Sergio Romo Returns to Minnesota by Brendan Gawlowski December 17, 2019 The Minnesota Twins have re-signed soon-to-be 37-year-old reliever Sergio Romo to a one-year deal worth $5 million, as first reported by Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. His contract includes an option for 2021, and allows him to earn up to $10 million total. You may feel like you’ve read this a hundred times this winter, but Romo is the latest free agent to sign for more money than our crowdsourcing forecast projected ($3 million in this case). The right-hander pitched well for the Twins last year after a midseason trade brought him to Minneapolis. In 27 games, he threw 22.2 innings, posting a 3.18 ERA (146 ERA+) and a 3.35 FIP, along with tidy strikeout and walk totals. He took over as the eighth-inning guy pretty much as soon as he reached town, and earned a couple of saves as well. A 12-year veteran, Romo is one of the greybeards now. Among active relievers, his 709 games played are the fifth most in baseball (Francisco Rodriguez, who played in 948, is listed as active on Baseball Reference, though he hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2017) and only Tyler Clippard and Fernando Rodney were called upon more often in the 2010s. As you’d expect, he’s been consistently durable throughout his 12-year career, pitching in 60-plus games in eight of the last 10 years. He hasn’t had a serious injury since 2009. Atypically for a successful late-inning reliever, Romo is one of the softest tossers in baseball. Never a hard thrower, he’s lost a few ticks from his younger days, and now his fastball sits at 86-87 mph. He doesn’t throw it all that often, relying instead on his slider to both steal strikes and chase whiffs. True to form, the slider was his bread and butter again in 2019. The pitch’s long break and frisbee shape — Jake Odorizzi calls it “batter’s box to batter’s box” movement — was again almost impossible to hit in 2019; batters swung and missed 16% of the time he threw it, while hitting .183 without much power: It’s an offering he’s used more than 50% of the time in every year since 2011, and threw a shade under 60% last season. Through some year-to-year volatility on either side of the line, the average velocity on the pitch was the same last year as when he debuted in 2008: 77.5 mph. But while the slider has been a constant for Romo, he’s also adapted his arsenal over time. He’s tweaked his usage rates a bit throughout his career, most notably by leaning on his changeup more in recent years; after throwing it less than 5% of the time mid-decade, he deployed it 12% and 16% in the last two seasons, respectively. Most of those cambios have come against lefties, whom Romo is now A) facing more often and B) retiring more effectively: Romo Against Lefties Batters Faced SO/9 BB/9 HR/9 wOBA against 2015 80 4.3 4.9 0.0 .403 2016 36 9.7 3.2 2.2 .326 2017 63 8.8 4.4 1.3 .315 2018 102 8.9 3.7 1.5 .315 2019 112 7.5 3.8 0.7 .282 Key to his success is simply throwing the change more often. Five years ago, he threw it against lefties about 15% of the time, a rate that he’s doubled in recent seasons. The pitch itself hasn’t changed a ton: It’s a tick slower, with an inch or so more horizontal shape in recent years. He doesn’t miss quite as many bats with it as he does his slider, but it’s close, and it’s a legitimate out-pitch when he doesn’t have the platoon advantage: Like everything else in his holster, he locates the change well. To lefties it generally either finishes in the lower outside corner or out of the strike zone in that direction: The overall improvement isn’t dramatic, but it seems to have gone some way toward helping Romo reclaim his traditional late-inning duties. After a few years in the Middle Relief Wilderness and a brief spell in Opener Land, he closed for Miami in the first part of 2019 before settling in as Minnesota’s setup man down the stretch. It’s a role he figures to again hold in 2020, as the Twins will likely continue to rely on Taylor Rogers to close and feature a similar cast of characters behind him. Ultimately, re-signing Romo fits in with the club’s broader pattern of activity this winter, in which they’ve mostly put the band back together from last season’s 101-win outfit. In addition to Romo, the Twins also re-signed Michael Pineda, triggered Nelson Cruz’s option, and retained Jake Odorizzi after the right-hander accepted Minnesota’s qualifying offer. They still have work to do in the rotation: The departure of Kyle Gibson left a substantial hole in their starting five, and it’s no surprise the Twins are reportedly in the mix for Hyun-Jin Ryu. But regardless of the rotation’s final composition, the Twins remain well-positioned to repeat as AL Central champions. They have the best lineup in the division and solid arms at the top of the rotation. They also boast one of the league’s best bullpens, and will return nearly every contributor from the group that accrued 7.3 WAR last season — the third highest mark in baseball. Romo isn’t the most important contributor in that crew, but he’s one of them, and his return solidifies the club’s impressive depth in relief.