Now that Andy Pettitte has made his retirement official, the Yankees are going to be linked with starting pitcher free agents and trade targets from now until conceivably the end of August. For rumor-junkies this is the only pleasant thing about the Yankee rotation being the baseball version of Two and a Half Men. On Friday morning, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Yankees had considered a bevy of left-handed trade targets. The list ranged from ugly (Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir) to mildly intriguing (Wade LeBlanc, Clayton Richard and Gio Gonzalez). We’ll start with Richard.
Clayton Richard was an eighth-round pick by the White Sox in the 2005 draft. After spending a half-season in A ball he spent his first full season in 2006 by splitting time between Low A and High A. The results were modest: he threw 119 innings of 3.85 ERA ball with a low strikeout rate (5.0/9) and an average walk rate (2.6/9). The most interesting aspect to his 06 season was how hittable he was, as he yielded over 11 hits per nine innings. In 2007 he repeated his season in High A ball. He lowered his ERA slightly to 3.63 and his hit rate to 8.9/9. However, his strikeout rate stayed stuck in the Joe Saunders zone (5.0/9) and his walk rate actually got worse, rising to 3.3/9. The best takeaway from the season was his high innings total, 161.1 innings.
In 2008 Richard was promoted to AA and responded positively. The best sign was improved control, and as he lowered his rate to 1.7 BB/9. His hit rate again dropped, but this might be related to an unusually low BABIP of .238. Richard was promoted midseason to AAA and found the environment to his liking. Here he was able to drop his walk rate again, to a microscopic 0.8 BB/9, while while bumping his strikeout rate to 6.8/9. It was a small sample (44 innings), and Richard was 24 years old at the time, but his 2.45 ERA and 8.25 K/BB ratio were impressive nonetheless.
The White Sox promoted Richard to the major league team in 2008 and the results were very similar to his 2006 season in A ball: very hittable (11.5 H/9) with modest peripherals (5.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9). Richard appeared three times in relief and started eight times, and ended the year with an ERA of 6.04 and a FIP of 4.07. Richard only pitched 15 innings more than he had in 2007, but it’s still at least possible that he was fatigued after a long season.
2009 represented Richard’s first full-season major league debut, with mixed results. He began the season pitching out the bullpen for the White Sox. He totaled 16 innings in 12 appearances, striking out 10 and walking 5, good for a 4.41 FIP. On May 12 he transitioned to the rotation and got pretty similar results: 72 innings of 4.73 ERA ball, a 6.99 K/9 and a 3.99 BB/9. Richard was then traded to the Padres as a part of the Jake Peavy deal, and found the confines of Petco Park to be a bit more hospitable. He pitched 64 innings of 4.08 ERA ball with 48 strikeouts and 38 walks. If you remove two blowups on August 27 against the Braves and September 7 against the Giants (combined 6.1 innings and 12 ER), the numbers are even better: 65.1 innings of 3.58 ERA ball with a 6.5 K/9 and a 5.2 BB/9. It’s worth noting though that the lion’s share of these starts came in September, meaning that the opposing lineups may not have been their strongest. It also shows that even when getting decent results, Richard was still struggling with control. His walk rate was simply too high.
Richard entered 2010 with a spot in the rotation for the rebuilding San Diego Padres. By conventional measures his season was a success: he went 14-9 with a 3.75 ERA. There were plenty of positive signs about Richard’s year: he pitched over 200 innings for the first time in his career, and he managed to keep his strikeout rate relatively high by his standards (6.8) while attempting to keep the walks at bay (3.5 BB/9). His year was worth 2.3 fWAR to the Padres.
Richard is a big lefty, standing in a 6’5″ and 240 pounds. He generates a decent amount of groundballs but it would be inaccurate to describe him as a groundball artist. He features a fastball in the low-90s and leans on it heavily, mixing in sliders and changeups as his two complementary offspeed pitches and occasionally dropping a show-me curveball. Richard used to pitch with a low 3/4 arm angle when he was with the White Sox. At some point he altered it and now pitches more over the top, but it’s difficult to locate some hard information on when exactly he made the change, which would enable us to track whether the alteration resulted in an improvement in results. For what it’s worth, Keith Law was more bullish on Richard now that he made the change.
All said, Richard’s greatest asset isn’t the fact that he throws left-handed, gets a fair amount of groundballs and has an acceptable K/BB ratio. His greatest asset is his cost. Richard will make a little over $420,000 in 2011, and should see a bump into the $1-2M range in 2012, meaning that he won’t be “expensive” for the Padres until 2013 at the earliest. For this reason, it seems unlikely that San Diego would be interested in moving him. The Padres are in the midst of rebuilding, having dealt Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox for Pedro Clemens and other prospects, kicking the contention can down the road several years. If they were to deal Richard now they’d probably be looking for prospects who could make an impact in 2012 or 2013.
The easiest matches for the Yankees in the trade market are going to be with teams looking to cut cost. While Richard would be useful as a back of the rotation option for the Yankees, he has good value to the Padres for the next three years. A match between the two teams seems unlikely. Richard might be attractive if the Padres were giving him away in a salary dump, but the idea of giving up decent prospects in return for him is simply unappealing. Now if the Padres want to discuss Mat Latos, that’s a different story.