Ricky Romero is a groundball pitcher who just had a pretty successful second season for the Toronto Blue Jays, going 14-9 with a 3.73 ERA. He provides a reasonable, but not outstanding amount of strikeouts, but mainly his fantasy value is for his win-loss record (which will be hampered by him playing in the AL East) and his ERA (powered by his ability to get ground balls). His peripherals would seem to indicate the improvement from his rookie season’s 4.30 ERA was not caused by luck, but does that mean we should expect him to keep improving, or at the very least replicate his results from this last year? Let’s take a look at his pitches.
Romero throws five pitches: a four-seam fastball that has cutting action, a two-seam fastball, a change-up, a slider and a curveball. His main pitch is the four-seam fastball (with cutting action—more on that later) and not the two-seam sinker, as one might expect from his groundball rate. (Romero uses the four-seam fastball at least 34.8 percent of the time, compared to 25.1 percent of the time for the two-seam fastball*.) The slider is basically used only against left-handed hitters (at the cost of some curveballs), and the change-up is naturally used more often against right-handed batters (26 percent of the time).
Now as a left-handed pitcher, 75 percent of the batters facing Romero are right-handed. As such, Romero’s pitches and their performance against right-handed batters are of greater importance to us in the long run than those against left-handed batters. Of course, his performance against left-handed batters is still relevant when it comes to match-ups.
So did anything change in Romero’s pitches to make him more effective? The answer is yes: Romero’s four-seam fastball has seemed to gain even greater cutting action this year. The end result is that he has seen the emergence of what seem to be typical “cutter splits:” against left-handed (same-handed) batters, the pitch is terrible at getting ground balls, while against right-handed batters, the pitch is amazing at getting ground balls. Meanwhile the pitch’s ability to get swinging strikes is the reverse: the pitch is reasonable for a fastball at getting swinging strikes against lefties, but is poor at getting them against right-handed batters. This has resulted in the groundball-getting ability of the four-seam fastball increasing against right-handed batters but at the cost of it dropping against left-handed batters. (Oddly enough, while the groundball rate reverse splits have really emerged in this last year, the only change in the swinging strike rate is that it has dropped greatly against left-handed batters from 2009 to 2010.)
The end result is this: against right-handed batters, Romero is more effective and is likely to remain as such. Against left-handed batters, Romero is now less effective—as mentioned above, the pitch’s swinging strike rate has not stayed high enough to counteract the low groundball rate—resulting in worse performance.
For our purposes: Very little has changed in any of Romero’s other pitches to merit any discussions. Such changes are unlikely to be the cause of any change in performance.
All in all, I think that Romero’s performance in 2011 is likely to be similar to his performance in 2010. But if you have him on your fantasy team, just be sure to monitor the handedness of opposing batters: against a team loaded with left-handed batters, who is unlikely to switch out those batters for right-handed bench players, Romero might be worth sitting down. Otherwise, his ERA should make him a decent fantasy starter next year.
*NOTE: Due to how I classified the pitches, I may have undercounted four-seam fastballs and overcounted two-seamers. So take that under advisement. The split between these two pitches is likely greater than the numbers I’ve given above.