How Romero has Changed (or not)
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|
(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|
|Romero’s Pitch Selection vs RHB|
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|
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|
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|
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|
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.