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I'm Crazy, So What's the Fuss?: What to Expect from Scott Richmond in 2010

For someone who had pitched for the Edmonton Cracker Cats as recently as 2007, Scott Richmond put together a pretty nice season in 2009, in spite of his 8-11 record and 5.52 ERA.  Over 24 starts and three relief appearances, Richmond pitched 138 2/3 innings and struck out 117 (7.6 K/9), while doing a fair job of limiting his walks to 59 (3.8 BB/9).  If Richmond were a groundball pitcher, those peripherals would suggest he was a good -- if not very good -- one, but unfortunately Richmond induced grounders barely one third of the time (33.6%) last season.  To make matters worse, hitters weren't just hitting it high, they were hitting it far, as Richmond yielded 27 homeruns (1.75 HR/9).  He was likely the recipient of some bad luck (14.3% HR/Fly), but even if that luck evened out, he'd still be giving up a lot of dingers.

He actually had a very strong season through August (8.2 K/9; 3.3 BB/9; 1.44 HR/9; 39.2 GB% over 106 1/3 IP) before having an absolutely horrendous finish (5.6 K/9; 5.6 BB/9; 2.8 HR/9; 29.2 GB% over 32 1/3 IP) in September and October.  Richmond did have three excellent starts in August after returning from a stint on the DL with shoulder tendinitis, so I wonder if he had been a bit overworked by September.  Although the 147 1/3 combined (minors + majors) innings he logged were not significantly more than he'd pitched in 2007 with the Cracker Cats (145 2/3) or in 2008 between the Fisher Cats, Sky Chiefs and Jays (164 2/3), major league innings are more taxing than minor or independent league ones, so it is certainly possible that he was worn out.  Skeptics might argue, of course, that it's possible that it just took American League batters a few months to catch onto what Richmond was throwing.

So what can we expect from Richmond going forward?  At 30 years old, Richmond could hardly be considered a prospect, but that does not mean he does not have at least a few more seasons in him.  Richmond's pre-September 2009 season showed that the Jays could get quite a bit of value at very low cost from him over the next few seasons, but his last seven starts suggest that his flirt with excellence will be short-lived.  If he does plan to hang around in the majors, he needs to improve some on his overall performance last season, but if he can pitch like he did over his first 17 starts, he will be fine.  Perhaps because of his late start, people tend to write him off, but at 30 years old and with so few innings on his arm, there is no reason Richmond should be hitting his decline phase yet.  Bill James projects him to improve a bit on his overall strikeout- (to 7.7 K/9), walk- (to 3.29 BB/9) and homerun- (to 1.61) rates in 2010, putting him at an FIP of 5.06, which, though unspectacular, would not preclude him from being at the very least a serviceable major league pitcher.  The realist part of me says that James's prediction is solid, but the optimist in me wants to say he'll be good for 165 innings and 140 strikeouts (7.3 K/9), 60 walks (3.4 BB/9) and 25 HR (1.36 HR/9), an FIP just a little worse than average at 4.56.  An average player at the major league minimum is a good thing to have.