The Mockingbird

How Romero has Changed (or not)

with 13 comments

I don’t get why everyone is stuck on the narrative of Ricky Romero having some kind of mental issue involving his command. Yeah, I know…his walks are way up. Way to check the stat sheet. But there’s another perfectly reasonable reason for being reluctant to throw the ball over the plate other than Romero suddenly having transformed into the kind of gutless wuss who doesn’t ‘trust his stuff’ that Zaun (sometimes Hayhurst) expresses open distain for every time he pitches. Maybe Romero is trying to pick out the corners and/or overthrow because he is completely correct that he gets hit hard when he catches too much of the plate with his fastball.

And on that subject, there’s an elephant in the room — namely Romero’s AWOL changeup:

Romero’s Pitch Selection
Pitch Type Fastball Curve Changeup
 2010  57%  13%  26%
 2011  70%  9%  17.8
 2012  67%  13%  18.1%
 Aug 28  69%  7%  23.6

(I stuck Romero’s August 28th start in up there because despite AA’s observation that: “Just from a scouting standpoint he was so good: the changeup, the curveball, the fastball, the sinker”, it was really all about throwing his change. He got his first two K’s that way, and only started mixing in the curveball later in the game once the Yankees had adjusted. It was old-tyme Ricky style from 2010, really.)

We always think of Ricky’s curveball as his main offspeed pitch because it’s so visually striking, but for his first two effective seasons in the bigs, Romero was a fastball-changeup pitcher, with his curve sprinkled in as a third offering. Believe it or not, he threw his changeup twice as often as his curve back in the day. Remember the oddity that Romero is actually more effective against RHB despite the big curveball? That’s why — his loopy curveball is simply not his best offspeed pitch. But it’s what he’s leaning on now, especially against lefties (who are hitting over .300 against him this season).

Romero’s Pitch Selection vs LHB
Vs LHB 4-Seamer 2-Seamer Curve Changeup
 2010  44%  17.5%  14%  16.5%
 2011  51%  26%  12%  7%
 2012  55.1%  16.1%  22%  5.2%
Romero’s Pitch Selection vs RHB
Vs RHB 4-Seamer  2-Seamer Curve Changeup
 2010  41%  14%  13%  29%
 2011  44%  24%  7.9%  22%
 2012  46%  19.3%  7.9%  24%

While it is the conventional wisdom that a lefty should get Lefties out with breaking balls and avoid pitches that breaks back towards the batter, that hasn’t been the case for Romero. His curveball has been swung through steadily less often and resulted in a hit more often by lefties since his first season. And his change actually used to be pretty effective against LHB:

Offspeed Results vs. LHB
Year Curve Miss % Hits/Pitch Change Miss% Hits/pitch
 2009  69%  0.0196  41%  0.0638
 2010  45%  0.0250  56%  0.0493
 2011  24%  0.0500  57%  0.0800
 2012  31%  0.0556  27%  0.1304

But you can see why Romero has started curves them to LHB twice as often this year — they are swinging through his change half as often and putting it in play for a hit 13% of the time it leaves his hand, which is flat-out insane. You just can’t throw a pitch like that in any count.

Sadly, here’s where the numbers throw their hands up in the air and refer you to your eyes and the nearest scout for why it is no longer effective. One thing I can tell you is that in terms of “downward movement”, his change from the last two years is dropping 2-3 inches more than in 2010, and it has been tailing (sideways movement back towards left-handed batters) more and more as well until this year, where it has evened out.

Without going full nerd here, pfx and pfz correspond to horizontal and vertical movement on a pitch, and anything less than zero is a really, really, serious drop for a change. The average movement values on lefty changeups across the league this year are pfx=8.44 and pfz=5.14 (whups, went full nerd; it’s also 2 inches more bendy, or “break_length”y for anyone who speaks pitch f/x) — so Romero’s tails about an inch less but drops almost half a foot more than average. Nasty! And no wonder it used to be OK against lefties — the pitch is clearly more about downwards drop than any kind of sideways action.

Ricky’s Changeup Movement
Year Pfx Pfz
 2012  5.83  1.79
 2012  6.17  1.02
 2012  7.13  -1.23
 2012  6.42 -0.11

Anyway, in 2011 the fact that the bottom started falling out of his change resulted in Ricky getting many more swings, fewer balls in play going for hits, and a TON more misses. This year the league just isn’t swinging at it. So one plausible explanation is that Ricky managed to improve his changeup movement to the point where it is very nasty, but not as enticing to swing at, and the league has adjusted to just lay off it at all costs. Against New York on the 28th, ironically, his change didn’t have anywhere near the same downward bite — so they swung at it, which made him throw it again, which made them swing at it again…repeat, repeat, repeat, successful 2013 please!

Another idea is that whether or not his change is getting strikes by itself, Ricky just needs to throw it at his old rate for his fastball to be effective. It took the league one year to adjust to the fact that he wasn’t changing speeds as often, and now his defenceless heater is meat (and he knows it).

BONUS DATA TABLES!!!! YAYYYYYY!!!!

Here’s an attempt to shed some light on Romero’s ‘wildness’. The following table shows how many of his various pitches would have ended up in the zone — (regardless of if they were taken, hacked at, fouled off or put in play). See how only his two seamer is down? (And not much lower than 2010). He’s not really throwing more pitches out of the zone at all. So where are all the walks coming from?

