Checking in on J.R. Richard

RichardAccording to this interesting Bugs and Cranks interview of former Stros fireballer J.R. Richard, the 6′ 8" righthander is still holding some grudges against the local ballclub:

Five Astros pitchers have had their numbers retired, including two, Nolan Ryan and Don Wilson, who won fewer games with Houston than you did. Why isn’t your number 50 retired at Minute Maid Park?

That question I cannot answer. I do not have anything to do with that. Really, the same question has often been offered at me — why? But I cannot ask myself too many questions about that, I don’t try to seek the answers, because at this time, I really don’t know. And I have a lot of people, everywhere I go asking me the same question — why? And I have no answer.

Richard’s career was tragically cut short by the stroke he suffered at the age of 30, and it is well-chronicled that the Stros management at the time did a poor job of arranging for a proper diagnosis of Richard’s condition that might have prevented the stroke. That led Richard to undertake some questionable treatment on his own, including a trip to a chiropractor on the day he suffered the stroke.

However, as good as Richard was from the age of 26 to 30, he was not as good as current Stros ace, Roy Oswalt. In those five seasons, Richard saved a total of 73 more runs than an average National League pitcher would have saved pitching the same number of runs as Richard pitched (Runs Saved Against Average — "RSAA"). In his seasons from age 26-30, Roy O’s RSAA was almost 137, almost twice that of Richard’s.

Interestingly, Nolan Ryan, who was Richard’s teammate at the time of Richard’s stroke, had an RSAA for the same period in his career of 77, just slightly better than Richard’s.

The career statistics or Richard, Oswalt and Ryan are below, courtesy of Lee Sinins‘ sabermetric Complete Baseball Encyclopedia. The abbreviations for the pitching stats are here:

J.R. Richard Stats

2 thoughts on “Checking in on J.R. Richard

  1. I haven’t tooled around with oddball pitching stats before. How does RSAA compare in different eras?
    Even if it’s not uniform over time and the HR-happy modern era produces more runs for Oswalt to “save” than it would have in JR’s era of ginormous outfields, I suspect that wouldn’t account for the full difference. But it’s hard to see Oswalt (good as he certainly is) as being about twice as effective as JR.

  2. Greg, the post that is hyperlinked on Roy O’s name in the above post provides an explanation of RSAA.
    It’s arguably the best stat to compare pitchers across different eras because it compares the pitcher to an average pitcher in his era. So, what it really tells us is that Oswalt has been substantially better than the average pitcher in his era than Richard was in his.
    Now, average pitchers in Richard’s era may have been better than average pitchers in Oswalt’s. Also, a run was worth more in the relatively poor-hitting Richard era in comparison to the hitting-heavy Oswalt era. Finally, starters in Richard’s era generally toiled longer than starters these days — take a gander at Richard’s IP’s during his last five seasons. Whoa!
    Having said all that, Oswalt’s combination of command and power makes him superior to Richard, IMHO. Richard was an extraordinary power pitcher, but his command was iffy until his last several seasons.

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