Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ricky Romero - What the Heck??

   Heading into the 2012 season, the sky appeared to be the limit for Blue Jays lefthander Ricky Romero.
Romero had posted a 15-11 record in 2011, with a 2.92 ERA.  His Wins had increased every year since his debut in 2009, and his ERA, WHIP, and BABIP had all decreased over that time, and the Jays rewarded with 6th pick of the 2005 draft with a 5 year, $30 million contract.
   And then it all fell apart......
   2012 was an unmitigated disaster for the Californian, who was a 2011 All-Star. His 5.77 ERA was the worst among all qualifed starters, as was his 5.22/9 BB rate.  He went three months between wins at one point. Romero may have pitched over his head in 2011, but it's hard to see how his 2012 season was representative of his abilities.
   No matter how you look at it, his 2012, in comparison to his first three MLB seasons, was ugly:
Courtesy of Brooks Baseball:



   No matter how you slice it, Romero has lost precious velocity off of all of his pitches, as seen in the top chart, and has generated a declining number of missed bats, as shown in the second, although his fastball received a higher swing rate in 2012.  
    2013 was no better, of course.  Healthy after an elbow scope and minor surgery to both knees in the offseason, the hope that Romero was ready to at least claim a spot in the back of the rotation.  Spring training did not see and end to his control issues.  He was left behind in Florida while the rest of the team broke camp, and worked on some changes to his delivery the club had ordered.  After one successful start in the Florida State League, Romero was recalled to the big leagues, but was sent down to AAA after two starts.  His numbers with Buffalo were uninspiring, but he was recalled again when rosters expanded on September 1st.  He made two unimpressive relief appearances to close the season. Romero was outrighted to Buffalo in October, removing him from the 40 man roster.  
   How do we explain the sudden loss of velocity ?  How did Romero go from 2011 Opening Day starter and an All Star game appearance to 5th starter in AAA?   Was he healthy, or was it more of a mental thing?
Did he lose confidence?
   The answer, while complicated, is all of the above.
While not unhealthy, Romero was obviously pitching in some pain in 2012.  Maybe the 613 innings he had thrown from 2009-11 had taken their toll.  This may have caused him to alter his delivery, even impreceptibly, to compensate, which in turn may have impacted his velocity.  One thing that is certain that his changeup suddenly gained incredible movement in 2012:




  Unfortunately, American League hitters caught on to the movement, which often took the pitch out of the bottom of the strike zone, and Romero went from throwing the pitch for a ball 36% of the time from 2009-11, to over 42% in 2012.  Since hitters were laying off that pitch more frequently, Romero was forced to try to paint the corners with his other pitches, which were declining in velocity.  This led to the huge increase in walks in 2012, and also led to his sub-par fastball getting hammered when it caught too much of the strike zone. 
  So, while there may have been some physical explanation to his ineffectivness in 2012, the trend continued when he was supposedly healthy in 2013.  Which brings us to the so-called "mental" part.  Did Romero lose confidence in his stuff ?  Did he develop Steve Blass Disease ?  Again, all of the above appears to be the answer. And just as self-confidence can breed more of itself, so can a lack of it.  
   Few athletes dominate the opposition over the majority of their careers.  Almost all pitchers go through periods where their arms are dead, or they can't find the plate, or the hitters make adjustments. The successful pitchers learn to compensate, or make adjustments of their own.  Romero has failed to do so over the last two seasons, at least consistently.  Which is why we better get used to thinking of Romero as a minor leaguer for at least the foreseeable future.
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