Ricky Romero is the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays, there is no doubt about it.
Up until Brandon Morrow’s injury, some were questioning that.
Sports is a fickle business where “what have you done for me lately” is as common a phrase as you can think of. But despite Romero’s early season struggles with walks and giving up the untimely home run here and there, he is still sixth in the American League in in wins, tied for fourth in games started and 12th in innings pitched.
Injuries have decimated the Jays' starting rotation, however, the Jays are sitting roughly seven games out of first and about three games out of the second wild card berth. With a few lucky breaks, and a triumphant return by Morrow around the All-Star break, this team could be right in the playoff hunt.
There has not been really any time this season where Romero has been unmatched or overpowered. He conquered his demons and defeated the Boston Red Sox in his first try and has not given up more than four earned runs in any of his 15 starts this year.
There is no definitive answer as to why Romero has struggled except for the fact that he may have put too much pressure on himself, trying to prove that last year was not a fluke and that he was ready to step up and be the man. The only other thing I can think of is a lack of control in his cutter which he is throwing more than ever—13.8 percent in 2012 to compared to 9.4 percent in 2011 (courtesy of FanGraphs).
It’s also common knowledge that Romero is struggling against left-handed batters (.264 BAA / 5.79 ERA) compared to right-handers (.219 / 3.74.) All this appears to negatives, but can still be looked at as a positive. Romero is winning games without his best stuff and can get that important out when he needs to.
Since signing his five-year extension in 2010 (Five yrs, $30.1 million,) all eyes have been focused on the sixth overall pick from the 2005 draft, and rightly so.
With names like Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Alex Gordon and Justin Upton all picked ahead of him, and all reaching superstar heights in one way or another (we won’t mention third overall pick Jeffrey Clement,) in all estimation, it's Romero’s time as well.
Romero had a dominant year for the Jays in 2011 picking up 15 wins, throwing a career high 225 innings, allowing a career low in hits allowed, and ranked sixth in the AL in ERA. Another sign of his maturation was that he cut down on his walks, albeit two from the previous year, but in 15 more innings.
Those are the little things that help you win baseball games, what make you a No.1 pitcher, what garner you enough votes to be voted 10th in the AL CY Young race.
This year has been a different story.
Romero has been struggling with his command. What seems like a step backwards in performance may be a step in the right direction. The use of the cutter is up (4.4 percent more than last year), but the velocity of his pitches are nearly identical to previous seasons. The only major difference that really stands out is Romero’s O-contact percent and percent of first pitch strikes. Batters are laying off more pitching outside of the strike zone, and Romero isn’t throwing as many first pitch strikes as he’s done in the past.
When looking at this from a batter’s perspective, a 1-0 count is very different than a 0-1 count, also evidence by Romero’s ERA of 5.63 down in the count and 2.32 when ahead. If you start off that batter with a first-pitch fastball for a strike, the odds of throwing an 0-1 change-up out of the zone for a strike is significantly higher. Those pitches you throw out of the zone for purpose pitches become less effective when the batter knows what your strategy is or that you can’t command your pitches where you want.
It’s not that Romero is a different pitcher this year; it’s a command and mechanical issue, which you can clearly see in his follow through and the way his pitches tail away or run away from the batter. An adjustment here and correction there can make all the difference.
Considering he is still winning facing all of these negatives reinforces explains why he is the best pitcher the Jays have at this time or at any time in the future. Great pitchers can win when they don’t have their dominant pitches or control.
Romero will be great, he’s just having some trouble finding his way.
Devon is the founder and executive director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals and Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario, Canada, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow The GM's Perspective on Twitter and Facebook. His full bio can be seen here.