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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.