In Zone % by Pitch
Pitch Type Four-Seamer Two-Seamer Curve Changeup
 2009  51%  47%  31%  41%
 2010  51%  38%  33%  35%
 2011  45%  43%  34%  31%
 2012  50%  34%  30%  34%

As often, it comes down to pure effectiveness (or the nebulous idea of ‘command’) and not the simple ‘control’ ability to get the ball over the plate. If you can’t punch a guy out or get him to dribble a changeup earlier in the count, you’re going to end up in a lot more 3-ball situations or behind in the count where you have to nibble. It’s like Vernon Wells at his worst being criticized for chasing an 0-2 slider when the real problem is that he didn’t mash the first pitch and end the at-bat right there. Ricky has never had great fastball control, it’s his movement that made him effective.

Ok, ok, so not all strikes are equal…here’s a me-invented stat that measures how often you are on the “fringe” of the strike zone, in this case within 3 inches of the edge of the zone.

On the Fringe of Strike Zone by Pitch
Pitch Type Four-Seamer Two-Seamer Curve Changeup
 2009  18%  18%  21%  17%
 2010  21%  20%  18%  21%
 2011  20%  21%  20%  21%
 2012  16%  20%  16%  16%

Way down, across the board. So there is something to be said to the idea that Ricky is not throwing “quality” strikes, i.e. pitcher’s pitches. Although he is inside the strike zone almost exactly as often as before, his strikes this year have been more often over the heart of plate. But that means it’s not as simple as giving him a pep talk to “just throw strikes”, and “trust your fastball” and all that hoo-haa. He’s throwing his fastball, and getting it over the plate just as often as ever. He just can’t find the corners and doesn’t have the same offspeed weapons to bail him out to since the effectiveness of his curveball has been declining for a while and his changeup has become badly broken all of a sudden.

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Written by halejon

September 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Seriousness

13 Responses

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  1. [...] is usually the case when he weighs in on a topic, at the Mockingbird Jon Hale provides easily the best analysis out there, starting out by pulling the covers off of the [...]

    • Where are you getting the pitch usage? You have Romero’s change dropping from 26% to 17-18 the past 2 years. Fangraphs says he’s been 21.4, 19.8 and 18.1 in 2010, 2011 and 2012. A small drop, but nowhere near the drastic drop listed in your first chart.

      The bigger surprise to me is why he’s throwing that cutter so often. 22% this year vs 9% the last few. Throwing the cutter at the expense of his fastball is hurting him.

      I agree that the bigger problem is the lack of effectiveness in the change up (which has led to the poor #’s compared to his career against RH bats), but I think there’s more too it then that.

      Mark

      September 13, 2012 at 7:24 pm

      • Yeah, I was going to mention that about Fangraphs. I’m not sure where they get their numbers, but I’m crunching from the raw pitch f/x data here. I get the same numbers when I call my own pitches (i.e. classify pitches manually from their x and y movement instead of relying on the automatic pitch-calling algorithm), which isn’t really surprising because Ricky’s fastball and change are very distinct pitches so they’re pretty easy to tell apart. Also keep in mind that the most dramatic difference is when you split by LHB/RHB, which they don’t.

        Oh, I’m sure there’s more to it than that…just some food for thought on what looks like some pretty real differences when even the pros seem to have given up.

        halejon

        September 13, 2012 at 11:41 pm

  2. More changeup drop and less enticing to swing at? Sounds like his changeup stopped looking like a fastball. I wonder if this all comes down to tipping.

    dougiejays

    September 13, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    • Quite possibly — I learnt this season that sliders are more effective when they have less bend and downward movement (although they typically develop less down and more sideways through the year), so they are tighter and look more like fastballs instead of having the big impressive slurvey break and movement.

      And what’s weird is all the peripherals on them stay the same but hitters swing at them more often, with the same typically lousy results against sliders (Incidentally, it was CC Sabathia who first mentioned this about when he felt his the most effective, but it’s true for any other slider-dominant pitcher). Anyway…I wouldn’t be surprised if the same was true for changeups. Break is for show.

      halejon

      September 13, 2012 at 11:47 pm

  3. Joe Maddon has ruined Ricky!

    Gil Fisher

    September 14, 2012 at 10:26 am

    • Could be…but at least he didn’t teach him the famous Blue Jays career-killing cutter!

      halejon

      September 14, 2012 at 10:40 am

  4. [...] Romero after reading an article on Drunk Jays Fans by Andrew Stoeten last Thursday in which, with analysis from Jon Hale of The Mockingbird, he wondered whether Romero’s changeup had become too good. By that, he meant the break had [...]

  5. [...] How Romero Has Changed. [The Mockingbird] [...]

  6. [...] a post I’ve passed along a number of times, earlier this summer Jon Hale suggested at the Mockingbird that “maybe Romero is trying to pick out the corners and/or overthrow because he is [...]

  7. [...] analysis (although obviously a standing ovation for him doing anything at all). When you look at more of Romero’s career than just the last two seasons, there is just no way to come to the conclusion that the key to Romero’s struggles is a lack [...]

  8. [...] curve. In 2012, batters stopped swinging at Romero’s change, perhaps due to its excessive nastiness. In that linked piece, Jon Hale of The Mockingbird notes that Romero still catches a lot of the [...]

  9. […] Romero after reading an article on Drunk Jays Fans by Andrew Stoeten last Thursday in which, with analysis from Jon Hale of The Mockingbird, he wondered whether Romero’s changeup had become too good. By that, he meant the break had […]


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