny Moss, who became professional baseball’s first female general manager with the Northwest League’s Portland Mavericks in 1974.

Russell Eassom delved into the psychology of the infield shift at Bat Flips and Nerds.

Ji-Man Choi spoke to members of the South Korea media this week. Jeeho Yoo reported on it for the Yonhap News Agency.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Dave Parker stole 154 bases and was caught 113 times.
Chase Utley stole 154 bases and was caught 22 times.

Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn was a switch-hitter. He batted .212 with a .276 OBP left-handed, and .211 with a .277 OBP right-handed. He batted .215 in home games, and 214 in road games.

Duke Snider hit 19 home runs off Robin Roberts, the most for any hitter against any one pitcher.

Sandy Koufax faced 1,274 batters while throwing 322 innings in 1966. None of them reached on a HBP.

Eight players in the post-integration era have finished their careers with a .299 career batting average: Carl Furillo (one hit short of .300), Bake McBride (two hits), Rico Carty (two hits), Dustin Pedroia (two hits), Shane Mack (three hits), Kenny Lofton (four hits), Matt Holliday (four hits), Dante Bichette (six hits). Per @jamesmyth621

Lefty O’Doul slashed .391/.460/.614, with 54 home runs and 40 strikeouts in 1,338 plate appearances, in his two seasons (1929-1930) with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Detroit Tigers signed Magglio Ordonez to a free-agent contract on today’s date in 2005. Ordonez went on to hit .363 in 2007, becoming the first Tiger to win a batting title since Norm Cash hit .361 in 1961.

Players born on today’s date include Spike Shannon, who scored a National League-best 104 runs in 1907. The New York Giants outfielder had 33 RBIs, the same total he had in 1908 when he scored 44 runs





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Josh
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Josh

Kenny Lofton and Lance Berkman are in my personal HoF!

Ozuna seems to have the right approach; as a Nats fan, I’ll always be glad he was in LF for the deciding game vs the Cards in 2019. Count me among those who think he’s bad at defense. However, he’s a magnificent hitter at times — including all of last year — and I hope he can continue to rake for the glory of all mankind in 2021. He’s fun to watch at the plate.