After pitching well in his Chicago Cubs debut, Clayton Richard will likely be given a chance to prove he is a legitimate starting option moving forward.
Clayton Richard, the Chicago Cubs’ newest acquisition, gave up just two runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings work in the team’s 7-2 win over the Miami Marlins Saturday night.
Richard brings much-needed help to a rotation that lacked quality depth. Can he help keep this starting rotation afloat until the Cubs go shopping for pitching either ahead of the trade deadline or next offseason?
Richard, 31, had an upward mobility clause in his contract when he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates last offseason.When he exercised this clause, the club either had to promote him to their Major League roster or if not trade him to a team that would.
Opposing teams had a 72-hour window starting last Tuesday to negotiate trade agreements with the Pirates for Richard.
Co-editor Jacob Misener noted the clause in a piece he worked on last Wednesday, saying that Richard looked like the low-risk, high-upside arm the team had acquired in the past; and on Friday, the Cubs did just that.
Chicago acquired Richard from Pittsburgh in exchange for cash. After the deal was made public, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told Tom Singer of MLB.com that trading Richard was a tough call to make:
"It was a challenging decision. We really like Clayton a lot, and we feel he can and will help a Major League team. [When] he exercised the clause, the Cubs called, and we could have called him up but opted to stay with the club that we have."
The Pirates wanted to keep Richard because they recognized his potential. However, a loaded starting rotation prevented them from giving him a spot in the Majors, thus forcing their hand in the trade.
In a corresponding move, the Chicago Cubs sent Donn Roach down to Triple-A Iowa to make room on their roster for Richard.
Roach struggled in his Chicago Cubs debut, lasting only 3 1/3 innings, after allowing four runs on eight hits in a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium last weekend.
Saturday’s win marked Richard’s first big league action since 2013 – after he underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in Feb. 2014.
Last December, the Bucs signed Richard to a minor-league deal as he continued to work his way back from the surgery. This spring, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he focused heavily on his mechanics.
"My last start [in spring training] was one of the first I didn’t think about mechanics. That was nice. I got over the hurdle of worrying about what I’m doing on the rubber and gotten to the point where I can just really focus on executing the pitches."
Working on taking some of the stress off his surgically-repaired left shoulder, Richard said he felt that he could contribute at the Major League level, also noting he would start or pitch in relief if need be.
"I’ve never really felt like I wasn’t ready [for the majors], but I’ve gotten to the point where I think I could have a bad day and still be serviceable. At the beginning of this process, I needed to have my stuff and be throwing well to be effective."
After making nine starts with Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate this season, Richard boasts a 4-2 record with a 2.09 earned run average.
Granted, Richard is a nice addition to this roster for the time being.
That being said, he will likely serve the Cubs more as a rotational filler and potential trade piece than a long-term option in the starting rotation.
Richard is never going to overpower opposing hitters. Scouting reports indicate that he regularly sits in the low-90s with his fastball, mixing in his off-speed stuff as needed.
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According to Fangraphs, almost 50 percent of contact off Richard is of the ground ball variety. Further illustrating his lack of overpowering pitches, Baseball Info & Solutions (as cited on the Fangraphs’ website) categorized 85 percent of contact off of Richard as medium or hard.
As demonstrated above, the veteran southpaw’s pitching pedigree lacks the upside to catapult him to a top-end rotation spot on this pitching staff.
However, he has the ability to hold down the back-end of the staff, and will serve as a much-needed addition with Tsuyoshi Wada‘s recent injury – at least until the team makes a move to acquire more arms.
At 31 and with two major shoulder surgeries to his name, there are plenty of questions surrounding Richard.
In a best case scenario, he will either pitch well enough to garner trade value or continue to solidify himself as a valuable asset in the back-end of this pitching rotation.
While the Chicago Cubs are unlikely to offer him a long-term contract following this season, in the short-term he can help this team win – and that’s what it’s all about.