Toronto Blue Jays 2023 Season Preview: RHP Jordan Romano
Next up in our Toronto Blue Jays 2023 season preview series is right-handed pitcher Jordan Romano.
Addison Barger, Anthony Bass, Chris Bassitt, Brandon Belt, José Berríos, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Matt Chapman, Adam Cimber, Hagen Danner, Santiago Espinal, Matt Gage, Yimi García, Kevin Gausman, Chad Green, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Thomas Hatch, Spencer Horwitz, Danny Jansen, Leo Jimenez, Kevin Kiermaier, Yusei Kikuchi, Alejandro Kirk, Otto Lopez, Nathan Lukes, Alek Manoah, Orelvis Martinez, Tim Mayza, Whit Merrifield, Nate Pearson, Zach Pop, Trevor Richards
Before we get into this, here's a quick refresher on the projection models we'll be looking at.
STEAMER: 66 G (0 starts), 4-3 record, 33 saves, 3.47 ERA, 78 SO, 24 BB in 66 innings pitched
ZiPS: 58 G (0 starts), 5-3 record, 32 saves, 3.64 ERA, 70 SO, 21 BB in 59.1 innings pitched
2022 stats: 63 G (0 starts), 5-4 record, 2.11 ERA, 73 SO, 21 BB in 64 innings pitched
In 2021, Romano established himself as the Blue Jays' new closer, and in 2022, the Markham native established himself as one of baseball's best closers. Coming off a second straight year as a top-tier reliever and his first All-Star appearance, expectations are high for Romano as he enters his age-30 season.
The main thing that's immediately obvious from Romano's projections is that both STEAMER and ZiPS expect some pretty heavy regression. While this might seem a bit drastic, there is a reason for this, but before you can understand why Romano might struggle, it's important to understand what makes him so good in the first place.
It's hard to define Romano's success with things like an elite pitch, pinpoint accuracy, or eyepopping velocity. Sure both his fastball and slider are incredibly effective, but they're not in that top tier of pitches. His control is decent, but far from perfect. He gets good movement on his pitches, but nothing extraordinary. He's well above average in most areas, but not to the degree that you would expect of someone with a 2.13 ERA in 127 innings over the past two seasons. So what is it that makes him so good? It's simple; he's just clutch.
"Clutch" is a very hard thing to define, but you know it when you see it, and you absolutely see it in Romano. Every time he comes out to get the save, you're sure he's going to succeed. He has the exact energy needed in a closer, and sure he didn't get it done against Seattle in the postseason, but for the most part, he has been everything you would want in a closer. Outside of the intangibles, his metrics are pretty solid too. His chase rate, strikeout rate, and whiff rate are all in the 80th percentile or higher per baseball savant, and thanks to his 6-foot-5 frame, he's in the 99th percentile for extension, which can make his pitches more deceptive and harder to hit than they would be otherwise. There is, however, one area where he struggles immensely, and it's probably why he's projected to regress in 2023.
In 2021, Romano was in the 85th percentile for hard hit percentage, but that dropped all the way to the 4th percentile in 2022, and likely plays a huge role in his underwhelming projections. Sometimes this is a bit of a misleading stat, but in this case, you see it when you watch his pitch. Even in situations where it didn't come back to bite him, Romano gave up some really hard contact last season, to a degree that simply isn't sustainable in the long term. The harder the ball is being hit off you, the likelier it is that guys are catching up to your stuff, and in Romano's case, he can't afford for that to happen. If he wants to maintain his success from the past two seasons, this number needs to go down, and he needs to start producing weaker contact.
Make no doubt about it, Jordan Romano is a great pitcher. He's been one of baseball's best closers over the past two seasons, but the rate at which he allows hard contact is alarming, and if it continues into 2023, we could see him struggle. There's still plenty of reason to believe that Romano will remain the shutdown closer he's been, but his projections may not be as far off as you would think should this issue persist.