What Happened to Ricky Romero

Right now, like as this is being written, Ricky Romero is in the process of getting bombed by the Red Sox. The 27-year-old lefty just finished an inning in which he gave up a double to Dustin Pedroia between two walks before an error and a few groundouts allowed singles from Mike Aviles and Darnell McDonald to plate some runs. Six runs in all. So far all the balls in play have been ground balls — his bailiwick — but something is still off.

Going into the start today, the primary culprits were not at fault. The batting average on balls in play that Romero has allowed this year is higher than the one he allowed last year, yes. But the ‘new’ number is .252 and last year’s number was .241. That’s not the problem. Neither can we blame a velocity drop. Well, he’s down a tick from 92.1 mph to 91.1 mph, but his career velocity is 91.5 mph on the fastball. That’s not the problem, either. He’s using his curveball a little more than he has in the past, but are we going to blame his two-run difference in ERA on 55 extra curveballs this year? It doesn’t look like he’s altered his pitching mix much otherwise, so that doesn’t look like the problem.

The obvious difference comes in his walk rate, and even in today’s big inning, the walks were a problem. Romero walked 10.3% in his rookie season, then he walked 9.3% in his decent followup, and 8.7% in his breakout season last year. Now his walk rate is at a career-worst 11.3%. You have to go back to his first shot at Double-A (in 2007) to find a walk rate that bad. Look at his strike zone stats, and you’ll notice that he’s close to league average at finding the zone (43.3% this year, 45.4% career, 45.4% is the league average this year). It’s probably not those 32 pitches outside the zone that separate him from league average. He is, however, showing a career low in first-strike percentage (52.8%) that’s well below league average (59.7%) and his own average (57%). Perhaps a renewed emphasis on strike one would solve many of Romero’s woes.

On the other hand, his current walk rate is not an extreme outlier. His career walk rate in the minor leagues was 9.7%, which is worse than average. But he was getting enough ground balls and strikeouts to make that walk rate work then. It’s not working that well right now, and there’s a general regression in his other peripherals that is contributing to the problem.

His swinging strike rate is under league average for the first time (8.0%, 8.9% is league average, 9.2% for his career). So it makes sense that he’s lost a couple ticks of his strikeout rate (16.9% this year, 18.9% career). His ground-ball rate is at a career-worst (53.4%, 54.5% career). He’s giving up a career-worst number of home runs off of his fly balls (17.1% HR/FB, 12.5% career). Some of this is luck. None of it, by itself, would sink a player completely. All of it, together, has reduced his effectiveness.

Lastly, there’s the issue of expectations. Pitch to a 2.92 ERA in the AL East over 225 innings and you’re an ace. Pitch to a 4.20 FIP/3.80 xFIP/3.78 SIERA in the AL East over 225 innings, though, and you’re a horse. Considering those numbers describe the same season, perhaps we should just have been expecting a horse. And, given the Blue Jays’ pitching health woes right now, perhaps it’s okay if their ace is actually a horse right now.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


63 Responses to “What Happened to Ricky Romero”

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  1. Matt says:

    I think it was clear to almost anyone who knows anything about baseball that this guy is/was not an ace. Sure doesn’t stop him from thinking he is one though which combined with Arencibia’s claim to be a top 10 MLB catcher can make any Blue Jay fan want to throw their remote through the TV.

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    • Chris says:

      not an ace? what is your definition of ace? im pretty sure the red sox, orioles, indians, royals, twins, marlins, mets, astros, cubs, reds, DBacks, padres, and rockies would all call Mr Romero their #1 ace.

      pretty sure you dont go 15-11 with 2.92 and 1.14 WHIP, 3 CG, and 2 Shutouts in the AL East if you are not an ace.

      hes only 27 and this is his 3rd/4th year in the league. guess you dont think clayton kershaw is more than just a top 10-15 SP then too?…

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      • Matt says:

        I think you’re on the wrong site. His win-loss record and ERA are irrelevant.

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      • big red machine says:

        Just to speak for my team… you can have Romero. We’ll keep Johnny Cueto and his tidy HR rates, thank you very much.
        And secondly, my response to you even mentioning Romero and Kershaw in the same sentence: BAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!

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      • big red machine says:

        well, they weren’t technically in the same sentence but you know what I mean…

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      • Uh Oh Cordero says:

        “Best pitcher in the staff” and “Ace” aren’t the same thing.

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      • ccoop says:

        if you want to measure pitchers by W/L–and let’s be clear…you shouldn’t– 15 and 11 is pretty from from “ace” territory.

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      • nilbog44 says:

        Oh boy…. Please tell me you didn’t just lump him together with Kershaw. If this guy is an ace then there are a lot more aces in MLB than i originally thought. Sheesh.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        “only 27″ and mentioning his W/L record aren’t used much on here. Probably shouldn’t be either. At 27, that means he probably won’t get any better. In fact, he’ll likely get worse.

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      • Zach says:

        This idea of an ace is pretty stupid to begin with, but wouldn’t you think the “Ace” would start the 1 game playoff if everyone was available Chris? Farrell hinted earlier this season that Morrow would pitch that hypothetical game and it would be the right call.

