Here’s an idea I’m instantly regretting: instead of empty open thread posts for playoff games, as we’ve done around here in years past, each day I’m going to attempt to have a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2013 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise.
5:00 PM ET – Pittsburgh vs. St. Louis – A.J. Burnett (1.7 rWAR) vs. Adam Wainwright (6.2 rWAR)
8:00 PM ET – Los Angeles vs. Atlanta – Clayton Kershaw (7.9 rWAR) vs. Kris Medlen (3.3. rWAR)
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Ricky Romero saw little of the big leagues this year, and it was still probably too much. He pitched 7.1 innings, giving up eleven hits, eight walks, and nine earned runs while striking out five. To call his season at Buffalo uneven is being overly kind, and so you’d almost be inclined to say that his season was defined by whatever happened to his relationship with the club and the looming questions about where it goes from here.
I would go another way, though. For me, Romero’s season was defined by this: .364/.462/.570.
That is, across all levels in 2013, how left-handed hitters fared against him. That’s… uh… that’s more than a shade better Mike Trout’s overall slash line of .323 /.432/.557. So… if you were a left-handed hitter in 2013 against Ricky Romero– himself a lefty– you hit better than the best player (and the second best hitter) in the universe.
In his brief stint in the Majors, Romero was somehow even worse: 14 left-handed batters faced, eight hits, two walks, zero strikeouts.
Romero was better against right-handed hitters, but still not better enough: they hit him, across all levels, to the tune of .284/.367/.411.
So… what the hell kind of pitcher is this? What use is there for a left-handed reverse-split guy who was just as bad against right-handers this year in Buffalo than he was in the Majors in 2012 (.264/.373/.409), when he was fifth-worst qualified pitcher in baseball by FanGraphs’ WAR?
There sure as hell doesn’t appear to be one if something doesn’t change– and that, even though everybody seems to want to think it was just a pretext for trying to get his head straight, may be exactly why the Jays were hoping to alter his mechanics when they demoted him at the start of the year. It’s at least maybe somewhat buoying to see that two of the qualified pitchers in 2012 who were worse were Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, who have both bounced back outstandingly this year, but it’s still hard to see Romero joining them, particularly because of that reverse split, and the fact that teams, if he ever gets another chance, will surely follow Joe Maddon’s lead in exploiting it.
That’s sort of the scary thing: Romero has kind of always been this way.
From 2009 to 2011 Romero was worth 8.7 wins by FanGraphs, and 11.6 wins by Baseball Reference. Even looking at the leaderboards for just the lower, FanGraphs number, that was good enough to be in the top 40 of all pitchers over the span. But how many of those 40, do you think, had as atrocious a split against same-sided hitters as Romero, who– as he was putting up 11.6 rWAR(!!?!!?!)– was being hit by lefties to the tune of a .277/.358/.471.
From year to year from 2009 to 2011, Romero took big steps against right-handed hitters. They posted a .341 wOBA against him as a rookie, and the number dropped to .290 in 2010, then to .264 in 2011. He blew up real good against right-handers in 2012, which is why his season was so unbelievably bad. Why it wasn’t worse, though, was the fact that managers and teams, apart from Maddon and the Rays, remained reluctant to do the counterintuitive thing and fill their lineups with left-handed hitters when facing him.
Year-by-year, here are the weighted on-base numbers posted against him by left-handers:
2009: .378. 2010: .343. 2011: .368. 2012: .390.
Because in 2013 he faced only 14 left-handers at the big league level it would be unfair to point out that they posted a wOBA of .779 against him, but there’s that, too.
And this, I fear, is why talk of him discovering the “old Ricky” isn’t going to do anybody any good. The “old Ricky” was a reverse split mirage, getting by– as far as I can tell– largely on the assumption that as a left-hander, he’d have the most trouble getting right-handers out.
From 2009 to 2012, Romero faced a slightly higher number of left-handed hitters than fellow lefty workhorses Jon Lester, C.C. Sabathia, and Mark Buehrle, for example. But over 1000 fewer than right-handed ones like Justin Verlander, James Shields, and Felix Hernandez. And you’ll have to look a long way down the list to find your first left-hander.
Now imagine if teams had ignored Romero’s handedness and loaded their lineups as heavily as possible with left-handed hitters from the get-go. Think we’d be still holding out hope for the return of “old Ricky,” or would he be a long-forgotten blip on the Jays’ pitching landscape? And do you think, if he ever does get himself back into a position to pitch regularly in the Majors again, teams are going to be so kind as to treat him like a regular left-hander?