2012 was a very bad, ungood year for Ricky Romero. It started well enough but, by the end of the season, Ricky Romero was one of the worst starters in baseball. Romero struggled with his control and struggled to get anybody out.
Romero’s best weapon has long been his change up, his swing-and-miss pitch that batters somewhat gave up on in 2012. Romero’s great love of the change up gives him very odd reverse splits – lefties hit the left-handed starter much harder than righties. Much of this owes to Romero’s reluctance to throw his change up to arm-sided batters. As a result, teams like the Rays love loading their lineup with lefties to gain an edge (not to mention get under Romero’s skin a little bit) by taking away his best weapon.
Lefties hit Romero harder than usual in 2012 but righties did as well. Romero posted the worst numbers of his career across the board last season, posting the worst ERA and third-worst FIP among starters in baseball. This came after Romero looked very much like a number two starter in 2011, where he danced between the raindrops to post a 2.92 ERA versus a 4.20 FIP.
The Blue Jays need Romero to be more like the 2011 version of himself. Asking him to outperform his component stats as he did that season is a tall order but if he can deliver 200 innings and a 4-ish FIP, the Jays will likely be laughing all the way to the playoffs.
For that to happen, Romero must be healthy and he must improve over 2012. While these two things are not unrelated, perhaps tweaking Romero’s approach is key to getting the most from the former Opening Day starter and staff ace. Perhaps, given Romero’s love of the change up and rededication to his sinker, a move on the pitching rubber is in order.
Ricky Romero is unique pitcher in many ways, most notably the slightly cross-bodied stride he uses. Not unlike Jered Weaver of the Angels, Romero strides towards 11 o’clock (if home plate is 12 o’clock) and throws somewhat across his body. Making a massive adjustment such as sending him “straighter down the line” is not something one undertakes mid-March. Romero is athletic enough to make it work though his ongoing knee trouble could potentially be related to this extra strain.
Like most pitchers, Romero stands tall on the rubber, favoring the first base side. Based on his struggles against lefties and his heavy change up usage (which moves away from righties ) perhaps shifting Ricky to the third base side of the rubber might help him with one key component of his game: throwing strikes.
The Red Sox moved right-handed Allen Webster towards first base to better “unlock” the inside of the plate to right-handed hitters. Could the same not hold true of moving Romero to the third base side, giving Romero a better angle to attack lefties and righties alike?
R.J. Anderson of Baseball Prospectus wrote extensively about many different pitchers who moved around on the rubber in April of last year. One pitcher highlighted was Jaime Garcia of the St. Louis Cardinals. Garcia and Romero are similar pitchers in that they’re both left-handed ground ball machines. Garcia is more fastball/change/slider than Romero, who throws more fastballs than Garcia tosses his change up at a very similar rate.
The Cards shifted their young lefty from the center of the rubber towards this base between the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The move paid dividends right away, as Garcia, dropped his walk rate from 9.2% in 2010 to very close to 6% for 2011 and 2012. His Fielding Independent Pitching numbers also dropped year over year, posting a career low 2.97 in 2012 (though a career high ERA.)
The changeup is Romero’s key pitch – it usually gets him swings and misses and does the heavy lifting of most pitcher’s curve. In 2012, batters stopped swinging at Romero’s change, perhaps due to its excessive nastiness. In that linked piece, Jon Hale of The Mockingbird notes that Romero still catches a lot of the strike zone with his offerings, perhaps too much of the meat of the plate.
Moving Romero to the far right side of the rubber could open up the inside half of the plate against right-handed batters, starting his change up (or sinker, should he choose to re-visit that offering) at the front hip of righties and fading it towards the inside corner. Garcia’s slider gives him an extra weapon against righties but the Cardinals pitcher succeeds inside against righties where Romero struggles.
Likewise, Romero can actually use his best pitch against lefties, bringing that change up in the back door and giving him a better angle of attack with his cutter. By virtue of his change up moving more vertically than horizontally, Romero should be confident that his best offering won’t run directly onto the barrel of arm-sided batters.
Stephen Strasburg throws his nasty change up twice as frequently as Romero to arm-sided batters. This is noteworthy as the Nats ace and Romero feature an identical amount of horizontal movement on their change ups (17 inches, though in opposite directions.)
Maybe this is nothing. Maybe Ricky Romero will bounce back healthy and normal in 2013. Maybe Romero’s arsenal of pitches doesn’t suit this type of move. Though his position within the Jays rotation is not in question (for now), the Jays are operating without a net this season. How much more rope will Romero get? How long can they allow him to walk the world?
Romero has five walks in 5.2 spring innings with only two strikeouts to show for his efforts. Does that mean a thing? No. But this is just a modest proposal, just something to tuck into the back pocket for consideration should his control struggles persist once the games start to matter. By that time it figures to be too little and too late, does it not?
With an assist to ESPN Stats & Info.