The people have spoken. Next on our list of searching for historical comps will be the top relief pitcher in the Royals farm system, Richard Lovelady. Check out our previous articles on MJ Melendez/Seuly Matias and Brewer Hicklen as well.
One of the first things that people do when they are introduced to something new is try to find something that it reminds them of. It’s a natural reaction. So, naturally, when we think about what Richard Lovelady could be in the future, we start looking to the past to try to find players before him that are similar. Well, I went all the way back to A-ball to start searching for answers.
Some of the most obvious things that good pitchers do well include striking batters out, not walking batters, and try to keep the ball on the ground. Simple enough, yeah? Well, in 2017 Richard Lovelady did all three of those things at a superb rate. In 33.1 IP with the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks, Lovelady posted a K/BB ratio of 10.25, a 13.2% SwStr%, a 1.48 FIP, and a GB% of 69.9% which lead the Carolina League. Impressive. Here’s a look at some guys to post similar-ish numbers in the Carolina League between the ages of 20-22 since 2007:
- Shane Bieber: 20.5 K/BB, 49.4% GB%, 13.3% SwStr%, 2.5 FIP
- Will Smith: 12.75 K/BB, 52% GB%, 38.8% SwStr%, 3.25 FIP
- Alex Claudio: 6.22 K/BB, 62.4% GB%, 28% SwStr%, 2.44 FIP
- Richard Lovelady: 10.25 K/BB, 69.9% GB%, 13.3% SwStr%, 1.48 FIP
There’s obviously a lot of factors at play here, which is why the list is so short. That, and no on posts K/BB ratios of 10+. The list gets a bit longer when you ramp the age up to 23+, but 23 year olds playing in A-ball start to get watered down (Lovelady threw all of his pitches in Wilmington at the age of 21).
Shane Bieber is the only one among that group of four that’s still a starting pitcher. Will Smith has been a very productive reliever in the big leagues, but he was actually starting when he posted these numbers back in 2010. I was trying to narrow my search to pitchers with a K/BB ratio of 9.5+, but Alex Claudio compared pretty favorably to Lovelady in almost every other department, and had a SwStr% 2x higher than Lovelady despite fewer K’s, so I let him stay.
Will Smith and Alex Claudio would actually be decent outcomes for Richard Lovelady. For big league relievers, posting a season with 1.5 fWAR or higher would be considered good. There were only 29 relievers that accomplished that feat in 2017. 1.8 fWAR gets into “really good” territory and 2+ is borderline elite. Will Smith currently has 1.3 fWAR in 28.1 IP and has another season of 1.4 fWAR back in 2015 (didn’t pitch in 2017). Alex Claudio posted 1.8 fWAR as a reliever last season, which put him into the top 20 relievers in all of baseball. Those are both really good outcomes.
Let’s move to AA now and see how Lovelady compares to guys at a higher level.
Lovelady’s sheer dominance of the Carolina League left us with few comparisons for him, but his mortal self caught up in AA and we have a much bigger list to pull from. I started out by analyzing every pitcher 22 years old or younger since 2007 (min. 30 IP) to post a FIP under 3.00 in the Texas League. Then I narrowed the list down from about 40 by narrowing their peripherals (SwStr%, K/BB, and GB%) until they were within close proximity to Lovelady’s numbers. Here’s the list of 11 pitchers with the most similar results to Richard Lovelady in the Texas League (AA):
- Keone Kela: 2.04 K/BB, 48.8% GB%, 13.5% SwStr%, 2.86 FIP
- Shelby Miller: 2.7 K/BB, 44.6% GB%, 11.3% SwStr%, 2.90 FIP
- Francis Martes: 2.79 K/BB, 43.9% GB%, 13% SwStr%, 2.73 FIP
- Mark Appel: 2.92 K/BB, 45.5% GB%, 12.8% SwStr%, 2.99 FIP
- Jose Torres: 3.00 K/BB, 51.2% GB%, 11.4% SwStr%, 2.55 FIP
- Corbin Martin: 3.23 K/BB, 52.7% GB%, 12.1% SwStr%, 2.98 FIP
- Greg Mahle: 3.27 K/BB, 53.2% GB%, 11.3% SwStr%, 2.56 FIP
- Yohander Mendez: 3.29 K/BB, 45.5% GB%, 11.7% SwStr%, 2.93 FIP
- Nick Martinez: 3.29 K/BB, 46.2% GB%, 10.4% SwStr%, 2.68 FIP
- AJ Puk: 3.44 K/BB, 47.6% GB%, 13.8% SwStr%, 2.35 FIP
- Richard Lovelady: 2.77 K/BB, 49.4% GB%, 11.8% SwStr%, 2.72 FIP
Wide range of outcomes here. AJ Puk is one of (if not the) best LHP prospects in all of baseball. Mark Appel was a former number 1 overall pick that had some injuries and just never panned out. Keone Kela is a pretty good reliever who posted a 1.5 fWAR season back in 2015 and has already accrued 1.1 fWAR in 33 innings this season. Shelby Miller is a former top SP prospect that should probably just relocate to the bullpen at this point (was awesome with the Braves, has been bad since 2015). Jose Torres was in San Diego’s bullpen and doing fine until he was suspended for the 2018 season for domestic violence. Corbin Martin is currently tearing up AA.
Lovelady got off to a slow start in AAA this season, but has really turned it around as of late. Since May 30th, Lovelady owns a 1.52 ERA with 25 K and only 4 BB in 23.2 IP. We ought to be seeing him in the big league bullpen come September (if not earlier) and he’s got a real shot to be an impact reliever for KC. He and Josh Staumont together could be a filthy combo for the Royals very soon, and guys like Jake Newberry, Eric Stout, Grant Gavin, are not far behind. There’s a history of guys similar to Lovelady having plenty of MLB success, and Royals fans ought to be excited to see the hard throwing lefty reliever in Kansas City very soon.
Photo Credits: Getty Images