Ricky Romero Returns: An Examination of Pitch Selection

 

Ricky Romero

 

I’m going to take a break from the minor league reports to talk about what I saw from Ricky Romero last night.

 

 

I think we can all get on board with the fact that seeing Ricky coming back and competing like he has a chip on his shoulder is good to see. Shi Davidi wrote an article about Romero’s different mindset coming back to the major leagues.

 

His overall line wasn’t bad: Ricky threw 38 pitches over his two innings, giving up one run on two hits with a walk and a strikeout. His velocity was very good: his fastball averaged 92.12 mph (all figures according to Brooksbaseball.net) while his “sinker” averaged 91.67 mph (there were only three of them). That classification bugs me a bit because either his four-seamed fastball has a TON of movement (it looks like it moves in on right-handed hitters) or he throws a lot of cutters and they’re getting classified as either four-seamed fastballs or sinkers.

 

Anyways, looking at the pitch-by-pitch data it’s somewhat concerning, given that Romero only threw 5 pitches that weren’t four-seamed fastballs last night. Perhaps he (and catcher J.P. Arencibia) were relying on the fact that his fastball had a ton of movement. Perhaps they were just trying to keep things simple. But why were they not using pitches that have been proven to be effective?

 

While his mere return to major league action is a feel-good story, his actual performance wasn’t all that great. Yes, his velocity was there although he didn’t hit 93 mph after Mark Trumbo, his 5th of 9 batters faced. In fact, you could easily argue that his velocity was down about 2 mph in general after Trumbo came up. To me, it looked like he was throwing a cutter more (which usually robs the fastball of about 2 mph) but it could have been that he had a bit more juice at the beginning of his outing.

 

Another problematic issue with last night’s performance (yes, small sample size alert) is the fact that while the technically threw 23 of his 38 pitches for strikes (60.5%), 71.05% of the pitches were OUT of the zone (again, according to Brooksbaseball.net). In addition to that, only 3 of his 23 strikes were swinging: one on a foul tip down the middle and one on a fastball away to lefty Cole Kalhoun and one on a great changeup to strike righty Colin Cowgill out.

 

Obviously this is an issue here. Romero is still having trouble hitting the strike zone. When I went back to the data throughout his career, Ricky has always thrown a lot of pitches out of the strike zone. His highest figure over an entire season was actually 62.82% in his career-best 2011 season so I wouldn’t exactly say that Ricky needs to be throwing in the zone all the time. On the other hand (and again, small sample size), Ricky got far fewer than average swings and misses on balls outside of the zone last night, getting only 2 whiffs in 12 swings on pitches out of the zone (16.67%) despite getting swings on over 44% of his pitches outside of the zone.

 

The biggest concern I have about Ricky’s performance last night is the fact that he only threw 2 off-speed pitches. That’s it. 2. The changeup has always been Romero’s best pitch and I’m wondering why he only used one (and a very effective one).

 

Another pitch that has been effective for Ricky and is his go-to off-speed pitch for left-handed hitters is the curveball. He has always thrown more curveballs than changeups to lefties, particularly last year when he seemed to lose all confidence in throwing the changeup to lefties (thanks, Joe Maddon). I’m wondering why, against the only left-handed batter he faced (Kole Calhoun), Romero didn’t throw a single curveball, particularly since he had him at a 2-2 count for three pitches. No curveball. Why? I focus on this at bat for two reasons. The first is that Calhoun was the only lefty Ricky saw and the second is that Calhoun drove in the only run that Ricky surrendered.

 

Obviously Ricky Romero is still a work in progress and I hope that he gets some more opportunities this year. It looks like he still has a lot of movement on his pitches to go along with the quality off-speed stuff.  But, he needs to throw more strikes and more of the quality off-speed pitches if he wants to stick around with the big club next year.

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