Ricky Romero: Arrived

In the 2005 MLB draft, Ricky Romero was taken with the sixth overall pick by the Toronto Blue Jays. Sandwiched between guys like Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, and Troy Tulowitzki, it seemed like Toronto wasted their pick. While those guys were busy becoming franchise players, Romero was stuck in the minors.

After a solid professional debut at the A+ level in 2006, where he posted a 2.47 ERA and 2.99 FIP in 58.1 innings, Romero began to lose his prospect status. After posting 4+ FIP’s at AA in 2007 and 2008, it appeared as though the lefty was becoming a bust.

But then he burst onto the scene in 2009, throwing 178 solid innings for Toronto. He had a 4.30 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 4.67 tERA, 7.13 K/9, 3.99 BB/9, 0.91 HR/9, and 2.7 WAR. Not great, but not bad for someone who was on the cusp of being labeled a bust.

It’s what he’s done so far in 2010 that has people taking notice of him. Granted SSS, but still. Over 15 innings he has sixteen K’s to just five hits, four walks, and one home run. Yeah.

So what’s been the difference so far? The cutter and change.

In 2009 Romero threw four pitches- fastball, changeup, curveball, and slider, with the change being his best pitch. He threw his low nineties fastball 53.3% of the time, but it was inaffective. It was -11.4 Runs Above Average (RAA). His slider was also relatively inaffective at -2.9 RAA, but he threw it just 9% of the time, the fewest of his four pitches. Meanwhile, his changeup was one of the best in baseball at 9.3 RAA and his curve was 0.2 RAA.

Obviously, as many Jays fans will tell you, he threw too many fastballs and it killed him. The pitch was not very good but he threw it more than half the time, while throwing his best pitch just 22.2% of the time. So he made some changes.

The first change was more change (you like that sentence?). In fifteen innings he’s thrown the changeup 29.4% of the time. He’s also thrown it at the expense of the fastball, which he’s thrown only 34.8% of the time.

But the biggest difference is his new cutter. The cutter is his fifth pitch and does two things for him. 1) It means less fastballs

2) By giving him a fifth pitch, it allows him to mix pitches effectively in order to keep hitters guessing and off balance

Point number two is huge. The dood has FIVE pitches that he has balanced well so far. The result is off balance hitters. He isn’t favoring his fastball like he was in 2009. A side effect is that all his pitches have been above average so far- even the fastball and slider. If he is feeling one pitch one game, he can go with it. He can also use a scouting report more effectively. The development of the cutter looks like it will do wonders.

As Marc Hulet of fangraphs wrote:

He has good fastball velocity for a lefty, and he sat between 89-93 mph with the heater for most of the night, but it was Romero’s ability to keep the hitters guessing that led to his success on the mound.

So far Ricky Romero has been a stud. He’s a ground ball pitcher who can also punch batters out. But as stated before, fifteen innings is a SSS. He is just 26 though and we’ll see if he can continue to balance and mix his pitches over the season.

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