Monday, April 23, 2012

How good is Ricky Romero?

How good was the first round of the 2005 draft? Upton went first to the Diamondbacks. Gordon went to the Royals with the second pick. Jeff Clement was chosen by the Mariners. Okay, that one did not work out. Zimmerman went to the Nationals. Braun went to the Brewers. Ricky Romero went to the Blue Jays and Tulowitzki went to the Rockies. Not a bad top six, eh? Later picks in the round included Bruce, McCutchen, Maybin and Ellsbury. That is a lot of talent. You might have noticed that Ricky Romero was the first pitcher selected in that draft. Probably few outside of Canada know that. But then again, few outside of Canada know how good a pitcher Ricky Romero is and is becoming. At the age of 27, Romero has already won 45 games and he just keeps getting better.

Romero's 45 wins come against just 29 losses. That is a winning percentage over .600 despite the fact that his team, the Toronto Blue Jays, have been stuck at a .500 pace since Romero arrived in the majors. There are a few other things you notice about Romero. First, he hasn't missed a start since being called up for the first time in 2009. That's pretty darn dependable. Every fifth day, he is going to be there. The second thing you notice is that he hasn't exactly been a "shut down" kind of pitcher. His 3.58 career ERA and 4.03 career FIP don't remind you of a Strasburg. But he's not that kind of pitcher.

Romero doesn't blaze away with his fastball. He throws consistently in the 90 to 91 MPH range. He throws a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a curve, a change up and a slider/cutter. The latter pitch is debated between Fangraphs (which calls it a cutter) and PitchF/X (which calls it a slider). When his curve is on, it's a terrific pitch. And between the two-seam fastball and the change up, Romero gets a lot of ground balls. 

Romero's ground ball rate is terrific at 54.7 percent for his career. It is even higher this year at 56.2 percent. His ground ball to fly ball ratio is at 1.95 for his career but is a career best, 2.41 this season. This is also important for him because if batters hit the balls in the air, a somewhat large percentage of them go over the wall. Playing his home games in Toronto (a homer-prone park) does not help there. But when Romero is on, batters are pounding the ball into the ground.

The one real weakness Romero has in his game is his walk rate. It sits at 3.53 percent for his career. The good news there is that it was lower every season since 2009. But it has bounced a little higher this year, but it is early yet. Imagine how good he could be if he got that walk rate down around 2 percent! 

The lowered walk rate each season combined with an improved hits per nine rate every season of his career mean that his WHIP improves every season. Here is the progression:
  • 2009 - 1.522
  • 2010 - 1.290
  • 2011 - 1.138
  • 2012 - 1.061

That is a pitcher who is only getting better and better. A natural byproduct of that lowered hits per nine rate is that his BABIP has gone lower every season he has been in the big leagues. BABIP is often associated with luck. But that doesn't seem to be the case with Romero. He simply has induced weaker contact as he career progresses. And base runners who do get on are often erased via the double play. Romero induced 28 double plays last season and is averaging one per game this season.

Ricky Romero may not win Cy Young Awards. He is not a high strikeout pitcher and plays in a homer-prone park. That means his FIPs are never going to look as pretty as say a Verlander. But this is one heck of a pitcher. He is going to win sixty percent of his games. He is going to take the ball every fifth day and that is the kind of pitcher that just about every team in the majors would love to have. And the good news for the Blue Jays? They already have him tied up with a contract that keeps him a Blue Jay through 2016.

1 comment:

Bill Miller said...

I, too, like Ricky Romero. But there's no way he replicates last years 2.92 ERA. His walk totals are still a bit high, and will catch up with him at some point. I'm not saying he isn't a fine pitcher, just that his mediocre command will keep him from joining the Halladays, Verlanders, Kershaws, and Lees among the truly elite pitchers in baseball.