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      • PeteJohn says:

        An ace is an elite pitcher, not merely the best guy on a team. Saying “he’s their ace” doesn’t make him an ace. Good results do

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      • Jordan says:

        You’ve got to be kidding.
        red sox – im sure they’d take Lester over ricky.
        marlins – josh johnson
        cubs – Garza, maybe Dempster.
        DBacks – I’ll take their whole rotation over Romero.
        Reds – Cueto, Latos.
        Mets – Dickey, one of the best pitchers in the game right now, heard of him??
        Orioles – Hammel pitching much better.

        Truly idiotic comment.

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    • Nik says:

      Jays fans cling to the idea he is an ace, you’ll get heat for this, even though it is 100% correct.

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      • Johnhavok says:

        Lumping all Jays fans into 1 statement is pretty rediculous. Go visit the jays message board and the only people that consider Romero to be an ace are the drooling RBI lovers. Those of us with sabermetric understanding were pretty confident he was due for regression in his “traditional” stats.

        The culprit of his woes this year from having watched him seems to be his fastball command, he’s just not getting ahead in the count with it which makes it very hard for him to use his changeup effectively.

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      • Linz says:

        I’m a diehard Jays fan since day 1 (I’m old, I know) and I can assure you that we do not think Ricky’s an ace. Our last ace was Halladay. Ricky developed quicker than envisioned and is arguably our most talented pitcher. (BTW 15 wins in the AL East = 20 wins in the NL Central.) Not many teams have a true ace including some contenders. We’re aware of this. We’re Canadian – not stupid.

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    • Jeff Reese says:

      He has shown ace stuff, and I think the potential for acedom is there. The regression in command/control makes him clearly not an ace, and that will be the biggest hurdle for him ever to become one.

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    • andrew says:

      Ricky romero had a very bad catcher who only hits homers and strikes out with a batting average below .200 so it’s not completely his fault.

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  2. Oscar says:

    A 1 MPH drop in average fastball velocity is not that minor. I wouldn’t discard it so quickly as a possible cause.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I’d have given it more time and attention if he didn’t pitch better than he has this year with less velocity than this in 2010. But you may be right that it’s a big deal this year.

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    • cs3 says:

      Exactly. A 1 mph drop doesnt seem significant, but when the range on average fastball velocity is only about 89-96 mph that 1 mph represents more than a 10% decrease

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        What’s the error rate of a radar gun though? If the gun’s accurate up to .5 MPH, and was really say .3 slower than the gun said and now he’s really .5 faster than the gun says on average, that shortens the gap a lot.

        So yea, while 1MPH is over 10% of the range, the input might not be the most accurate either.

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  3. Ron says:

    Should I drop this guy now for Kuroda, Masterson or Liriano?

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  4. jesuscristo says:

    He has Steve Blass syndrome.

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  5. Jason says:

    i wouldn’t drop him for any of those 3 yet.

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  6. ALEastbound says:

    If/when the Blue Jays can make Romero there #3 starter (with a healthy Morrow #2) they will be a serious contender. AA has to be thinking the same thing but not sure if this is the year to empty the cupboard for that starter. Hopeful they take a long look at Greinke or Hamels this offseason.

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  7. Mr. Disgruntled says:

    That leaves the question, “Would either of Hamels or Greinke take a long look at a Blue Jays offer?”

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    • jesuscristo says:

      Jays operating under payroll parameters. Will not sign Hamels or Greinke.

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      • dgapa says:

        That is of course if you even believe that. They have spent more in the past and they will spend more in the future. It’s only a rule until it gets broken.

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      • Jays2010 says:

        So what you are saying is that the Toronto Blue Jays are a professional sports franchise?

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  8. PeterC says:

    Did anyone watch the game?

    Gamescore showed a lot of questionable balls during that first inning.

    That error should have been an inning ending double play as well.

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    • Eric says:

      even ignoring the occasional miscalls by the ump (and there were a fair bit, I admit), he still pitched like crap.

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  9. KDizzle53 says:

    Was looking at some pitch/fx stuff on brooksbaseball earlier today about Romero, and one of the main difference I saw is that what they register as a “sinker” has been thrown something like 11% less this year, and considering the amount of balls the pitch accounted for, it seems understandable. His 4-seam fastball also seems to have lost some vertical movement to go along with that dip in velocity, so that might explain some things as well since, according to the site, he’s increased the 4-seam’s usage by about 7%.

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  10. supershredder says:

    Any thoughts on Samardizja’s continued decline (including today’s blow-up)?

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    • supershredder says:

      I see his pitch type profile has changed – dropped his slider usage by 7% and increased his cutter by 6%. That same slider garnered a 5.6 pitch value rating last season.

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    • Sutcliffe says:

      He’s the kind of guy you can build an organization around.

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • a says:

      He should probably stop throwing cock shots to middle of the order hitters. that’d probably help.

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    • juan pierres mustache says:

      it’s not a decline–he had a few performances early on this year that were not in line with anything he’d ever done, some people bought in, then he proceeded to pitch like jeff samardzija. he’s only “declining” if you thought his first 5 starts were his true talent level

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  11. Big Daddy V says:

    So, “horse” is bad, I take it. But “stud” is good! And so is “thoroughbred”… I think. What about “gelding”?

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    • matt w says:

      “Horse” is OK, I think. Short for “workhorse,” which you can see how it differs from “stud” and “thoroughbred.”

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  12. Mick1296 says:

    When Roy Halliday hit the mound for the Jays, THAT was an ace. Romero has yet to show me that he is of that calibre of a pitcher. And no I’m not just saying that because he shit the bed today. He has just never given me that warm fuzzy feeling of a near guaranteed win that Halliday once did.

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  13. Larry says:

    I sense animosity towards Romero – did you all have him on your fantasy teams expecting he’d have a better year?

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  14. Jack Morris says:

    But he’s 8-1!

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  15. Don Draper says:

    I get why people on this site don’t care about win loss record for a pitcher, but what’s wrong with ERA? And what do u use to measure how good a pitcher is? Thanks

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    • CJ says:

      ERA is better than wins. People use:
      - FIP (fielding-independent pitching) neutralises a pitcher’s BABIP, because most pitchers cannot control the distribution of hits they give up. It only counts strikeouts, walks and home runs: events where the fielders are not involved.
      - xFIP neutralises a pitcher’s home run per fly ball rate, it uses Ks, BBs, and flyball percentage.
      - SIERA takes the inputs of FIP (Ks, BBs, HRs) and adds a pitchers’ groundball %, line drive %, and fly ball %. The idea is that a groundball pitcher with equal K, BB, HR rates should give up less runs (both because of double-plays and because GBs don’t go for extra bases) than the flyball pitcher.

      This is only for small samples, like half a season. Over a bunch of years, or a career, just go ahead and use ERA. The “luck”, things like bloop hits falling in, or guys clumping hits together, balances out.

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  16. everdiso says:

    Romero is fine. When he starts pitching as bad as a Red Sox starter then I’ll be worried. Of course we don’t see any FG articles about Red Sox players struggling. Literally, ever. And every FG writer picked them to win 120 games and sweep the postseason. Why am I the only one who sees this?!

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    • Jonathan says:

      I was wondering when you’d show up to troll this one. It had “everdiso is going to say something ludicrous” all over it.

      Now, on to the meat:

      “When he starts pitching as bad as a Red Sox starter then I’ll be worried.”

      Only two Sox pitchers to draw a start this year with a worse FIP than Romero right now are Cook (Across all of two starts) and Buchholz (Who has been vastly outperforming Romero since his last May start). Per the inclusion of Cook, that includes even spot starters like Morales and Matsuzaka (Yes, Matsuzaka is out-FIP’ing Romero right now). Troll harder.

      Of course we don’t see any FG articles about Red Sox players struggling.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/josh-becketts-missing-fastball/

      Whoops!

      “Why am I the only one who sees this?!”

      Because you’re making it up.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Jonathan, doesn’t Bard have a much higher FIP than Romero?

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      • Jonathan says:

        I don’t know what you’re talking about, viva, Bard is a catcher for the Mariners.

        There is, nor has there ever been, a Red Sox starter by that name.

        (I forgot about him, but yes, he counts)

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      • Jonathan says:

        Though Cook has since surpassed Romero since the initial posting, so there’s that I suppose.

        Cook has managed to compile 0.3 WAR (Across three starts), which is identical to Romero (Across 16 starts).

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  17. Mark says:

    I definitely wouldn’t that it’s a matter of expectations. The walk rate is up, the K rate is down, the first pitch strike % is 3rd worst in the majors. He’s falling behind everybody, he’s unable to fool opposing hitters, and he’s walking or giving up a ton of hits.

    This isn’t a case of expectations at all. If he pitched like he did last year a 3.75 ERA would have been what I expected. But every time he’s falling behind hitters and getting hit hard, and that’s completely different from last year. A 3% drop in K% and 4% jump in BB% is huge.

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  18. Glenn Jamison says:

    One thing that really worried me about Romero, was his interview before the game. He sounded completely dejected about his previous outings. Came off as completely depressed to me, with absolutely no confidence. Wasn’t surprising he started the game with 6 straight balls. After he was pulled, he looked like he was hopeless, as if we thinks he’ll never be a good pitcher again. You can read whatever you want into his stats (either normal or sabermetric, or whatever), but the fact of the matter is, this guy has absolutely no confidence right now. Sure, when he’s confident and throwing strikes, he’s really good (not sure about Ace, but whatever), but I think the Jays really need to consider getting this guy a good psychologist right now.

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  19. seb says:

    He’s simply getting hit harder. His LD% is up 5% from last year, he’s always been one of the best SP in terms of getting weak contact. Although last year does look like the outlier, he did alter his pitch selections a fair bit, favouring the FB on more occasions. Like a few have mentioned before, the slight decrease in average velocity could be allowing hitters to square up the ball more often. That being said though, I feel like with Ricky’s skillset, he’s going to outperform his FIP most of the time.

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