Ricky Romero of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on as Dewayne Wise of the Chicago White Sox rounds the bases after hitting a home run during MLB game action at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)
Ricky Romero went from an All-Star to the league leader in walks. The worst part for Blue Jays fans is there isn't a great explanation why.
Ricky Romero isn't exactly the personification of what has gone wrong for the Toronto Blue Jays this year. Their problem is that they haven't kept starting pitchers healthy, while Romero hasn't missed a start. Following an All-Star season in which he picked up some stray Cy Young support, Romero being healthy was supposed to be a best-case scenario.
Considering how his 2012 season has gone, though, some sort of health problem would almost be welcome:
Something physically wrong usually means something that can be physically fixed. Fixing a torn UCL isn't as easy as slathering some over-the-counter UCL balm on it, but at least it'd be an explanation for a season that went awry. Instead, Romero is having one of the worst seasons in the majors, and there isn't a good explanation. He has the third-worst ERA in the majors entering Tuesday's start, and he leads the American League in walks. His command was never Madduxian, but he never seemed like a candidate to lead the league in free passes.
It's 2012, though, and there is a sea of data to sift through. There are simplistic stats and trends that are easily available, and as a horrible analyst, I like to pretend I'm doing a scholar's work as I look them up.
For example, I LOUDLY SUSPECT THESE PROBLEMS ARE RELATED TO BATTING AVERAGE ON BALLS IN PLAY!
Batting average on balls in play
Okay, fine. Then I blame reduced velocity, which is always a good fallback when you have a pitching enigma. Show me reduced velocity!
2010 - 90.9
2011 - 92.0
2012 - 91.4
Okay, not much there. Romero's career average is 91.5, and he was quite successful in 2010 as well. What about his pitch usage
How about reduced movement on his pitches?
Looks about the same, save a little less vertical movement on the four-seam fastball in 2012 compared to previous seasons.
Pitch selection? Possibly. He's scrapped his slider, which used to be the pitch he threw second most after his fastball. And in 2012, he's using his fastball about 10 percent more against left-handers on the first pitch, and he's using his curve about 17 percent more with two strikes against lefties. And it turns out that lefties are torching him this year. There we go …
Except lefties have always torched him. Romero's consistently had the freakiest reverse-platoon splits in the game: Lefties have hit him for an OPS of 100 points higher than righties in each of the four seasons he's been in the league. So the pitches might be a little different, but that doesn't indicate a trend.
His mechanics? The left is his first start of 2011. The right is a start from this season in which he allowed eight earned runs in 1⅓ innings:
Looks the same to these ignorant eyes. Except that he grew several inches and gained 100 pounds in the second one, but that might just be the camera playing tricks. I called the Blue jays for some updated measurements, just waiting to hear back.
Wait, I know! Romero misses Jose Molina, who is the best pitch-framer in the game. That would make a ton of sense!
Except Molina didn't catch Romero even once last year.
It's a cycle of idea and rejection of said idea when it comes to evaluating Romero. As a hack Internet writer, this is now the point where I mutter "sample size" and scurry away. There is no obvious reason why he is suddenly the wildest pitcher in the American league, but that's what happened. As of the end of last season, Romero was a franchise cornerstone, locked up through 2015 at (what were) below-market salaries. Now he's just an enigma.
The broken Jays pitchers will heal. But Ricky Romero isn't broken in any obvious way. All that's left for fans is the waiting game. And we all know that game sucks.