Over the last few weeks, we’ve (ok, I’ve) had a good time making fun of the fact that Ricky Romero is basically the last man standing in Toronto, after Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchinson, and Brandon Morrow all went down and Henderson Alvarez came up sore. But maybe “standing” is the wrong word, since Romero has been brought to his knees lately by opposing hitters.
Last night, Ricky Romero allowed eight earned runs in his second straight start, this time to the lowly Royals, who touched him up for 11 hits and three walks in 6 innings of work. Romero now is 8-3 on the year, but don’t let the record fool you. He has a 5.35 ERA that ranks 96th out of the 105 pitchers who qualify for the ERA title this year, and even before the Red Sox and Royals used him as a punching bag, it’s not like Romero was great shakes. Indeed, since May 1, Romero has given up 54 runs in 70.1 innings and has walked 12.8% of the batters he’s faced. Indeed, despite the fact that his velocity has essentially held steady, all of his indicator stats are going in the wrong direction:
As you can see, he’s striking out fewer, while walking more and giving up more homers, despite the fact that batters aren’t hitting the ball in the air any more than they’ve ever done against him. What’s more, according to FanGraphs, batters are swinging at fewer of Romero’s pitches, while still making more contact. Meanwhile, Pitch F/X shows that Romero is throwing fewer fastballs and has scrapped his slider entirely, and more cutters and curveballs to make up the difference. And Romero’s pitches have less movement on them in years past. Here’s a look at Romero’s horizontal and vertical movement of his pitches from last year and this year from Brooks Baseball:
2011 vs. 2012
Again, as you can see, Romero’s changeup and curveball have a lot less depth than last year, and the curve is not as tightly clustered. Also, Romero’s sinker seems not to be moving quite as much horizontally as it did last year.
So what could account for this reduced movement? At SABR this year, James Tetler and Andy Andres of Boston University presented a poster that examined how release points and velocity correlate to Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries by looking at how these factors changed in the run up to the player going on the DL. They found no evidence that either release point or velocity changed in the run up to the injury. What they did posit, and propose to look at in future research, is the possibility that pitchers have more trouble spinning their pitches when they injure their elbows, since they can’t twist them in the same way, with the same force. This certainly jives with anecdotal evidence of pitchers from the 1960s and 1970s that have reported that they could continue throwing fastballs, but that breaking balls were impossible to pitch through after a devastating injury.
An injury, or the beginnings of an injury, would certainly account for a reduced pitch movement for Romero. And it would explain why Romero has completely scrapped his slider in 2012. It was never a significant part of his arsenal, really, and sliders are notoriously hard on the elbow, which is why Tim Lincecum announced he was going to be throwing his less this year.
All of which is not to say that Romero is really hurt. He may be feeling some discomfort. He may have changed his grips. He certainly is getting less lucky in double play situations. But whatever he’s doing, it’s not working. Oh God, is it not working. And I can’t help but think he might have caught the great Toronto Pitching Plague of ’12.
Hey, and while I’m still here, Happy Canada Day you guys. I know it was on Sunday, but I wasn’t around to tell you then. So I hope you had a great one. In celebration, here’s a video that Navin Vaswani found and posted to NotGraphs of the 1989 Toronto Blue Jays singing “This Land is Your Land.” Joe Carter has a pretty voice. So he has that going for him even though he kind of sucked: