Can Ricky Romero Bounce Back?

When Zach first posted the starting pitcher rankings I spent a few minutes looking at the list, mulling over who would be interesting to write about. Players like David Price and Justin Verlander were the easy, obvious choices. But, I instead fixed my eyes upon the 101st name on the list, someone who tormented me relentlessly as a member of nearly all of my teams this season: Ricky Romero.

In the three years leading up to 2012 Romero had been a good pitcher, increasing his wins, strikeouts, ERA and WHIP every season and capping off 2011 with 15 wins, 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 178Ks. Excellent by any standards. That season caused many to spend a pretty penny on him in drafts, banking the then 27-year-old would have a similar, if not better, 2012 campaign. That obviously didn’t happen. His 5.77 ERA was the highest among all qualified starting pitchers. So was his 5.22 BB/9. He had the third lowest WAR (0.5). His 5.14 FIP was third worst. It sounds like I’m piling on, but I’m trying to make a point. Ricky Romero was the worst starting pitcher in baseball last season. But why?

Well, a few reasons. His BABIP, which had been a very low .242 in 2011 jumped up to .311. Numbers are likely to increase when that happens. His first pitch strike percentage dropped four points to 53.3%, nearly seven points lower than league average which can help explain why his already high walk rate spiked to league worst levels. I’m not a pitch f/x guru so I won’t be digging into his release points or anything along those lines. For whatever reason, Romero couldn’t find the zone and that lead to some hilariously bad starts.

On May 25th against the Rays Romero walked seven and gave up four runs on just two hits in six innings against the Rays. On August 21st he turned in one of the more peculiar starts in recent memory, striking out zero and walking eight in 5.1 innings at Detroit. At one point he went more than three months without winning a start. The good news for Romero is that he can’t possibly get worse. He still maintains the skillset that allowed him success the previous two seasons. There are no obvious reasons as to why he fell apart. There wasn’t a huge velocity loss. His mechanics look the exact same. Even his pitch moment is nearly identical. His pitch selection changed a bit, but nothing that should account for such a change in results.

In 2010 James Shields had a terrible season for the Rays. His mechanics didn’t change. Neither did his pitch selection. He wasn’t hurt. He was a bit different than Romero in that his strikeout rate went up and walk rate dropped from the previous season, but he was still torched on a number of occasions. What looks to have been the issue with Shields was his pitch sequencing. He admitted as much after the season and worked with pitching coach Jim Hickey to resolve the issue. Things were fixed and Shields had an outstanding 2011 season. Perhaps all Romero needs is a minor tweak as well.

The skills are still there for Romero to be a successful pitcher and he’s certainly among the best buy-low candidates coming into the 2013 season.

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Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.

15 Responses to “Can Ricky Romero Bounce Back?”

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  1. Sandy says:

    Tough to pitch with a broken heart.

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    • Stump says:

      Bang on, Ricky’s problems are not physical or mechanical, they were strictly in his cranium. Last season he completely lost his confidence and I doubt that he will ever regain enough confidence to ever be a truly effective pitcher in MLB again.

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  2. Chris says:

    I think the point of whether Romero’s mechanics changed slightly is debatable. I’ve seen some comparisons between 2011 and 2012 and it seems like his arm-slot may have fallen slightly off to his side a bit, instead of being 12 to 6 it looked like more of a 10-6, or however you would describe it. you can find a decent gif comparison of this on the gettingblanked blog.

    I think he will bounce back, but i don’t expect him to be as good as he was in 2011.

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    • Jon Williams says:

      It hasn’t received much attention but after the season Romero had a procedure on his left elbow and plasma injections in both knees. Call it minor, but making the case that Romero was pitching through some pain becomes a lot easier with that knowledge. And elbow pain would easily explain a slight change in his arm slot.

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  3. Dustin says:

    Every morning, Ubaldo Jimenez wakes up and thanks god for Ricky Romero.

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  4. Brian Fawcett says:

    He had his elbow scoped after the season, so he was pitching in pain most of the season. And Alex Anthropoulous brought in Buerhle to show him how to pitch well with nothing. I don’t see sub-3.00 ERAs, but under 4 is possible.

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    • Benjamin says:

      i don’t know how this article is even written without mention of said injury and the subsequent scope…or the significant reduction in pressure/expectations on ricky, given the jays’ recent acquisitions. there is plenty of room for optimism here, and the james shields comp doesn’t have a damn thing to do with it.

      and to think, i was excited to read this piece…

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      • Moonraker says:

        There was pretty much nothing in this article of substance. He didn’t even mention the fact that Ricky’s FIP was almost 130 pts worse than his ERA in 2011.

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  5. Fangarello says:

    I recall reading somewhere that he had more “movement” on his pitches in 2012, to a detrimental effect. Ie: the ball was moving too much & leaving the strike zone on pitches that in previous years hit corners. Has anyone else heard anything regarding this theory?

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    • KMen says:

      Yes. As far as I know the first person to discover this was The Mockingbird, a Jays blogger/Pitch fx guru. He said that Romero’s changeup specifically had gotten more “nasty” this year, to the extent that it had so much downward action it dropped right out of the strike zone, and hitters simply knew to lay off it.

      Indeed, in some of Romero’s few successful starts this season, he didn’t have as much movement on his changeup as he had in other starts.

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  6. Ruki Motomiya says:

    How did he manage to do worse than Jimenez?

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  7. Will H says:

    Looks like relying more on 2-steamer and curve had something to do with his fall-off. Luck masked an issue with that trend in 2011 and was exposed in 2012. Just a hunch, but hat is my guess. Now one should expect better wins based on postseason moves, but I do not see much reason to expect better ratios… those could go anyway, while the Ks will never be plus. Basically meh, especially in 5×5.

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  8. Will H says:

    Should add that his LOB, BABIP AND LD% were all silly in 2011′ so that to me is a throw out and why he was on none of my teams in 2012.

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  9. KMen says:

    Not to be overly harsh, but I think you need to make a bit better use of the basic advanced metrics, Erik. A quick glance at xFIP or SIERA would have told you that Ricky was pitching way over his head in 2011. As a huge Jays fan who overpays to get Jays on his fantasy teams, even I knew to avoid Romero on draft day last year. Nobody knew he would blow up like he did, but most everybody on Fangraphs knew he wasn’t worth the high draft pick that his 2011 would garner him.

    And furthermore, the comparison to 2010 James Shields? Yes, Shields had an ERA above 5.00, but his xFIP that season was 3.55, right in line with his career numbers, and that’s why anybody who knew what an xFIP was had him on their sleeper list in 2011. Not a good comparison at all to Romero who just had a terrible year by all standards, including advanced metrics, in 2012

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