Angels Garrett Richards: Time to believe in the former ace?

Garrett Richards’ last two seasons have been riddled with injuries. But, could the Angels’ former ace be considered a fantasy asset again in 2018?

There are some players that seemingly can not escape the injury bug. Garrett Richards is one, as since 2014 he has only been able to make 44 starts for the Angels due to a myriad of issues. In 2014, he blew out his knee in a freak incident, in 2016 he decided against TJ surgery in order for alternative treatment, and last season, a bicep nerve issue cost him nearly the whole year.

Yet, could Richards be a steal for fantasy owners this spring?

Looking at 2017, Richards 2.28 ERA over 27 innings looks solid considering he battled another arm issue. Even though he lasted no longer than six innings in any start in 2017, fantasy owners were more interested in what his stuff looked like compared to the results.

After fighting through elbow and bicep issues, Richards’ stuff looked sharp. Now heading into 2018, Richards appears to be as healthy as he has been in years. He avoided any issues this offseason, offering him a clean slate this spring.

Coming off his bicep nerve irritation, Richards’ fastball sat at an average of 96 mph last season. His slider clocked in at an average of 90 mph, the highest of his career as well.

In terms of velocity, Richards looked back to form. The next sign owners wanted to see was how good his command would be. It was a small sample size, yet Richards’ posted a 60% first strike rate, the highest of his career, and his 7% BB rate was the lowest of his career as well.

While these may seem like fleeting numbers to hang on considering they came in 27 innings, owners must keep in mind that these rates spoke to just how good Richards is when healthy. That is a big ‘if”, but an “if” fantasy owners cannot ignore either.

Continuing the narrative that Richards is healthy and raring to go, he has been one of the best pitchers this spring. He has thrown the third most innings out of any pitcher this spring and has posted a 2.00 ERA /12 K/2 BB line over nine innings. His fastball has topped out at 98 mph, and he has seemingly made it a point to hammer hitters with his curve.

Richards’ fastball and two-seamer both play well, even if the four-seam offering does flatten out some. It has been odd, Richards’ himself attributed some his elbow woes to his move in 2016 to his changeup usage, that he would not utilize his curve more in the past.

His curveball usage climbed to a career-high 9% in 2017. He scrapped the change-up, now featuring a fastball/two-seamer/curve/slider mix. Richards’ slider continues to be a wipeout pitch, generating a 20% Whiff rate.

Richards’ threw most of his innings last season in Sep., and what we saw that month was him moving to the curveball at great success. He forced batters to Whiff at the pitch at a 13% rate, easily being the second best pitch is his arsenal.

Now that Richards’ has realized that his curveball should be the secondary pitch he goes to in order to steal strikes or put away hitters, it adds a weapon to his already daunting arsenal. His delivery still makes him one of the toughest at-bats in the league, so any new wrinkle is scary for opposing hitters.

The Angels’ need Richards’ to be their ace again, and spearhead a team that is looking to make noise this season in the AL. Currently, fantasy owners are still rightfully cautious about targeting him, as he is being targeted as the 50th starter off the board and near the 172 overall mark.

Pitchers being taken over him are the likes of Chase Anderson, Dylan Bundy, Drew Pomeranz, Danny Duffy, and Jeff Samardzija. Clearly, Richards has the most upside out of that bunch, and even with the injuries, he is one of the few starters being drafted in that range that offers top-20 SP type of ceiling.

With a healthy offseason, two years removed from his elbow ailment, and a subtle tweak to his arsenal, Richards all of a sudden looks the part of a potential ace again. If he avoids any flare-ups the next couple of weeks, he is easily one of the steals of the draft at his current ADP.