Reviving Ricky Romero

Sep 10, 2013; This outing by Romero here didn’t bring the best results, but there were positives. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The history of Ricky Romero is well documented.  Prior to becoming a Toronto Blue Jays regular, he was the Jays’ 2006 First Round selection.  At Cal State-Fullerton, Romero helped lead his team to a 2004 National Championship.  He was rated highly and when the 6th overall pick came up, the Jays snatched him up.

What followed Romero were several years of inconsistency.  Initially thought to be on the fast track to the big leagues at 20, he struggled on virtually every level.  Romero’s biggest problem was throwing strikes.  At AA, Romero was 10-18 with a 4.97 ERA, 1.56 WHIP.  If you think there’s got to be a mistake, Fangraphs has his FIP at 4.50.  There’s no mistake.  In AAA, he wasn’t much better.  He was still plagued by control problems, with 20 BB over 42.2 IP.

Still, four years after former Blue Jays GM J.P. Riccardi drafted him, unjustifiably, he let Romero off the leash.  In 2009, Romero impressed in Spring Training enough for the Blue Jays to warrant him a slot in the rotation.  In this BP Prospectus Q&A, Romero credits a lot of his new-found success to his AA pitching coach, Dave LaRoche, as well as former Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.  He also references watching Roy Halladay‘s delivery and how Halladay repeated the same motion again and again.  Romero says that the point he wanted to be at.

From 2009-2011, we all watched Romero grow as a pitcher.  Each year, his K/9 stayed consistently around 7.2 while he improved his BB/9 from 3.99 to 3.51 to 3.20.  His WHIP dropped to 1.14, which, when compared to his minor league numbers, seemed incomprehensible.  Factor in run support, according to baseballreference.com, Romero’s 4.5 runs per 27 outs was more than enough based off his ERA.

I mentioned some of Romero’s major league numbers being incomprehensible when compared to his minor league stats.  Looking at his 2011 season, maybe 2011 was a facade?  Despite a 2.92 ERA, Romero’s xFIP sat at 3.80, while his tERA was much worse at 4.17.  In fact, the xFIP, FIP (4.20), and FIP- (102) all hinted red flags during Romero’s “stellar season.  Then there was 2012.  Why did things fall apart so quickly?

MYTHS: I read this on twitter and I wish I could dig out the tweet.  A follower said that Romero was no longer throwing pitches in the dirt.  He believed it had everything to do with JPA’s poor blocking ability.  This is false.  Here are some pitching charts, compliments of BrooksBaseball.net, of performances against Baltimore (7/27/2011) and Tampa Bay (8/02/2011).

vs Tampa Bay

vs Baltimore

vs Tampa Bay

vs Tampa Bay

Both outings clearly show Romero had no problems throwing in the dirt.  I had a pitching graphic for of a poor outing against Boston, but it wouldn’t upload for some reason.  Here’s the link.  It’s no different than the two above.  The strategy was get ahead in the count, use secondary pitches to get hitters out.  Romero, from 2009-2011, was pretty good at making this happen.  So what really happened to Romero?

FACTS:  The first thing to point out is this:

1.) Prior to 2009, Romero had never been one to pitch deep into a ball game.  Thanks to his high walk rate, that typically meant high pitch count.  In his five seasons in the minors, Romero only pitched over 150 IPs just once, in 2008 (164.1).   The years before that, 93 (2007), 125.2 (2006), and 30.2 (2005).  Why is this significant?  In the years that followed, the “bulldog” may not have been a bulldog, or an innings eater if you will.  In 2009, if you include the 14 innings of minor league rehab ball, Romero, threw for a total of 192.  That number jumped up to 210 in 2010 and 225 for 2011.  It’s a significant boost over a three year stretch that saw Romero average 104 IPs per year, prior to 2009.

2.) Romero’s release point abandoned him.  Again, compliments to BrooksBaseball.net Pitch f/x tool, have a look at his release points from different games in 2011, 2012, and 2013 (each chart will be marked).

vs Boston 7/06/2011

vs Boston 7/06/2011

vs Baltimore 7/27/2011

vs Baltimore 7/27/2011

vs Tampa Bay 8/02/2011

vs Tampa Bay 8/02/2011

Now notice the change in 2012.  Slightly earlier release point.

vs Kansas City 4/22/2012

vs Kansas City 4/22/2012

vs Oakland

vs Oakland 5/08/2012

Now notice the sudden loss in confidence.  Two different arm slots for pitches start to emerge along with varying release points.  No mechanical changes were noticed from any video.

