Game 105, Blue Jays at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Ricky Romero, 7:10pm.
A line in Matthew Carruth’s series preview caused me to open up a new tab and bring up Ricky Romero’s fangraphs page: “[Ricky Romero’s] pitched like a replacement-level player this year.” I guess I hadn’t had cause to take a good look at Romero’s 2012 numbers, but I’m actually shocked he’s only at 0.1 fWAR. In the past calendar year, Romero’s gone from an all-star game invitation* to an RA over 6. This isn’t about bad luck with home runs, either – his xFIP’s bad too.
In 2010, Romero used a great change-up to get hitters off balance (and in the ballpark) and work around his mediocre command. When hitters swung at a Romero change-up, they whiffed 35% of the time, and this fueled an above-average strike out rate. It all added up to a solid 3.64 FIP and 4 fWAR.** In 2012, Romero’s change is getting whiffs on only 35% of swings, while his whiff rate on his fastball has gone…up?
Romero’s problem isn’t that his stuff is any worse (his velocity’s the same as it was in 2010, too). His problem is all about what happens when batters *don’t* swing. His command’s slightly worse this year, meaning he’s throwing more balls and ending up in more 1-0 counts. In 2010, his ratio of 1-0 to 0-1 counts was 0.93:1 (obviously, PAs that end when the batter puts the first pitch in play aren’t included). This year, it’s 1.17:1. And batters that get to 1-0 are putting up a .947 OPS in their plate appearances. Look at his swinging strike rate or his whiff rate (whiffs per pitch) and it looks like he’s lost a lot of ground, but if you focus solely on whiffs per swing, you might guess that Romero’s pitching as well or better. This marks something like the fifth time the whole whiffs/pitch vs. whiffs/swing distinction’s come up in the past few weeks. They’re different! They tell you different things!
You know who else has been essentially replacement level this year? Hisashi Iwakuma. He’s been better in recent starts, so let’s hope he’s able to keep that going, especially given that he’s pitching in HR-suppressing Safeco Field.
Here’s the line-up that really should take some first pitches tonight:
3: Montero (C)
4: Jaso (DH)
6: Wells (LF)
8: Peguero (RF)
* – I initially thought it was sort of odd that Romero’s gone from All-Star to replacement level in one calendar year, but have you *seen* the 2011 All-Star game rosters? Let’s just say Romero’s got company. The NL included Jair Jurrjens (-1.4 rWAR), Heath Bell (-0.8), Tim Lincecum (-2.0), Scott Rolen (-0.5) and Kevin Correia (Kevin Correia). The AL included Brandon League (-0.1), Jon Lester (-0.8), Jose Valverde (0), and Romero (-1.5 rWAR). I know every year’s going to have things like this, given the number of late-career ‘legacy’ picks and due to injury (though I’ve specifically excluded the guys who’ve been hurt like Ellsbury and Rivera); mostly, this was an excuse to remind you that Kevin Correia was in the All-Star game last year and may pitch in the postseason in 2012. Baseball!
** – Ah, a good old fashioned WAR fight, which simplifies to just “a WAR.” Both fWAR and rWAR agree that Ricky Romero had one league average season and one solid 4-WAR season in 2010-2011 – they just can’t agree which is which. FIP-based fWAR loved 2010’s lack of HRs and declares 2010 the good season, while RA-based rWAR’s quite impressed with the batting average-against in 2011. fWAR complains that said BAA is driven by an absurdly low BABIP, and rWAR tells fWAR to take its head out of a spreadsheet and watch what happens in real baseball games. fWAR complains that its head, and really every aspect of its incorporeal self, *IS* a spreadsheet, and that rWAR *IS* a spreadsheet too. rWAR replies that it’s not a spreadsheet, it’s a database, and the debate continues.