First Pitch: It Seems Like Every Pirates Reclamation Starter is Guaranteed to Work

Does it seem like a guarantee that Clayton Richard will turn things around?

Alright, yeah, nothing is a guarantee in baseball. But at this point if you’re extremely optimistic about the next Pittsburgh Pirates reclamation pitching project working out, then you probably have plenty of company. And that’s what usually happens when the Pirates get good seasons out of guys like Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley.

A year ago, Volquez looked to many like a waste of $5 M for the Pirates, while Worley was pitching for the Twins and failing to make their rotation, eventually getting traded to the Pirates for cash. The combination of Ray Searage and Jim Benedict, plus the focus on pitch framing, plus the focus on defense, plus the defensive shifts, helped both pitchers put up strong numbers. Volquez turned his numbers into a two-year deal with the Royals, paying him much more than $5 M. Worley received a raise in arbitration, and now looks like the pitcher he was prior to his injury in 2012.

It’s one thing to turn around A.J. Burnett or Francisco Liriano. It’s a totally different thing to take two guys with no market and have them put up strong results in a Major League rotation.

And that brings us back to Richard, who was signed as a minor league free agent this off-season. I covered the changes he is making in today’s video feature. His situation is identical to Worley’s, and the Pirates were successful getting Worley back to his old mechanics. They were also successful getting Volquez back to his old mechanics. It’s like a video game, where you can import a player using the attributes from their best year, so you get the best possible version of that player. Except the Pirates have found a way to do this in real life.

If Richard is at his best, and you add the boost that the defense, pitch framing, and PNC Park will provide, then you could get solid middle of the rotation numbers from him. And I’d put a number on his spot on the depth chart, but let’s face reality. If I would have told you last year that Worley would have made as many starts as he did, you wouldn’t have believed me. You would have pointed to Jameson Taillon, Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, and possibly bullpen guys like Stolmy Pimentel and Jeanmar Gomez, or mid-season options like Nick Kingham.

In the past, it would have been crazy to suggest the Pirates can get Richard’s 2010 performance, or better. Now? It just seems like you’re paying attention to what has been going on over the last few years.

Richard isn’t a “guarantee” to turn things around. But he certainly does seem like a strong bet, and that only helps strengthen the depth of the Pirates’ rotation. And if he does turn things around, it will be just another feather in the cap of Searage, Benedict, and the Pirates, making it that much easier for them to persuade the next reclamation project to come to Pittsburgh and accept their suggestions.

**Last night I teased an article that I said might end up being one of the best articles I’ve done for the site. It will go up tomorrow morning.

**We have less than 100 paperback books of the 2015 Prospect Guide remaining from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Every day I upload content on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the video features on YouTube. Be sure that you’re subscribed to all of those sites to follow everything we upload throughout Spring Training (there is different content for each social media site).

**Ray Searage Is Taking The Vance Worley Approach With Clayton Richard

**Injury Updates: Corey Hart, Josh Harrison, Pedro Alvarez

**Vance Worley Strikes Out Top Prospects Byron Buxton And Miguel Sano In B Game

**Pedro Alvarez To Miss A Few Games With Elbow Discomfort

**Draft Prospect Watch: Taking A Look At A Highly Rated Shortstop

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Brian Bernard

Our pitching coaches along with Benedict are some of the best in baseball and they have saved this team millions of dollars by getting pitchers to outperform their contracts. I’d suggest the organization pony up – if they haven’t already – to these guys as they continue their fabulous work. Good luck Clayton!
To those who are minimizing the success of Ray and Jim, this is a people business and there is no such thing as 100% with people. Their rate and more importantly the quality of their prodigies work is where the stamp of approval should be made. So glad to have such high quality baseball men in our organization. For years we’d be looking over the fence wondering why we can’t do – but we are. Go Bucs!


IMO, Benedict and Searage do a great job, they are not dealing with robots and there will be failures, but the successes save the Pirates millions. IMO, guys like Charlie Morton, Jarod Hughes, Jeff Locke fit into the reclamation project class, if the Pirates weren’t around, I have serious doubts if any of these guys would be in the majors right now, they have been fixing these guys since they got them.

Lee Foo Young

I don&#8 217;t share Tim&#8 217;s enthusiasm that Richard&#8 217;s upside is a #3 . AT BEST, he is a #4 /5 IF everything goes right. He is AAA depth who I hope doesn&#8 217;t have to start one game for us.

He has a career 3.36 ERA at home (Thank you Petco) and 5.19 away.

Sorry&#8 230;that screams #5 to me. Hopefully, he is the #8 or #9 option for us.


Lee- i’m with you, he’s a solid 5 when healthy, MAYBE 4- but not on the pirates


Well, the good thing is, as opposed to previous years where he WOULD be our 4 or 5 guy, is that he is probably our #8 or # 9 option. It&#8 217;s a no-risk move to take a chance on a guy like this as depth in AAA.