vs Tampa Bay 5/23/2012

vs Tampa Bay 5/23/2012

Pete Walker, we have a problem… 2 drastically differentiating arm slots (which can be considered a “tell”), inconsistent release points, and a drop off in fastball velocity as well as drastic drop off in fastball strike percentage.

vs Boston 6/27/2012

vs Boston 6/27/2012

So how does this happen?  Well as stated above, there were no mechanical changes other than the arm slot change by Romero.  This change reduced velocity as well as accuracy.  It IS argumentatively disputable that these arm slot changes could have been by Romero’s doing due to 1.) the possible recommendation of Walker.  2.) Romero’s own choice due to decline in confidence, or 3.) Romero battled an injury.  The latter two possibilities probably ring most true.  Romero did have surgery in the 2012-2013 offseason.  It was obvious to most that watched the games, a more-than-usual amount of deep breaths made by Romero while on the mound.  That’s not typical of a guy in control.

Also, while the surgery to his elbow could reveal a reason in dip in velocity (it wasn’t much from 93-94 down to 90-92), his knee injuries may be more telling.

3.) Unfortunately, here comes probably the most embarrassing charge a person can make of an athlete.  In 2012, Romero looked out of shape.  I HATE saying that.  Being an athlete myself, there’s a source of pride that doesn’t want you to admit something like being out of shape, but this picture speaks for itself.

Mandatory Credit: (Left) Feb. 28, 2011, Leon Galip: Getty Images (Right)

Mandatory Credit: (Left) Feb. 28, 2011, Leon Galip-Getty Images (Right ) Aug. 4, 2012; Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Romero clearly looks like he’s carrying extra weight in this side-by-side.  It’s not muscle.  It’s not a mistake.  What you see there is a gut.  Now, it’s very possible that his knees could have been a problem in the offseason, which could have led to a weight gain, but chances are, it is the other way around.   How does fat weight gain effect your body?  Ask John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Josh Beckett: The Chicken and Beer trio.  It CAN alter your release point.

Lackey vs Texas 9/04/2011

Lackey vs Texas 9/04/2011

Lackey vs Colorado 6/26/2013

Lackey vs Colorado 6/26/2013

Lackey never experienced a decline in velocity until the Tommy John injury derailed him for the entire 2012 season.  When he came back in 2013, as you can see above, the release point was different vertically as well as horizontally, but the velocity was there.  While this could be attributed to the Tommy John surgery, it could also be attributed the weight loss.  Red Sox skipper, John Farrell, stated back when pitchers and catcher reported in February of 2013, that Lackey had looked to have lost 12-15 lbs.  That may be putting it mildly.

 

(Left) June 22, 2012; Fat Lackey - Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports (Right) Oct 30, 2013; Thin Lackey - Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

(Left) June 22, 2012; Fat Lackey – Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
(Right) Oct 30, 2013; Thin Lackey – Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Muscle memory is a funny thing.  It’s talked about quite often and there are subconscious triggers for using when it comes to sports.  I guess the best way to explain it is from my own experience.  Way back during my collegiate soccer days, I was a svelte 155 lbs and had a cannon right foot that was very accurate, especially during indoor season.  When you’re trying to replicate hitting a particular spot on net, your body begins to develop memory for the slot and angle, to a point where you can do it naturally.  Any athlete playing a sport that deals with accuracy and precision goes through the process of repetition to create this natural memory.  Adding weight can change the way your body remembers to hit a location, especially when your core is involved.  A lack of practice can do that as well.  As I got older, I put on weight.  I wasn’t playing at a highly competitive level anymore, except at the dinner table.  I gained weight and at one point, got up to 220 lbs.  Aside from lowering my endurance and slowing my speed came numerous injuries, especially to my knees.  It also changed my ability to place the ball where I wanted it.  Even when I did practice, it didn’t matter.  Some of that was injury related, a lot of it was from being out of shape.

