Perhaps one of the most remarkable parts of the Padres run to the playoffs is the fact that they’ve done it just one season after trading their ace Jake Peavy to the White Sox for four young pitching prospects. Although there was certainly some promise in that package, it was hard to imagine a situation in which the Padres pitching staff – particularly, the starting rotation – didn’t take a hit without the presence of Peavy.
The main driving force behind the San Diego rotation has been young stud Mat Latos. The second was one of the pitchers brought back from Chicago in exchange for Peavy: Clayton Richard. Richard has fit right into PETCO Park, throwing 159 innings with an ERA of 3.55 and a FIP right behind at 3.60. Overall, Richard has already posted 2.3 WAR this season, which compares quite favorably to Peavy’s 2.7 mark in 2008 and his injury limited 1.8 mark in 2009.
Now, Richard is not yet as good a pitcher as Peavy was in his heyday as a Padre. Surely, Peavy was a benefactor of his home park, but still, his K-rates eclipsed one per inning every season from 2004-2007 and again in 2009. Peavy’s walk rates which hovered between 2.5 and 3.1 per nine innings prevented him from posting elite defensive-independent numbers. Particularly in 2008 and 2009, when Peavy’s walk rates settled around 3.0, Peavy fell from elite to merely above average.
Richard simply doesn’t have the strikeout ability that Peavy did, as his K/9 is a career high 7.1 this season. Richard’s walk rate also sits at 3.6, well above any mark that Peavy ever posted in San Diego. But Richard induces far more ground balls – 48% against Peavy’s 42% career mark – and that has helped Richard keep the ball in the yard this season. which is partially due to Petco Park and partially due to a bit of luck, but it’s a big reason why Richard has had so much success this year. As Richard’s luck regresses, he won’t be able to equate Peavy’s results from even his down 2008 and 2009 campaigns, but a 4.13 xFIP suggests that Richard should still be a productive member of the rotation, and at age 26, he has room to grow.
Jake Peavy is set to earn $59 million over the next three seasons. Over that same span, Clayton Richard will make $400 thousand in 2011 and then two arbitration rewards in 2012-13. The updated ZiPS system projects Richard to post a 3.77 FIP against 3.89 from Peavy. For the Padres to get out from under that massive contract while adding a pitcher who can replace the production is just an incredible, incredible find, as Clayton Richard looks to be a key for the Padres franchise both for now and the conceivable future.