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Garrett Richards needs an extension yesterday

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Good things come to those who wait, except for when they don’t.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Due to assorted DL stints, underperformances, and other setbacks, it feels like we haven’t seen too terribly much of Garrett Richards as of late. That’s probably because we haven’t. With only 62.1 innings pitched since the start of 2016, it is not for no reason that some might have begun to associate the name with “injury-prone.” Couple that with the appearance of leverage on the owners’ end thanks to a terribly slow offseason, and it is understandable that people might want to take a wait-and-see approach to the question of whether or not to extend Garrett Richards.

It is likely that this would be a mistake in this case. Garrett looks primed for a strong bounce-back campaign in 2018, followed by a new norm of dominance.

Probably the most memorable part of 2014’s Richards run was the insanely low amount of hard contact that Richards allowed.

Garrett Richards and Hard Contact Limitation in 2014

Peripheral Statistic Richards '14 League Average Ranking Among Qualified SPs
Peripheral Statistic Richards '14 League Average Ranking Among Qualified SPs
Hard% 20.20% 29.10% 2
HR/9 0.27 0.86 1
HR/FB 3.90% 9.50% 1
SLG Against 0.261 0.386 1
Statistics Courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs

Barely qualifying in 2014, Richards ended with one of the single most impressive seasons in Angels history. It often goes off by the wayside due to the subsequent story of Shoemaker who rose to the occasion and saved the team. However, Richards was a force that year.

Small sample size be darned, there is reason for optimism from 2017 that that year was not a fluke. Here are the same four peripherals in a very small number of innings last season.

Garrett Richards and Hard Contact Limitation in 2017

Peripheral Statistic Richards '17 League Average
Peripheral Statistic Richards '17 League Average
Hard% 27% 31.80%
HR/9 0.33 1.27
HR/FB 4.80% 13.70%
SLG Against 0.260 0.426

Once again, this is in only a few weeks’ worth of games. But it is striking how similar his numbers are over 3 years after posting his career season. It is no surprise then that the actual pitching slashes are nearly identical. According to Fangraphs, ERA/FIP/xFIP had Richards with a 2.61/2.60/3.15 slash in 2014 and a 2.28/2.43/3.32 in 2017. Due to the differences in offensive performance between the two years league-wide, the short performance of the latter year would actually be deemed more impressive and even prime Pedro-Martinez-like. His ERA+ was 138 in 2014, but thanks to the juiced ball, a 2.28 would give Richards a 187 ERA+. That means that he would be 87% better than average. That’s slightly above where Trout hangs out relative to average hitters.

Despite turning 30 soon, Richards has also maintained velocity rather well, especially for a player recovering from stem cell injections and who has missed more than a season and a half due to injury. His average fastball velocity is still 96.1 MPH (higher than 2011 through 2013) and his slider velocity is higher than ever (89.4 MPH). His curve and sinker are right in line with his career norms. This bodes well for those who are concerned about how much time he has left before he begins to wear down.

So what does this have to do with the price of tea in China?

The numbers point to a performance that will mean a big payday for Garrett Richards following this next season. If he puts up numbers anywhere remotely close across an entire season to the ones I listed above, he will command a free agency in which he is one of the top 3 or 4 pitchers available. This during a time in which top performers are practically falling off the shelves! Right now, his price is at an all-time low due to injury and a small amount of playing time.

It doesn’t matter if the owners have learned to wait out the players. It’s especially going to hurt if the players retaliate to earn further compensation. It would be very wise for Eppler/Moreno/Co. to bring the good will now and extend Richards for 2-3 years while his value is at its best. If they wait until mid-season, the price is only going to rise. If they wait until free agency, they miss an opportunity to seal a potential ace through Trout’s prime.

Garrett Richards is going to bounce back and he will probably be a perennial contender for the AL Cy Young for several years. I would rather he spend that time here at a moderate discount.