To say Romero isn’t practicing would be me speculating.  To say Romero has put on weight would not be speculating.  A picture is worth 1000 words and that picture with his shirt flying untucked from his belt screams just one: FAT

So, how does Toronto revive Ricky Romero?  That is the million dollar question.  Though it seemed like his 2013 season was a wash, there is good news, especially based off his last two MLB outings.  The arm slot seems to be somewhat consistent again, even if his release point isn’t.

vs Los Angeles Angels 9/10/2013

vs Los Angeles Angels 9/10/2013

In this outing above, Romero line was as followed: 2 IP  2 H 1 ER 1 R 1 BB 1 K 38 pitches, 23 strikes.  Nothing really jumps out at you with that, but there are signs of encouragement.  Romero’s average FB sat at 91 MPH and maxed at 94 (94.3) MPH (2011 AVG FB: 92 MPH, MAX FB: 95 MPH).  The arm slot and release is very similar to that of his 2011 season.

vs Baltimore 9/25/2013

vs Baltimore 9/25/2013

In Romero’s final outing of the season, Romero went 1 IP 2 H 2 ER 2 R 1 HRA 2 BB 0 K 25 pitches, 10 strikes.  As you can see, this is still a work in progress.  In the minors, after ditching his “mechanical changes,” Romero would be effective for a few innings and then implode.  Like I said, this is a work in progress.  Above, you can see the release point is off, yet his FB velocity was still at 91 MPH, topping out at 94 (93.8) MPH.  He threw many less strikes and he paid for it.

Looking at these two outings further, while they have had mixed results, one thing has been consistent: Romero has hardly used his secondary pitches.  On September 10th, he only threw 2 offspeed pitches.  In his September 25th start, only 5 offspeed.  If you’re wondering why, the answer is Walker is trying to regain Romero’s confidence.  As Romero struggled to throw strikes in 2012, he could not only not use his secondary pitches due to often being behind in the count, but he also had to abandon them altogether.   Mixing in pitches while dealing with release point issues only further complicates the matter because, obviously, it involves releasing the ball from different points, as well as using different grips.  Good thing there’s a whole offseason for Romero to continue to work on this, as he is improving.

Sep 10, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero (24) throws against the Los Angeles Angels in the seventh inning at the Rogers Centre. Los Angeles defeated Toronto 12-6. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 10, 2013; Leaner Romero Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Also improving seems to be Romero’s weight.  Here’s a good look from September 10th.  I know it all sounds so simple.  I’m quick to remind people I’m far from any expert.  However, my knowledge not just for watching, but also playing the game, is quite high.  The game is always about adjustments.  It’s not like at half time of a football game.  On the mound, it’s about constantly adjusting.  It’s a constant chess match between you and the batter, which is why approach is so highly underrated.  It’s not just natural talent you’re watching on the field.  It’s an honed craft.  For Romero, it’s about honing his craft once again and being fully dedicated to it.  If September 10th is a sign of things to come, I’m genuinely excited about the possibility of seeing the old Ricky Romero back.  It might seem far fetched, but if you’ve made it this far, you can clearly see Romero is closer to reviving his career than the general consensus believes.

Topics: Ricky Romero, Toronto Blue Jays

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  • Shariq M

    aaaanddd no…brilliant analysis but you could’ve spun that any way you wanted to. Romero has mental issues everytime I see him – he’s too angry on the mound, his heads not in the right place (don’t show me a fancy graph for that please). He’s so terribly frustrated while pitching, he has no future left in Toronto.

    • david s

      So basically he is angry and has mental issues and that is why he is not pitching well? Therefore he will never pitch again in Toronto. Wow. That’s deep Shariq. So you are a qualified psychologist or this is a… hunch?

      • Shariq M

        well actually I am a psychologist – funny you should ask. Besides that point, Ricky has been terribly handled by the organization – he was given a pitching role when his AA, AAA numbers didnt justify it – thereby drastically reducing his development cuz he thought he was ready at that point. Once he he got found out the results are for everyone to see.

        For 7.5 million bucks coming into my bank account this year for doing nothing i’d be mad if i was asked to pitch too. Sure he needs to pitch to make more money because SP make wayy too much in this market. There is no way Romero will ever pitch in the majors for Toronto again – he’ll just take his money and move on. The Jays development system sucks as is – or they just hype players too much (case in point – Gose, who is trash) and Ricky doesn’t want to do any extra work right now.

        • david s

          Shariq you are so silly. A text analysis shows you are fibbing. You are not a psychologist. Besides the Jays’ farm system and scouts are top notch. I assure you no one wants to pitch again more than Ricky Romero.

          • http://www.messiahforhire.blogspot.com Pike Parker

            Exactly what makes the Jays’ scouting and farm system top-notch? Is it the fact that the organization hasn’t developed a single above-average starting pitcher or position player in the last ten years? They either draft the wrong players, develop them poorly, or both.

