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It's Only a Northern Song: Pre-gaming the Battle for the Jays' Rotation, Part 2: Scott Richmond

The Yellow Submarine wasn't the best Beatles record (actually, it was probably the worst), though I did like a couple of songs, particularly It's All Too Much and Hey Bulldog.  Not so much song that loaned today's post its title. 

Anyway, when we last left our rotation picture, we were looking at 2008 casualty Casey Janssen.  Today we'll pick up with one of the players who profitted from the opportunity opened up by injuries to Casey and to other pitchers, Scott Richmond. 

The tireless Jordan Bastian profiled Richmond and though we all know the story, it is a great one and so bears repeating.  The North Vancouver product pitched in amateur leagues after high school and at the same time worked on ships on the docks.  He pitched and scraped for 3 years and went to college -- first Douglas College in New Westminster (BC), then pitched in Moose Jaw in a wood-bat league, where he played well enough to earn a scholarship to play ball at Missouri Valley College, a non-NCAA school in Marshall, Missouri, where he was a 21-year-old freshman. Richmond followed a coach to Bossier Parish College in Bossier City, La., in 2003 and then spent two more seasons pitching for Oklahoma State.  Richmond was not drafted out of college, possibly because of visa problems, and ended up with the Edmonton Cracker Cats, formerly of the Independent Northern League (now of the Golden League, a league made famous because it featured a visiting Japanese team, the Samurai Bears, who played all their games on the road in the U.S.). 

Richmond pitched well for the Cracker Cats, not dominating, but well enough for the Blue Jays to be interested despite his advanced age, and the Jays brought him on in 2007.  Scott was assigned to AA in 2008 where he pitched pretty well for his first taste of AA (the INL was generally somewhere between A and AA), striking out 84 in 89 2/3 innings and walking just 30.  Home Runs were his biggest problem, as he allowed about 1.4 HR per 9 innings.  Richmond also pitched for Syracuse and the Jays in 2008, and acquitted himself quite well at both levels.  In 8 starts at Syracuse, he put up a 40/33 13 K/BB ratio in 48 innings and did better at limiting the dingers and so had a 3.56 ERA.  In 5 starts with Toronto, he didn't strike out as many (though he had a respectable 6.67 K/9 which really is pretty good for a starter's first taste of pro ball) but was extremely stingy with the walks and so ended up with a 10/1 K/BB ratio.  It was a small sample size, but Richmond never put up a stinker in his 5 starts, giving the Jays a decent chance to win each time and always going at least 5 innings.  In his final start against Baltimore, he blanked the O's for 6 innings to bring his ERA down to 4.00.  Surely he can't keep up a 0.67 HR/9, to say nothing of his K/BB ratio, but Richmond has a good track record of limiting the walks while getting a decent amount of strikeouts.  If you'll remember, Richmond was the center of a little controversy when he was called up to the Jays to start just a few weeks before the Beijing Olympics, making him ineligible to pitch for Team Canada. 

Richmond is now 29 and it looks like he pitched well enough last year to have a chance at making the starting rotation, at least until Dustin McGowan has recovered sufficiently from shoulder surgery in 2008 to join the rotation.  Richmond throws a straight but hard 4-seam fastball (94 mph-ish), a 2-seamer with more movement, a tight slider he has to command, a changeup, and a curve he used as more of a "show" pitch in 2008, at least in the majors.  Richmond's slider has more vertical than horizontal movement and if he doesn't command it low in the zone, it's going to get rocked.  That said, he gets good results with the slider and it's probably his best pitch.  If the Jays' bullpen wasn't so deep, I like Richmond's fastball-slider combo as a righty reliever.  Richmond is a tall guy, standing 6'5" and weighing 225 lbs. 

Richmond has such a thin track record in the minors from which to draw that it is hard to say whether he enjoyed flukey success with the Jays in 2008 or whether he is capable of holding down a back-end rotation spot.  Richmond is somewhat making up for his inability to pitch during the Olympics by taking the mound, as Team Canada's ace, in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.  Scott is hoping that the early competition will give him a headstart in his competition for the Jays rotation. 

Ricciardi had some nice things to say about Richmond recently and I can see why the Jays think Scott is capable of holding down a starting job.  It's funny, his numbers have barely changed, other than that blip in home runs with the Jays, between his days with Edmonton and his stint with the Jays last year.  Sure, it's unlikely that someone who was merely holding their own in the Independant Northern League at 27 could be a successful major-league pitcher.  But that same pitcher was also holding his own at AA at 28, then at AAA at 28, then in the majors, for however brief a time, at 28.  Pitchers can't be curved developmentally like hitters so you just don't know.  What do you all expect from the lanky British Columbian? 

Bastian's next article is on Mike Maroth and Matt Clement, a pair of reclamation projects.  I agree with him that the comparison is interesting (in that they have little in common other than recent shoulder woes)  so I think we'll take them up together too.