Trying To Make Sense Of Ricky Romero’s Struggles

Coming off three straight very steady seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Ricky Romero was starting to look like a real workhorse.  Though not flashy (i.e. strikeouts) Romero had nestled in to a dependable guy who would give you innings, get a few strikeouts, induce an above average amount of ground balls and keep you in ballgames.

While most expected a reasonable amount of regression given his peripherals in 2011 (and a 4.20 FIP) I think it is safe to say nobody could have predicted such a disastrous 2012 campaign.  To say he has been anything other than awful is just plain wrong – 5.69 ERA, 5.15 FIP, 1.57 WHIP and a career worst 6.4 K/9.

So what happened?

Let’s take a look.

2010 3.73 3.64 7.4 3.5 0.64 9.4% 70.2 .289 55.2
2011 2.92 4.20 7.1 3.2 1.04 13.2 79.2 .242 54.7
2012 5.69 5.15 6.4 4.8 1.18 16.7 65.7 .297 54.0

 First you can quickly see what contributes to an ‘outlier’ season, having a high LOB% and low BABIP gives every opportunity for a career year, which Romero definitely had (ERA/WHIP wise) in 2011. 

Looking at 2012 you can see his control has just completely abandoned him, over 1.6 walks per nine innings higher than 2011.  He has given up a healthy dose of home runs in 2012 and it’s possible with his poor control habits he has been in one too many hitters counts.  That may speak for an elevated HR/FB rate as well.

His BABIP is above his career norm and his LOB% is well below what he did in 2011, simply put more runners are findings way to score this season.  He is still inducing a healthy ground ball rate which is a positive but they are just finding a hole.

He is giving up more line drives this season at 20.5% (17.8 career mark) and his fastball that he relies on very heavily has been hit hard this season, both the four (46% usage) and two seamer (20%).  Pitch values have the four seam at a negative 1.26 per 100 pitches thrown and the two seam fastball a negative 0.49.

Romero’s change-up (thrown 19% of the time) is the only pitch with a positive run value but even that pitch has been way less effective this season.  His velocity has been down about 1 MPH which has led to speculation of some sort of injury possibility but there has been nothing said and Romero still appears healthy.

Let’s have a look at plate discipline and contact rates:

Year O-Swing Z-Swing Swing O-Contact Z-Contact Contact SwStrk
2011 32.0 65.1 46.0 62.5 89.2 78.5 9.6
2012 29.0 62.5 43.7 65.5 91.7 81.9 7.8

Batters are certainly making better contact, chasing outside pitches less and Romero is not missing near as many bats.  His first-strike percentage has gone from 57.9 in 2011 to a measly 52.4 in 2012 – consistently giving the batter the upper hand in most at-bats.

I have thought that perhaps a taxing workload over the past three seasons (178, 210, 225) has started to catch with Ricky RO but that is just an unfounded guess.  His control is awful this season, his velocity is slightly down, lefties continue to pound him and his normal dominance over right handed batters has completely ceased.

I wish I had a good rationale to explain his struggles but this might be something mechanical that I am definitely not qualified to diagnose or an undisclosed physical ailment but whatever it is Ricky Romero has been nowhere near his typical consistent self.

Any thoughts?  Theories?

5 Responses to “Trying To Make Sense Of Ricky Romero’s Struggles”

  1. 1 chief00 August 4, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Ricky Romero’s struggles are Mariano Rivera’s fault, I think. I remember cheering for Roger Craig’s Giants in the 80’s when the split-finger fastball was all the rage. People had thrown versions of it for years of course (forkball), and Roger was a darn good pitching coach so when the Giants began to improve it became more popular. No one threw a better splitter on a regular basis than Roger Clemens. In similar fashion, Mariano Rivera has perfected the cutter and ruined Ricky’s 2012 season in the process.

    Prior to this season Romero didn’t quite throw one cutter every ten pitches, on average. Now he’s throwing it almost once every five pitches, or twice as often. His FB% is down correspondingly and, if Buck and Tabby have a clue, batters aren’t swinging at his change as much. Sliders, which made up 13% of his pitch selection in ’09, are now a one-in-a-thousand pitch.

    Here’s how it breaks down: seven out of every ten pitches is some type of fastball (four-seamer; two-seamer; cutter); one out of ten is a curve; and two out of ten are change-ups. But no one is swinging at the change-ups. That leaves four pitches that range from about 85-91.5 mph thrown 80% of the time.

    Fastballs set the tone. Ricky’s is above average, even with the decline in velocity. However, the slight decline (91.2 this year; 91.5 career) is magnified if no one is swinging at his change-up. This makes it difficult: (1) to establish the strike zone; (2) to get ahead in the count; and (3) to use the third dimension against a batter. He can go up/down, inside/outside (i.e. right/left), but the change-up’s relative ineffectiveness makes forward/backward difficult. Hitters can look for pitches in a zone, but their timing is rarely challenged.

    Add to that a cutter that’s thrown CONSIDERABLY more often and a slider that’s disappeared for all intents and purposes, and we’re watching a very different pitcher on the mound. That pitcher doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, either.

    Ricky Romero and Roy Halladay don’t compare very well, but I think this may be one area where they do. It’s tough to teach a pitcher to pitch at the ML level; it’s even tougher to change his approach. It happened with Doc (I think they monkeyed with his arm angle…), and it almost ruined someone who’s become one of the premier pitchers of the last decade plus. I think (based on hearsay) that the Jays have tinkered with Romero’s pitch selection. It’s reflected in the percentages, and I have no other explanation for such a dramatic change in approach. This means he’s changing his mindset as a 27-year old, 4-year vet.

    The results? He never looks relaxed, his pitches aren’t good, pitch location is awful, and it looks like he struggles with pitch selection. He’s one of the worst starters in the ML this season, after being a solid-and-improving #2/3 starter. Thanks Mo. I believe if they let him go back to his strengths, he’ll return to form.

    How’s that for a pop-bottle theory. This and a toonie will get you a coffee at Tim’s.

  2. 3 budyzer13 August 4, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    It’s hard to say if it’s mechanics or mental or possibly a combination of the two which is the way I am leaning. Romero had lots of luck last year and everyone was forecasting a drop off but not a dive off the deep end. What ever the issues they have cone at a very bad time as the jays need him now to be the top guy and lead this cobbled together rotation.

  1. 1 But Can It Get Any Better? « AL Eastbound & Down Trackback on September 7, 2012 at 11:32 pm

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