When the Toronto Blue Jays opened the season without their top two high-leverage relievers — Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson — it was clear they’d need some arms further down the pecking order to step up.

Chad Green and Yimi García have done just that at the back end of the bullpen, combining for 11.1 innings of 2.38 ERA ball with a win probability added total of +0.81. 

That isn’t shocking considering Green’s lengthy track record as a quality late-inning arm, and Garcia’s similar experience — plus a velocity boost that has him producing the highest average fastball velocity of his career (96.9 mph).

The third man who’s elevated his game is a little more surprising. Trevor Richards entered the season as a guy likely to eat multiple low-leverage innings at a time, but he currently ranks third among Blue Jays relievers in average leverage index with a 2.70 ERA to show for his efforts.

Even that excellent ERA undersells how well he’s pitched because both of the runs he allowed came on a single home run that was hit just 95.5 m.p.h. with an expected batting average of .090. Richards has an expected ERA of 1.95, with just three hits allowed early in his 2024 campaign.

It’s easy to overreact to small-sample results early in the season, and Richards indisputably did a poor job of keeping runs off the board in 2022 and 2023 with a 5.40 ERA during relief outings. Skepticism of his start is warranted, but there’s also something tangible that’s changed for the right-hander.

Entering 2024, absolutely no one would’ve said the biggest issue facing Richards was that his changeup wasn’t dynamic enough. Even though its run value (+8) ranked 15th among all MLB pitchers in 2023, the 30-year-old has overhauled the pitch in an intriguing way.

Last season, Richards averaged 82.5 m.p.h. on the offering, and this year that’s dropped all the way down to 78.9 m.p.h.. His fastball has lost a little bit of juice as well (0.8 m.p.h.), but not nearly as much. Richards appears to be looking for more velocity separation between his pitches, and in doing so he’s ratcheted up the movement on his change.

Specifically, he’s made it fall off the table like never before as the vertical movement on the pitch has gone from great to world-class.

When a pitch slows down its movement tends to increase, but the drop on the new Richards changeup has improved in both absolute and relative terms. 

It’s not difficult to see the difference between how the pitch looked last season and this year:

Nowadays the pitch looks almost like a curveball, while it used to have a tighter, more subtle, arc. Richards has sacrificed 2.4 inches of run on his change, but that’s more than made up for by the huge increase in vertical drop, which is the bread-and-butter of a good changeup.

Opposing hitters are getting consistently fooled by this adjustment. They have only swung at 30 of the 84 changes they’ve seen with three looking strikeouts already. For reference, Richards only got nine backwards Ks on the change in 72.2 innings last year.


While the right-hander has made hitters look foolish plenty of times over his career, this strikeout against Juan Soto stands out.

Soto swung out of his shoes, missed by a mile, and reacted like this:

The early returns on the hard contact against are excellent, although it’s probably too early to take them too seriously. 

Richards has struggled with hard contact in recent years and it’s an encouraging sign for the Blue Jays that he hasn’t conceded a Barrel yet — or any ball harder than 97.6 m.p.h. on his changeup.

There are still plenty of unknowns this early in the season. 

Richards is still struggling with walks (5.40 BB/9) and so far his altered changeup has been better for earning called strikes and inducing soft contact than consistently missing bats. That makes it slightly tougher to trust than if it were simply blowing hitters away.

At the same time, Richards has debuted what is effectively a new pitch with unbelievable movement — and it’s an offering he’s using 63.2 per cent of the time. Over a short sample he’s produced some of the best contact-quality numbers in the majors after years of flailing in that area. 

It’s just seven appearances, but coming into 2024 you would never have thought Richards to rank in the top 10 per cent among MLB pitchers in max exit velocity against (100.7 mph), expected batting average (.124), expected slugging (.150), expected wOBA (.220), and expected wOBA on contact (.230) for any amount of time.

When Romano and Swanson return, the Blue Jays won’t need Richards to pitch in high-leverage spots and he’ll return to approximately the role Toronto imagined for him prior to the season. That doesn’t mean that Richards is embarking on a campaign that will look just like his middling 2023.

His modified changeup doesn’t guarantee he’s in for a stellar season, but that his range of outcomes has opened up a bit. Richards isn’t going to battle with the same arsenal that often failed him over the last two seasons, and his 2024 outlook has improved as a result.

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