Sergio Romo Opts for Dodger Blue

As Ken Rosenthal reported Monday, Sergio Romo has found a home in Los Angeles, signing a one-year deal with the Dodgers and switching sides in one of the game’s most spirited rivalries. Romo will always be associated with the Giants, part of three World Series-winning teams, but he’ll pitch for the Dodgers in 2017 and it’s going to take some getting used to for everyone.

The incomparable Grant Brisbee offered a fascinating detail as he came to grips with the transaction:

(Romo) was recognizable. He was on commercials. He was reliable. He occasionally made opposing hitters look silly, as if they just picked up the sport of baseball. And he was around for nine seasons. Here’s a list of San Francisco Giants who have thrown nine seasons or more since the team moved west:

Juan Marichal
Greg Minton
Matt Cain
Gary Lavelle
Kirk Rueter
Scott Garrelts
Randy Moffitt
Jim Barr
Gaylord Perry
Sergio Romo
Tim Lincecum

How many relievers spend nine seasons with a club nowadays? It’s a rare tenure. But by relocating south to join the division favorites, he will now be part of the group setting up for closer Kenley Jansen, unless manager Dave Roberts blows our minds and begins using Jansen in non-save situations.

Everything from Romo’s demonstrative actions to his pitch mix remains interesting. He’s succeeded with below-average velocity thanks to his slider, a fascinating pitch that proves in the bullpen you can really make a career with one pitch – if it’s outstanding.

Romo will slider you to death:

And then, just when you begin to sit on the slider, he’ll sneak a fastball by you to win the World Series:

Romo continues to be of interest. While his 2016 season was interrupted by a flexor strain, while this coming year will mark his age-34 season, and while declining velocity is a concern, Romo was nearly as effective as he’s ever been per inning last season.

Romo struck out 28.2% of batters faced in 2017 — in line with his 28.7% career mark. His 22.2-point K-BB% figure is similar to the 23.6-point mark he’s recorded for his career. His 67 ERA- was near his career average of 69, too. In 2016, Romo generated a swinging-strike rate of 14.9%, which isn’t too different from his 2015 rate (16.7%) or 2014 rate (14.2%) or 2013 rate (13.6%). Steamer forecasts a slight drop-off, but generally more of the same from Romo in 2017, projecting he will be a useful bullpen arm (3.63 FIP).

Yet, after coming off of back-to-back, two-year deals that netted him $24 million, Romo has settled for a relatively modest $3 million to pitch in 2017. (Jon Heyman reports that he took less money to pitch for L.A.) While it was a weak year for free-agent pitching, Romo was still our 31st-best free-agent available, and he’s pitching for below the league-average salary in 2017. The crowd projected a two-year, $14-million deal.

As I wrote last week, there appears to be a bias against soft-tossing pitchers this offseason at a time when Andrew Cashner is being guaranteed eight figures to pitch in 2017. Koji Uehara was FanGraphs’ No. 32 free agent, and while having remained productive despite declining velocity (and missed time due to injury), Uehara settled for a one-year, $6 million deal with the Cubs. The crowd predicted $8.5 million.

Romo has never had a big fastball. It’s part of the reason he was never a heralded prospect. And that fastball velocity has declined with age from averaging 89.5 mph in 2011, his best year, to 87.8 mph in 2014 and to 85.9 mph last season. But what’s interesting is he’s relied less and less on the pitch, and more and more on his slider. He’s relied on his slider in an uncommon way:

Romo’s Pitch Mix by Year
Season FB% SL% wSL
2013 39.1 49.2 11.7
2014 36.1 52.0 3.6
2015 36.5 59.2 11.7
2016 31.8 63.5 7.5

Since PITCHf/x began classifying pitches, Romo’s 63.5% slider rate last year represents the eighth-greatest slider usage among relievers. Romo’s no-dot slider has been so good that hitters struggle with it even though they’re aware they can sit on the pitch. In that post, Eno Sarris captured the no-dot grip for posterity:

The Dodgers now have two of the game’s best pitches in the bullpen in Romo’s slider and Jansen’s cutter, and perhaps pairing those unique pitches in back-to-back innings could enhance their effects.

The Dodgers aren’t in need of much help. They filled their second-base void with the Logan Forsythe trade. They have as much starting-pitching depth as any team in the NL, and by retaining Rich Hill, they have a formidable 1-2 rotation punch. FanGraphs projects the Dodgers to be a 95-win team in the NL, a game better than the Cubs. Last season, the Dodgers finished third in the NL in WAR produced by their lineup, fourth in WAR produced by their rotation, and second in bullpen WAR. There aren’t many glaring holes.

But Romo allows them to get a little better in the mid-to-late innings.

In adding Romo, the Dodgers grab an undervalued arm, which projects as one of their top-five bullpen options in 2017. Assuming Joe Blanton is pitching elsewhere in 2017, Romo can fill some of those right-handed, slider-heavy innings with an even more right-handed, slider-heavy approach. Romo can help against righties, whom he has limited to a .236 wOBA for his career and held to a .289 wOBA last season. If Romo can mow through a couple right-handed portions of opposing lineups in October, he’ll seem well worth the $3 million investment. If you believe big-game experience helps, Romo has plenty of that.

After nine seasons and 3,340 sliders with the Giants, Romo moves down the coast, where he’s a good bet to throw the slider more than ever, a pitch that remains one of the better offerings in the game.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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We’ll miss him. The giants not resigning him was more a matter of management not trusting bochy to use him right than him being ineffective. He’s just a great guy to have on the team.