Some years I think he would have been our opening day starter!!!

John Janesko

Well, Kevin Correia was the opening day starter before so why not?


Because those teams, um, sucked?

John Janesko

Well they did win more than 70 games that year for the first time since 2004, and Correia did make the all star team that year. I was just suggesting if Correia could be an opening day starter in previous years, so could Richards


I do think there is some selection bias at play with this logic.

“Reclamation starter” isn’t a thing. They’re all starting pitchers. Only fair to include the Wandy Rodriguez’s, Jeff Locke’s, and James McDonald’s in the discussion as well. If there was a special formula, Searage & Co. should’ve been able to help them. This isn’t meant to discount what the Pirates have been able to do one bit, but be a simple reminder that baseball is hard. Really hard.

The difference I see between Worley and Richard is twofold; one, Worley had a higher peak performance before injury (86 FIP-) than Richard (104 FIP-). And two, Worley wasn’t coming back from *two* consecutive shoulder surgeries. That matters. Searage could have him back to the exact mechanics he had in 2010 and he simply may not have enough stuff left in the tank. Very, very real possibility.


Shoulders are death for pitchers, add in thoracic outlet issues I think the expectations should be very muted.

If anyone hasn’t seen this interview with Benedict that last question concerns Richards.


Well said ( by you and Mr. Young) and I agree wholly. Worley’s health and track record are both a notch or two better than what Richard has to offer. If the Bucs’ staff can turn Richard into a legitimate mid-rotation option, that’s bordering on the realm of black magic.


And we haven’t even delved into the semantic realm of defining what a “mid-rotation” starter really means.


Geez, I dunno…I always thought it was like what Potter Stewart said about hard-core porn–I know it when I see it.




I know that they aren’t really viewed as reclamation projects in the eyes of the individuals on this site, but I will be keeping a close eye on both Chris Volstad and Adam Miller in AAA this year.


I dont know, one could point to volstads rookie numbers and say that, but it was in limited sample


Clayton Richards obviously knows how to pitch – a 46-47 record and two 14 Win seasons in the majors is proof positive of that. He was cheap and willing. He is a LHSP who throws a 2 seam FB and is over 50% throwing GB’s. His velocity was declining and his feel for pitches was less than needed due to the Thoracic problem.
The velocity and feel have supposedly returned.

He will pitch at AAA, post some decent numbers, and be available in a pinch. If he does well and shows his stuff has returned, he will be available in a trade at the very minimum. Everything is up in the air because the Morton availability seems to still be fluctuating – he may pitch today.


IF YOUR HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT AND YOU REALLY WANTA SHOW IT! THROW A STRIKE! When the pirates ship starts thundering broadsides it’s all hands on deck, that apparently now includes the bilge rats. Sic em ya scurvy rats!

david jung

jonathan sanchez also had his best season in 2010


We can apply Betterridge’s law of headlines, to the first line of the article, and it still holds.

Dave Parker's Unfiltered Camel

I think I remember reading on this site that Sanchez didn’t buy into the Benedict/Searage approach, and his results showed that. The key is that these reclamation projects need to buy into the Pirates approach.


dj: Sanchez did not fit the mold – he was a 4 seam FB pitcher and a strikeout guy who did not throw a lot of GB’s.

Scott Kliesen

Hi, I’m Rob Lowe. And I’m David Jung.

david jung

what are you, a Directv shill?

Scott Kliesen

Believe it or not, I was trying to be nice. Come on dude, wake up and enjoy the sunshine. A new day has dawned for our Bucs. And it promises to be a glorious one. Relish it.


How many times have they been successful before and after? Keep looking for the negatives and harping on the few, while Tim and everyone in the industry recognizes the far more success stories. Pittsburgh has become a preferred destination for pitchers.

david jung

The Bucs don’t have a patent on fixing pitchers…look how the Brewers made something out of Zack Duke by changing his approach, not trying to refind his mechanics… now that was genius. Got him 3 yrs/$15M. What Ray has accomplished is admirable, but there is no point constantly getting all pollyanna about it by talking about guarantees and such. The memory of Frieri and the numerous failures pre-2013 are too fresh, not to mention the way they still handle pitcher injuries.


Where does Tim say they have a patent on fixing pitchers? Of course other clubs will have some success stories. The pure law of averages and regressing to the mean demands it. Every year there will be pitchers that “bounce back” either due to better luck or actual adjustments they make.
The point is that the Bucs staff seems to do it at least once a year. Get back to us in 4 years after the Brewers have done it 5 straight times. Also, there’s really no comparison between fixing a SP to take the ball for 180 IP for you and fixing a historically successful SP like Duke and make him into a specialist RP. I dare say 50% of the MLB teams do that each year, while nowhere near 50% get a reclamation SP.

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