It doesn’t take a statistical expert to recognize that Garrett Richards has been an outstanding starting pitcher this season. He’s been great by the numbers that everyone knows, and he’s been great by the numbers that fewer people know, and when all the indicators agree, there’s no doubting the conclusion. Garrett Richards has been awesome. And it doesn’t take a medical expert to recognize that Garrett Richards’ 2014 season is in jeopardy after the events of Wednesday night. Here’s a video that you can elect to not watch:
As I write this, there isn’t a timetable. Maybe Richards is going to turn out to be one of the lucky ones. But there’s a little over a month remaining in the regular season, and then there’s October, and it sure seems to me like Richards isn’t going to pitch again any time soon. Right now we can’t even be sure about April 2015. Recently, the Angels have started to get talked up as potentially the best team in the major leagues, given that they’ve passed by the A’s. There was a strong argument for that being the case. It’s almost certainly not the case without Garrett Richards.
This post is going to contain an assumption, and that assumption is that Richards is finished. I don’t yet know what happened in his leg, but I feel like it’s probably the sort of thing that’ll take a while to get better. Scheduling posts leaves me vulnerable to looking like an idiot after news gets spread that I couldn’t foresee, but, again, assumptions. So, what’s the effect of this injury? That’s what everyone wants to know about, right?
I opened a tab with our Playoff Odds page before updating the Angels’ depth chart, then I refreshed after replacing Richards in the Angels’ rotation with Wade LeBlanc. Maybe the Angels don’t turn to LeBlanc, but the identity doesn’t really matter — it’s not going to be anyone good. The Angels have a depth problem, being already without Tyler Skaggs, and now that could be exposed. Here now is what happened to the Angels’ projection, on account of Richards’ absence alone:
- Rest of season win%: -0.019
- Division odds: -7.5 percentage points
- Wild card odds: +6.8
- Playoff odds: -0.7
- Division series odds: -4.4
- Win ALDS odds: -5.7
- Win ALCS odds: -4.8
- Win WS odds: -3.7
Predictably, everything gets worse. There’s not a whole lot of damage done to the Angels’ overall playoff odds, because they already have built up such a significant lead, but they lose a step in the division, making it more likely they’re eliminated before the ALDS in a one-game playoff. And then their odds get worse in each series, as well, because Richards is the best starter they’ve got, and losing him hurts. Maybe you think these changes are too small. I’ll provide you a reason that might be true, and a reason that might not be true.
As far as the former is concerned, the projections are based on a ZiPS/Steamer blend, and for Richards this has been a breakout season. So the projections are going to be a little skeptical, and sure enough, Richards was projected to be worse. The projections foresaw a drop in strikeouts and a gain in home runs, and if you’re a more full believer in Richards’ 2014 improvement, then this is a bigger deal. Not that the Angels are left in a worse place, but they would’ve been dropping from a higher place. If you think Richards is really so good, then you can increase the numbers you see above a little.
Then we can get to the latter. The point here would be the same point as usual: Richards is one player, and one player can mean only so much. The Angels lead baseball in position-player WAR. The Angels are projected to lead baseball in position-player WAR the rest of the way. Richards was one of the most important players on the roster, but his contribution is dwarfed by the collective contribution of the bats and the gloves, and of course, the other starters are decent and the bullpen has been improved. Nothing was totally hanging on Richards’ health. The Angels remain a legitimate World Series contender, because they’re able to hit the crap out of the ball.
But still, given the Angels’ lack of organizational depth, it’s hard to imagine a more devastating pitching injury. Not that Richards was the best pitcher in baseball, but he was among them, and the Angels are poorly equipped to deal with his absence. Jered Weaver remains both adequate and declining. The team’s fighting to get C.J. Wilson to throw 60% strikes. Matt Shoemaker‘s running some sexy strikeout-to-walk numbers, but he has a long-standing dinger problem. Before I removed Richards from the Angels’ depth chart, they projected to have baseball’s No. 16 starting rotation the rest of the way. After I removed Richards, they dropped to No. 30. I don’t know if the Angels truly have the worst rotation in the majors, now, but they’re suddenly in the argument, which is what happens when you lose a bonafide flame-throwing ace.
The Tigers would be hurt if they lost David Price, but they at least have Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and an eventually-returning Anibal Sanchez. The A’s have plenty of rotation depth, and behind Felix Hernandez the Mariners have Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Young, and an assortment of young skill. The Orioles could survive any pitching injury because none of their pitchers are really all that good. In the other league, there are similar stories, and even in the awful event of Clayton Kershaw going down, the Dodgers do have other starters they could put together to form a legitimate postseason rotation. The Angels now are going to be left scrambling, which brings us to perhaps the silver lining.
If nothing else, at least, this happened while the front office can still modify the postseason roster. So the Angels don’t necessarily have to run with LeBlanc or Randy Wolf or Chris Volstad or whoever — they could conceivably get in the mix for Bartolo Colon, should the Mets place him on waivers. They could conceivably get in the mix for A.J. Burnett, or a handful of other options. Good pitchers aren’t out there, since good pitchers on reasonable contracts don’t make it through waivers, but even decent could be an upgrade, both now and potentially in October. The front office has time to evaluate its options, and the Angels’ lead in the playoff race allows for there to be a little less sense of urgency.
But while there are going to be options, none of those options are going to resemble Garrett Richards. Entering Wednesday, the Angels might’ve been the best team in baseball. Now they’re presumably down their staff ace, and it’s too late to get meaningfully better. With one wrong step in the vicinity of first base, the Angels lost a few percentage points of World Series odds. That might not sound all that significant, but that’s not because it’s not significant. It’s because it’s hard to have a bigger impact on those odds in the last stretch of August.
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