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Cubs Pipeline Alchemy: Paul Richan and pitcher wins

Here’s a pitching prospect who’s a bit under the radar, but who might be able to win at higher levels.

Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

In the current baseball information age, some baseball statistics have risen in importance, while others have had a resultant fall. Walks used to be considered unpredictable accidents for the hitter. Pitching wins and losses are by the boards in significance for many younger and more tech-savvy types. The pitching win can still have value, though, as a reasonably mild look at Cubs prospect Paul Richan displays.

Back in 1983, pitching wins were king. Starting pitchers were firing fewer innings than before, but wins and earned run averages were the go-to way of determining starter effectiveness. The American League Western Champion Chicago White Sox were a case in point. LaMarr Hoyt was considered the staff ace. I thought Richard Dotson was as good or better, but had no real way to assess why. Hoyt won the Cy Young Award, and Dotson pitched Game 3 of the LCS. Years and decades later, Dotson of 1983 is looked at kindly by history.

As with the efforts in 2018 of Jacob deGrom, the pitching win as a solo statistic is a bit rubbish. A pitcher can be well-above average, but get a lack of team support. That lack of support (often from the offense or bullpen) jabs a pin into his win total, spiking his value downward. Often, other values make more sense. In certain cases, though, the pitching win can still represent something useful.

The 2019 Myrtle Beach Pelicans have been a tough follow for much of this season. The offense and defense have been spotty. Prospect pitcher Alex Lange had struggled so mightily with the squad this season that he was promoted to the much more prestigious Southern League, and has initially responded quite well. The improved defense has initially countered the tougher opposition level. His season hadn't been as hopeless as his numbers hinted. The pitching win doesn't matter, right?

However, on the same squad this season has been Paul Richan. For whatever reasons, the 2018 second-round compensatory pick (Richan and South Bend outfielder Cole Roederer were selected back-to-back as compensation choices for Wade Davis and Jake Arrieta) has pitched without blowback for the Pelicans. While a middling record doesn't prevent the possibility of a good season, Richan is 8-3 for a team that has been in last place much of the season. Somehow, the losses and no-decisions for Lange, Javier Assad, and others, have resulted in wins for Richan. It hasn't been happenstance.

Richan's raw numbers haven't been eye-popping (more than a hit per inning, and fewer strikeouts than innings pitched), but as much trouble as other pitchers have had with the Pelicans support, Richan has done well enough to merit consideration for promotion. With pitching prospects, doing well enough to make a case for promotion is vastly undervalued by many. With four full-season affiliates, and two or three at the short-season or rookie ball levels, earning a promotion is the best way to show success. In his first full professional campaign, Richan has made a very good case for elevation to the most telling level in the pipeline, Double-A. While success at the Carolina League is adorable, representing in the Southern League makes the figurative "hair on the nape of the neck stand at attention." With the recent string of parent club pitching injuries, Richan has a shot at the short flight from Myrtle Beach to Knoxville at any time. That would put him well in-front of the Rule 5-eligibility curve. He's exempt from the selection process until December 2021, which gives him time to iron out any inconsistencies against sterner hitters. It's tough to be succeeding against the Rule 5-timeline curve and not have a degree of prospect cache.

In discussing a trade possibility recently, someone on Twitter recently referred to Richan as a bit of an afterthought. He was tossed off as a potential trade piece for a rental infielder. I laughed. Richan isn't on any Top 100 lists. His velocity readings aren't regularly in the mid-to-high nineties. He doesn't fit the profile of the player that is going to be hyped currently. However, he's recording outs, and doing so on a fifth-place team, tossing in long enough stints to last five innings. Any off-season prospect list that ignores or underplays Richan is being negligent. A lack of a pitcher's win isn't a condemnation, but earning wins regularly for a struggling team should earn recognition, even in an age when the pitcher win is considered misleading.