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.





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

63 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Matt
10 years ago

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.

Chris
10 years ago
Reply to  Matt

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?…

Matt
10 years ago
Reply to  Chris

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

big red machine
10 years ago
Reply to  Chris

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!!

big red machine
10 years ago
Reply to  Chris

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

Uh Oh Cordero
10 years ago
Reply to  Chris

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

ccoop
10 years ago
Reply to  Chris

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.

nilbog44
10 years ago
Reply to  Chris

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.

Antonio Bananas
10 years ago
Reply to  Chris

“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.

Zach
10 years ago
Reply to  Chris

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.

PeteJohn
10 years ago
Reply to  Chris

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

Jordan
10 years ago
Reply to  Chris

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.

Nik
10 years ago
Reply to  Matt

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

Johnhavok
10 years ago
Reply to  Nik

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.

Linz
10 years ago
Reply to  Nik

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.

Jeff Reesemember
10 years ago
Reply to  Matt

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.

andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Matt

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.