Woods Richardson Can Take the Next Step By Following A Unique Blueprint

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Simeon Woods Richardson has performed admirably for a Minnesota Twins team that was counting on some combination of Anthony DeSclafani, Louie Varland, and Chris Paddack to bolster the back end of the rotation. DeSclafani is out for the season, Varland has spent time in Triple-A, and Paddack has a 5.25 ERA.

Although he was once a highly coveted prospect, few people expected Woods Richardson to produce the way he has this season. He had minimal MLB exposure and has struggled with fastball velocity. But Woods Richardson has pitched well for Minnesota (3.29 ERA in 54.2 innings) and become a potential staple in the rotation. He could follow Bailey Ober’s footsteps on a larger scale career path and in the way he pitches.

Ober is an almost perfect example of the high fastball-low offspeed archetype. Although he stands at 6’9”, he releases the ball much lower than hitters are used to seeing. Ober’s low release helps him miss bats despite throwing a heavy concentration of four-seamers at the top of the zone. Ober also mixes in a changeup, slider, and cutter out of the same four-seam tunnel, forcing even more whiffs or poor contact.

Woods Richardson doesn’t release the ball low like Ober, but his four-seamer is perfect for executing the same strategy. It’s akin to Justin Verlander’s four-seamer, and the two of them share similar arm actions and release points.

Verlander releases the ball much higher (6.9 feet vs 6.2) than Woods Richardson, but they share many other similarities, like pitch shapes. Jeremy Maschino’s MLBPitchProfiler describes each pitch the same way. He has deemed Verlander and Woods Richardson’s four-seamers as risers, reclassifying their sliders as cutters, changeups as changeups, and curveballs as big curves.

This simple reclassification based on pitch shape doesn’t mean Woods Richardson will post 300-strikeout seasons like Verlander anytime soon. Still, it’s helpful in understanding who he could emulate as he grows more comfortable in the big leagues.

To reach Verlander-type levels, Woods Richardson could elevate his four-seamer even more. Elevating a four-seamer is rarely bad unless a pitcher does it so often that it becomes predictable. With three solid secondary pitches, Woods Richardson could afford to build his approach around high four-seamers. He’s only thrown his four-seamers high 50.8% of the time (50th percentile per PitcherList). Verlander is much higher at 64.3% (88th percentile).

Woods Richardson’s changeup hasn’t performed well yet, but it grades out well in Maschino’s expected whiff metric (xWhiff+). The pitch has more horizontal break than average, which pairs well with his rising four-seamer and is about 10 mph slower than his four-seamer. He could stand to locate it lower. It has just a 45th percentile low location (loLoc) percentage. Still, it has all the traits of a high whiff changeup.

Woods Richardson’s backspin bias and ability to “stay behind the ball” might make it difficult to kill backspin on his changeup, leading to more floating changeups – and a worse loLoc%. Nevertheless, its 8.3% swinging strike rate (22nd percentile) is bound to improve soon.

With a theoretically dominant fastball-changeup duo, Woods Richardson’s slider and curveball become bonuses. He throws his slider 86.8 mph on average, which is important considering velocity’s relationship to a slider’s called strike plus swinging strike (CSW) rate. His curveball is slow, he throws it just over 75 mph (10th percentile), but has worked well as a called strike pitch.

Woods Richardson’s pitch mix has the necessary traits for success: a four-seamer to throw high and build around, a changeup to get whiffs, a slider to throw against righties, and a curveball to mix in for called strikes.

In the future, he could evolve to include other hard contact-limiting pitches, like a cutter and a sinker. Ober did so this season with a brand-new cutter. However, Ober has also had issues replicating the same swinging strike success he’s always had with his four-seamer.

For now, Woods Richardson will hopefully be able to hone his craft with Minnesota for the rest of the season. Varland may pitch his way back up to the major league level soon, but Woods Richardson’s current success and future possibilities warrant a foothold in the 2024 rotation.

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