There was plenty of reason to be positive about Ricky Romero at the completion of the 2010 season. He built on a strong rookie campaign by improving most of his periphials, striking out a few more while walking a few less and giving up a few fewer home runs. On my personal site Ghostrunner on First, I set a mini-goal for Ricky Romero – follow Cliff Lee’s lead and make a major leap in his third big league season. Has Ricky Romero followed Cliff Lee’s 2005 example in 2011?

Cliff Lee really started becoming the pitcher we all know and fear in 2005, his third full big league season. He played for a very good Cleveland team as his 18-5 record attests. His strikeouts came down but so did his walks, boosting his K/BB rate to 2.75. A further reduction in his home runs shaved a full run off his FIP (2 from his ERA!) and, in the end, Lee’s 200 innings of excellent work came with a 4 WAR value.

Ricky Romero has held many of his periphials steady in 2011, keeping his strikeout and walk rates consistent with last year. Home runs have been the only sticking point in RR’s game in 2011 but a little bit of (always-welcome) in-play luck is working to his advantage.

Romero is in the middle of an incredible hot streak, starting August with four consecutive outstanding outings. With only four runs allowed in 32 August innings, Romero is pitching like one of baseball’s best.

Like any good hot streak, a little bit of luck goes a long way. In four dominant starts, Romero has allowed just 10 hits – 4 home runs, 3 doubles, and 3 singles. Think about that for a second.

Romero’s BABIP in August is an astounding .076. Is that all luck? Romero is pitching incredibly well right now but no pitcher can expect only 6 balls out of 83 to fall for hits. His strikeouts are down slightly but his K/BB in August is his season’s best at 2.63.

The question remains – has Ricky Romero made a leap or is he benefitting from good fortune? Much like Lee in 2005, Romero is pitching better while a lot of breaks go his way. Can he avoid sliding back like Lee did? Here’s hoping. Has he improved his game to the extent of Lee during his “first wave career season?” I cannot say that he has.

Ricky Romero’s overall line looks better because his results are strong, but his process isn’t much different than the first two seasons of his career. Volatile numbers like line drive, strand rate and BABIP are working in Romero’s favor in 2011 – can he repeat it? Can Ricky Romero maintain the lowest line drive rate allowed by qualified starters? Has he developed a greater ability to strand runners than his previous skills allowed?

This isn’t to tarnish the achievements of Romero in 2011. He was already an excellent pitcher so asking him to improve by leaps and bounds is perhaps a little greedy. Romero’s improved swing and miss rate coupled with an increase in out of zone swings suggest experience is working in his favor, mixing his pitches and fooling more batters.

Romero can reach the highest echelons of True Aces, but not without further growth. An increase in control is a good place to start. Walks certainly present problems to pitchers often bitten by the long ball. Jays fans should be very happy in what they have in Romero. His work ethic and determination bode well for the future as he continues improving and truly becoming one of the game’s elite starters.