J.R. Richard: The Forgotten Man


J.R. Richard had a tremendous, but short-lived career with the Houston Astros, debuting in 1971 at the age of 21, but was forced to retire in 1980, at the age of 30 due to a stroke. Richard has had a strained relationship with the Astros, but that is not what I want to talk about. What’s more important is why nobody outside of Houston seems to remember the his name.

Comparing Richard to present-day starting pitchers, Baseball Reference provides Cole Hamels and Tim Lincecum as modern day examples of what J.R. Richard was to Houston.

Giants’ starter, Lincecum, started his career with a bang, holding a 2.98 ERA in his first five seasons, while compiling a 4.76 ERA in his past three. Richard’s career is a direct inverse of those numbers, having a 4.37 ERA in his first five seasons, while pitching to the tune of a 2.79 ERA in his final five. As the years went on for the 6’8″ righty, he became more and more dominant, striking out 300+ twice, holding a sub-3.00 ERA in four out of his final five seasons (his 3.11 ERA in ’78 being the only blemish), and a sub-2.00 ERA in one as well. In fact, if it wasn’t for his walk totals, Richard would be compared to Clayton Kershaw, instead of Tim Lincecum.

Over his ten year career, J.R. Richard walked about 4.3 batters per nine innings, which is a bit high. To counter that, he just did not allow many hits, which led to his low ERA totals in the latter half of his career. In each of those five seasons, the number of hits he allowed was significantly lower than the total number of innings pitched. On average, he allowed 182 hits per season, while averaging 248 innings in that stretch. Kershaw, since 2011, which started his stretch of three Cy Young awards, and one second place finish, has averaged 162 hits allowed in 224 innings.

Kershaw’s hits allowed rate is marginally lower, but this is also a comparison to arguably the greatest pitcher of our era. J.R. Richard is not a household name. So why bring this all up? According to Astros Daily, Richard is the Astros’ all-time best starter, ahead of Nolan Ryan. Ryan is a player that every generation has at least heard about. Richard, possibly due to his short career span and tenuous relationship with the team that drafted him, is not.

Do you have a J.R. Richard memory? We’d love to hear it! Comment below, and we’ll tweet out some of our favorite fond memories of this once dominant, now forgotten, man.