Alec Dopp is a scouting intern with Perfect Game USA and also covers the Milwaukee Brewers’ minor league system for Brew Crew Ball. A senior at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in the fall, @alecdopp is his Twitter handle.
Garrett Richards has been efficient beyond what most probably would have expected in his first full-time stint in Los Angeles’ rotation, owning a 2.79 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 24.6% strikeout rate and .544 opponent OPS to this juncture in the season after generating corresponding marks of 4.16, 1.35, 16.3% and .699 between the ‘pen and rotation last year.
Those numbers have been amplified considerably in the month of June, as the 6-foot-3 power-armed right hander has authored a 0.67 ERA (lowest in baseball), 0.82 WHIP (fifth-lowest in the American League), 28% strikeout rate (seventh-lowest in AL) and mind-boggling .417 OPS (lowest in AL) over four starts, with an outing against Minnesota on his itinerary for Wednesday night.
The biggest reason behind Richards’ June dominance? His two-seam and four-seam fastballs — offerings that opposing hitters just can’t seem to square up with any amount of consistency due to a few key factors.
Attacking Inside, Less “Keepaway”
From opening day through the end of May, Richards played ‘keepaway’ with his fastballs — locating 60.9% of his heaters to the outer-third of the zone (third-highest among qualified pitchers in that span). Opponents posted a .318 weighted on base average against his heat in that time, which was only slightly better than the .325 wOBA league average mark.
But this month, a much lesser 50.2% of Richards’ heaters have been located at the outer third of the zone, with 28.9% placed on the inner-third. While that 28.9% is still lower than league-average (30.4%), it has been enough to bring massive results; opponents have posted a feeble wOBA of .184 against his fastball this month (lowest in the American League) despite him locating 49.4% of his heaters in the strike zone compared to only 41.5% prior.
Aside from his changing approach in the strike zone, here are a few more tidbits worth noting:
- Richards’ primary fastball from April to May was his sinker, using it at a 38.9% clip, compared to his four-seam, which he tossed 31.5% of the time. This month, his four-seam accounts for 40.7% of his total arsenal with his sinker just 19.6%.
- He’s dialed his four-seamer up to 97.22 MPH this month, a substantial increase from the 96.76 MPH average velocity it logged on the radar gun from April through the end of May.
- Opponents’ hard-hit average (WHAV) against Richards’ fastballs this month is .060, which is the lowest mark in baseball (min. 200 fastballs). That number was .160 in each of the two months prior — much more toward the league-average .218 WHAV against fastballs this season.
- Batters have fouled off 48.2% of the fastballs they’ve swung at against Richards, a considerable increase from the 35.1% foul rate they compiled from April through May. What’s more, they’re chasing 37% of Richards’ heaters this month (fourth-highest in baseball) compared to 30.2% prior.
Whether or not Richards can baffle hitters inside with his fastballs for a prolonged period of time remains to be seen, but so far this month, it’s producing results.
*Sinker and four-seam velocity data courtesy of Brooks Baseball