Baseball Player Won-Loss Records
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J.R. Richard
J.R. Richard as Seen Through Player Won-Lost Records

J.R. Richard was one of the greatest baseball tragedies of my youth.

Richard was the second player taken in the 1969 draft (behind Jeff Burroughs). Two years later, he struck out 15 batters in a complete-game victory in his major-league debut.

Richard was huge - 6'8", Baseball-Reference lists him at 222 lbs, although I saw another reference that listed him at 240 - and threw perhaps the hardest fastball in baseball. For his first few years in the majors, he didn't always know exactly where that hellacious fastball was going: he led the National League in walks three times (1975, 1976, 1978) and in wild pitches three times (1975, 1978, 1979). But he started to put things together at age 26 in 1976, when he won 20 games with an ERA below 3 and his first of four consecutive 200-K seasons. In 1979, J.R. Richard was arguably the best pitcher in major-league baseball: 18-13, MLB-leading 2.71 ERA and 313 strikeouts in 292.1 innings (tied for second in MLB). In the first half of 1980, he was even better. At the All-Star break, he was 10-4, 1.96 ERA, with 115 K in 110.1 IP. He started the All-Star game and pitched two scoreless innings (with 3 strikeouts).

He took himself out of his first start after the All-Star game after 3.1 innings (in which he struck out 4 batters while allowing only 2 baserunners - oh, and hit a double in his only plate appearance against Hall-of-Famer Phil Niekro), "complaining of nausea and numbness in his arm". He went on the disabled list. Soon thereafter, the Astros - and much of the media - became critical of Richard. Unfortunately, the critics were shut up and made to look foolish on July 30, 1980, when J.R. Richard suffered a stroke that nearly killed him and ended his major-league pitching career. The tragedy of J.R. Richard's life continued: at one point, he ended up homeless. From what I can tell, Richard is doing better now - he apparently participated in the Astros Fanfest recently - but still, what a tragic, haunting story. So much potential, lost in an instant.

The first table below presents J.R. Richard's career as measured by Player won-lost records.

J.R. Richard
Basic Player Won-Lost Records
Value Decomposition
Season Team Age Games pWins pLosses pWin Pct. pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWin Pct. eWOPA eWORL
1971HOU21
4
1.41.50.4830.0
0.1
1.41.70.457-0.10.1
1972HOU22
4
0.10.20.382-0.0
-0.0
0.30.70.317-0.2-0.1
1973HOU23
16
4.14.00.5070.2
0.6
4.24.40.4890.10.5
1974HOU24
15
2.83.70.432-0.3
-0.1
3.74.30.463-0.20.2
1975HOU25
33
12.514.50.463-0.5
0.7
12.814.00.478-0.01.1
1976HOU26
39
18.618.70.4980.7
2.2
17.418.30.4880.31.7
1977HOU27
36
17.815.50.5341.9
3.4
17.714.20.5562.54.0
1978HOU28
37
17.015.50.5221.4
2.7
17.616.20.5201.42.8
1979HOU29
38
20.215.90.5603.1
4.5
18.115.00.5482.43.7
1980HOU30
17
9.45.50.6312.3
2.9
7.34.60.6141.72.1
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
CAREER (reg. season)
239
103.995.10.5228.8
17.1
100.693.20.5197.916.0
------ ------ ------ ------ ------
PostSeason (career)
0
0.00.0 0.00.00.0 0.0
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
COMBINED
239
103.995.10.522
17.1
100.693.20.519 16.0


Most Similar Players: Ages 26-29
J.R. Richard was pretty wild as a young pitcher. It took him several years to get his walks under control and to really start to be able to take advantage of his phenomenal stuff.

As I noted above and as is, I think, fairly evident in the above table, Richard took a clear step forward in his age-26 season, 1976 - from below-average to above-average. He then took another step forward, to very good, if not great, the next season, in 1977.

J.R. Richard's last full season was at age 29, in 1979, when, as I noted above, he was one of the best pitchers in the major leagues.

The next table shows the 10 pitchers most similar to J.R. Richard from age 26 through age 29, as measured by Player won-lost records. For the comparisons here, I do not include batting, baserunning, or fielding, and do not include context.

Most Similar Players to J.R. Richard in Value
Ages 26 through 29
Pitching
Player Games eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL Wins Losses Win Pct. WOPA
J.R. Richard
150
70.963.66.6
12.2
59.351.90.50.0
Hal Newhouser
152
69.060.46.6
12.0
55.848.90.50.0
Mel Stottlemyre Sr.
148
71.764.76.8
12.6
58.052.70.50.0
Steve Carlton
157
76.670.26.6
12.8
63.757.30.50.0
Frank Viola
144
61.852.45.9
11.4
55.448.60.50.0
Andy Messersmith
141
64.856.96.7
11.8
53.346.40.50.0
Nolan Ryan
150
71.961.56.1
12.2
64.857.60.50.0
Danny Haren
142
60.151.66.9
12.5
49.944.10.50.0
Don Drysdale
186
80.675.26.6
13.7
64.059.90.50.0
E. Mike Garcia
164
62.354.36.1
11.3
51.443.50.50.0
Gary Peters
171
60.652.46.8
12.1
48.442.40.50.0


Four of the ten pitchers listed there are now in the Hall of Fame, including Richard's top two comps.