          • david s

            According to Fanside Pike the Jays farm system is ranked number 2 out of the mlb. I think that number two is pretty top notch.
            As far as prospects go what about the following

            Aaron Sanchez
            Marcus Stroman
            Robert Osuna
            Sean Nolin
            John Stilson
            AJ Jimenez

          • http://www.messiahforhire.blogspot.com/ Pike Parker

            You guys keep on ogling your prospect porn. I guess none of the guys at the high minors level when Anthopoulos took over were actual prospects because they were drafted by the previous regime, right?

            I don’t care how highly-rated Toronto’s minor-league system is until they start producing actual above-average major leaguers. I guess I’ll be back in two or three years, after Anthopoulos has been fired and some new guy who’s never succeeded as a GM is running the show in Toronto. By that time I guess all of Anthopoulos’ drafted players that you’re drooling over will be All-Stars. Like Gose and Drabek.

          • david s

            What a jerk.

          • david s

            Oh I forgot Pike, the Vancover Canadians were champions of their league too. That should say something.

          • Justin Jay

            It says they have some Low A talent. That’s still several steps away from the MLB. I take serious notice when players reach AA and AAA.

          • david s

            I stand corrected.

          • David

            Pike, when J.P. Ricciardi left in 2009, the farm system was horrible. AA came in and built a great farm and last year he gave up our high level prospects in the Miami and New York trades. I will admit the Mets trade was a horrible one, but I really like the Miami trade. The system hasn’t had a chance to develop compeletely yet. Though the Jays’ development is a little shaky, something Justin has talked about, the lower levels of the Jays farm system is stacked. In terms of high level prospects, Stroman is going to be a stud, Sanchez will be crazy if he finds his command and A.J. Jimenez can be a starter if things break right. Their depth in the starting rotation is crazy-12 guys on that depth chart. You are right about their drafting. It’s not the best- I don’t particularly like how they go after tough signings and they mostly draft high school pitchers, but it’s not bad.

            The Jays have a top 15, if not top 10 farm system.

          • Justin Jay

            I feel like David is in my head right now. Thank you. I’m not sure Stroman will be a stud, but he’s got potential to be very solid. Sanchez has the potential to be a stud. It’s the control and command of that 96 MPH FB that needs to be reigned in.

          • David

            I call Stroman a stud because from what I’ve heard, he will be a starter, that fastball plane is overrated and even without his fastball plane, he can create plane with his off-speed pitches. From what I’ve heard, almost everybody has said he can be a starter. I didn’t like what I saw from Sanchez in the AFL. Even if his numbers looked good, he was hitting a lot of bats

          • Justin Jay

            Exactly and exactly. Could not have said it better myself. Stroman’s small frame will be just fine. His fastball will make his secondary pitches more effective and his secondary pitches will make people fear his FB. It happens in AA, but now it just needs to happen in The Show.

            Sanchez’ AFL numbers are extremely deceptive. Like you said, just by watching him, they either hit him, or he walked the hitter. This would be the case where David S is right about WHIP (it was a nice facebook debate we had last week.) Sanchez’ WHIP was below 1 with an incredible BAA of .147 and BABIP of .204, but his 4.84 BB/9 in AFL says A LOT. He won’t get away with that in AAA and certainly not at the MLB level.

          • David

            Exactly. A lot of prospect analysts and myself have been down on him. I saw 2 AFL games on TV when he pitched and hitters just kept lining his pitches right at hitters when they actually hit the ball. And as you said, 4.84BB/9 is very concerning, though it was against the best minor league hitters. But as I said, I’m really concerned into what he will turn into.

          • Justin Jay

            Well, I wouldn’t say the best minor league hitters, but certainly guys with a lot of upside to be the best. That’s part of what makes his numbers deceiving. He would get exposed at advanced levels with more experienced hitters.

          • david s

            If you are angry Pike. I can help with that… read above… I hear Shariq is a psychologist.

          • Justin Jay

            Develop them poorly. I’m convinced of this

    • Justin Jay

      Thank you on the brilliant analysis part. I do appreciate that. The spin? Not sure how. The results show he’s better than 2012 and improving. If I saw otherwise, I would have said “There’s no hope for Romero and it’s time to move on.” I have nothing really vested in this. He severely screwed my fantasy season in 2012 and that alone ticks me off… but because I want to see this team be successful and I believe Romero CAN be taught and improve, I decided to do some research on him to see if it was true. Turns out, the man can still be taught. I’m really hoping he comes into camp trimmed down and ready to go. That would be a HUGE, unexpected boost, and then we can maybe start talking playoffs and everybody can bash me for saying “Blow this team up.”

  • david s

    Insightful article. I think your writing shows a lot of work.

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