Simeon Woods Richardson's Short Starts Are Okay (For Now)

Photo Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Simeon Woods Richardson has been an underrated contributor to the Minnesota Twins’ success in the last six weeks. Anthony DeSclafani’s season-ending elbow injury and Louie Varland’s early struggles created an opportunity for Woods Richardson to earn his first extended opportunity as a major league starter.

In the 2022 and 2023 seasons, Woods Richardson logged a combined 9.2 innings over two appearances and one start with a 6.52 ERA. A 90.7 MPH average on his fastball over those outings showcased his issues with velocity. Over nine starts in 2024, Woods Richardson has a 3.05 ERA and a .226 opponent batting average while pitching 44.1 innings.

He has increased his average fastball velocity to 93 MPH, and he’s locating his pitches (6.1 percent walk rate), encouraging signs of success. Most importantly, every time Woods Richardson left a start, the Twins were either leading or within two runs of their opponent.

Woods Richardson has offered stability since the Twins called him up, which has been crucial for a starting rotation that badly needed it. In their first 20 games, Minnesota had a 5.29 starting rotation ERA that ranked 28th in baseball. Since April 22, the Twins have a 4.05 team ERA that ranks 13th. It’s been a big enough improvement to contribute to their 26-13 record since April 22.

It’s always exciting for the team and the fanbase to see a young starter pitcher break through and show he can be a consistently productive big league starting pitcher. Woods Richardson is the latest young arm to join the rotation that includes other up-and-coming starters like Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. Except over the last few starts from Woods Richardson, Rocco Baldelli has not allowed Woods Richardson to face the lineup a third time.

Woods Richardson is averaging 4.9 innings/start in 2024. He has never pitched into the seventh inning and has only pitched 6 innings in two starts this season. Also, because an opposing lineup has never fully knocked him around in a start this season, parts of the fanbase are confused as to why Baldelli has such a quick hook with his fifth starter, who has a 3.05 ERA.

It’s not as though Woods Richardson cannot face a lineup for the third time. Opposing hitters have a .209/.294/.342 slash line and only 4 hits allowed when facing Woods Richardson the third time through. At face value, those numbers show that he can face hitters for the third time.

Like limiting Alex Kirilloff or Eduoard Julien against left-handed pitchers, it’s understandable why fans are asking, How are they supposed to learn how to do it if the Twins don’t allow them to do so? It’s an entirely justifiable position. Fans want to see pitchers go deep into games and watch players grow in real-time.

However, looking at his third time through the lineup numbers without context can be misleading because of what happens earlier in his starts. Woods Richardson has good numbers the third time through because the Twins are protecting him and giving him select opportunities to do so with only 18 at-bats against the batting order a third time.

Woods Richardson typically runs into trouble when he has a bad trip the second time through the order. He has a .253/.309/.373 slash line while allowing 19 hits the second time through a lineup. If he runs into trouble in that situation, it makes it tougher for Baldelli to keep him in games.

It also depends on the situation. In his start against the Washington Nationals, the Twins relieved him after pitching 4.2 innings with the top of the lineup coming up for the third time. But that wasn’t the only reason for his departure. It was a one-run game late in the rubber match of a series, and Minnesota had lost 7 of their last 8 games.

In Woods Richardson’s most recent start against the Houston Astros, he gave up two home runs the second time through the order. The Twins pulled him preemptively despite allowing only three runs to that point. Again, it was a close contest in the deciding game of a series, and Woods Richardson had trouble the second time through.

It appears that there’s a batter threshold that Baldelli is limiting Woods Richardson to, rather than an innings limit. He averages 20 batters faced per start, and things get dicey when he goes beyond that number. In the last two starts where Woods Richardson faced more than 20 batters, he allowed 6 earned runs over 9.2 innings pitched. He left both games in jams, and the Twins lost both starts.

According to FanGraphs, the average length for a starting pitcher in 2024 is 5.24 innings per start. Baldelli is being cautious with Woods Richardson’s start lengths. Still, the Twins starting rotation has pitched 217.2 innings since his call-up in late April, fifth-most in baseball.

That could be seen as an indictment on Woods Richardson because he’s the one starter the Twins don’t let go deeper into games. However, it may also mean that Baldelli will let Woods Richardson pitch deeper into games as the season goes on. This is Woods Richardson’s first real stint as a starter in the majors as a 23-year-old. He has plenty of time to grow and become a starter who pitches further into games during his starts. Woods Richardson needs to be more efficient when he’s on the mound, find ways to allow fewer hard-hit balls, and stretch his number of batters faced longer into his starts.

It’s a difficult balance for Woods Richardson because of his underlying numbers. Despite the 3.05 ERA, he has a 4.29 xFIP. His 89.1 MPH average exit velocity is above the league average of 88.5 MPH. While he doesn’t walk many hitters, his 20.1 percent whiff rate is below the 24.8 percent league average. When you don’t throw for high velocity, you need to generate swings and misses like Ryan and Ober to avoid a blowup. Woods Richardson needs to find a way to generate more whiffs and show the Twins that teams aren’t squaring him up before the opposing lineup rolls over for a third time.

Simeon Woods Richardson has proven that he’s a capable back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. There still are some flaws that he needs to work out. As long as he keeps producing at his current clip, Woods Richardson will eventually earn the opportunity to go deeper into games.

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