As impressive as that is, this list is also instructive in terms of projecting Richard to have maintained perfect health for the next decade but for the stroke. Mel Stottlemyre's final season was his age-32 season. Andy Messersmith's's last season of at least 30 starts was his age-29 season (the same as Richard). Even among the Hall-of-Famers on the list, Don Drysdale set a major-league record for consecutive shutout innings in his age-31 season but only pitched 12 more games over the remainder of his career.

A near-fatal stroke is certainly more tragic than a bum elbow or a sore shoulder, but even in the alternate universe where J.R. Richard avoids the first, there's no guarantee he could have avoided both of the last two.

The Player Richard Most Reminds Me Of: Randy Johnson
The pitchers in the previous table are good statistical matches for J.R. Richard's performance from ages 26 through 29. But they aren't necessarily a good match for the shape of Richard's career to that point. Most of these pitchers peaked at age 26 or 27 - as is pretty common for pitchers (and players) in general. Richard's career, on the other hand, was continually improving throughout these years. His best full season came in his last full season at age 29. And he was even better than that in his age-30 season before his stroke. The player who most reminds me of J.R. Richard is Randy Johnson. Like Richard, Johnson was huge - even taller than Richard (6'10") - threw exceptionally hard, and spent most of his 20's figuring out how to control his stuff. Like Richard, Johnson led his lead in walks three times (at ages 26, 27, and 28, in Johnson's case).

It turns out that Johnson doesn't make the list of pitchers most similar to Richard at ages 26-29 because Johnson wasn't actually as good as Richard at those ages. Generally, Johnson was about one year behind Richard in his development. Richard pitched 200 innings for the first time at age 25; Johnson pitched 200 innings for the first time at age 26. Richard struck out 200 batters for the first time at age 26; Johnson struck out 200 batters for the first time at age 27. Richard hit 300 strikeouts at age 28; Johnson struck out 300 batters for the first time at age 29. Richard had his huge breakout season at age 30. Randy Johnson won his first Cy Young Award at age 31, going 18-2, 2.48, with 294 K's in 214.1 IP in the strike-shortened 1995 season.

Of course, that's where the comparisons end, because that's where J.R. Richard's career ended.

The next table compares J.R. Richard's and Randy Johnson's careers, as measured by Player won-lost records.

J.R. Richard Randy 'Big Unit' Johnson
Age Games pWins pLoss pWOPA pWORL Games pWins pLoss pWOPA pWORL
21
41.41.50.0
0.1
22
40.10.2-0.0
-0.0
23
164.14.00.2
0.6
24
152.83.7-0.3
-0.1
41.81.30.30.4
25
3312.514.5-0.5
0.7
299.210.7-0.50.4
26
3918.618.70.7
2.2
3313.912.51.02.2
27
3617.815.51.9
3.4
3314.013.50.51.9
28
3717.015.51.4
2.7
3114.315.5-0.31.3
29
3820.215.93.1
4.5
3617.011.33.04.3
30
179.45.52.3
2.9
2311.28.51.52.6
31
 
3016.57.54.86.1
32
 
143.92.60.71.1
33
 
3016.28.54.15.6
34
 
3418.014.92.23.8
35
 
3518.513.33.44.9
36
 
3518.613.43.45.0
37
 
3519.112.54.25.8
38
 
3519.110.45.16.5
39
 
187.57.60.31.1
40
 
3515.512.62.33.8
41
 
3413.210.91.42.6
42
 
3311.811.30.51.7
43
 
103.53.50.20.5
44
 
3011.511.50.61.8
45
 
227.07.40.10.8
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
CAREER RECORDS239103.995.18.8
17.1
619281.3221.038.564.3
AGES 25 - 3020095.585.78.9
16.4
18579.772.05.012.8


Obviously, it's hard to predict that any pitcher is going to win 5 Cy Young Awards with two additional 2nd-place finishes between the ages of 31 and 40, as Randy Johnson did. And, given the history of pitchers who blow out their arms or just suddenly lose their effectiveness one day, it's far more likely than not that J.R. Richard would have ended up with a career much worse than Randy Johnson's, even if he hadn't had the stroke.

But damn! Surely there's an alternate universe out there somewhere, where J.R. Richard dominated the 1980s like Randy Johnson dominated the 2000s.

The next table compares J.R. Richard's 1980 season and Randy Johnson's 1995 season, both pro-rated to 35 starts. Just for fun, I've also added Dwight Gooden's 1985 season, which is the best 35-start season for which I have calculated Player won-lost records.

Games pWins pLosses pWin Pct. pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWin Pct. eWOPA eWORL
J.R. Richard, 1980
35
19.311.30.6314.8
5.9
15.19.50.6143.44.3
Randy Johnson, 1995
35
19.28.70.6885.6
7.1
17.18.90.6574.45.8
Dwight Gooden, 1985
35
21.311.00.6596.1
7.6
17.911.30.6134.25.5




All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.

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