The Mockingbird

Romero Getting That Sinking Feeling…

with 9 comments

At first I was excited to learn that Romero is using pitch f/x information to diagnose his 2012 woes, but that passed quickly to outrage at the fact that it was provided in the form of printouts from Brooksbaseball by Brandon freaking Morrow. It continues to flabbergast me that teams show basically no interest in applying modern technology and analysis to get the most out of their multi-million-dollar investments on the field.

Romero is obviously open to and interesting in using this type of information, and the pitch f/x system takes an incredibly detailed picture of every pitch he throws. Yet, it takes a combination of internet hobbyists and a fellow pitcher taking the initiative for such stunningly useful and freely-available information to make its way to Romero, so he can be “amazed” by it. Le sigh. With apologies to Archimedes: give me a laptop and a place to stand in the dugout, and I will change your WAR!

Because yeah…in my not-so-humble opinion, Morrow botched the 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 of sinkers. He threw considerably more sinkers to RHB in 2012 (19.3%) than he did in 2010 (14%), and almost as many (16.1 compared to 17.5) to LHB. It was a mix that worked for him fine two (and three) years ago, not something that changed before the debacle that was Romero’s 2012 season.

***Note*** It’s up for debate/kind of arbitrary where your pitch-classifying algorithm draws the line between fastball and 2-seamer/sinker, as there is overlap in terms of movement as well as velocity. The way I split them, it’s a much more modest overall drop than Brooks’ numbers in terms of 2-seamers anyway, from 25% to 18% between 2012 and 2011. Here are a couple of graphs of pitch f/x ‘movement’ to give you an idea of the blurring between the two offerings, and because my contract stipulates I have to include at least one (x,y) chart per article:

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 3.11.39 PM

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 3.11.31 PM

The real reason for there appearing to be a sudden drop is that Romero’s sinker use soared in 2011, most likely to compensate for his AWOL changeup. As I argued at some statistical length a while back, everything else about Romero’s repetoire pales in comparison to the fact that his change now moves like a completely different pitch, with almost 6 (!!) inches more drop than average. But, with that transformation it has turned from being his primary offspeed pitch (and a great one at that) to hittable trash that he is quite rightly completely unwilling to throw to lefties.

Unless Ricky is trying to redefine himself as a true sinkerballer, the 26% of 2-seamers he threw in 2011 is very high, not some kind of career norm that he needs to return to in order to find his old levels of success. The one good thing about Romero’s sinker comments was that he seemed to be willing to throw it for strikes and let it be put in play. The percentage of Romero’s 2-seamers that were located in the zone fell to an ludicrous 34% last season, so concentrating on pounding the zone with it in spring training can’t hurt. Romero certainly should be getting more strikes and grounders by throwing it to contact instead of as a chase pitch — but he’ll never be the Ricky of old without his changeup.

Written by halejon

February 27, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Posted in Seriousness

Tagged with , ,

9 Responses

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  1. […] Romero’s refocus on the sinker, read why it maybe doesn’t make a whole lot of sense: at the Mockingbird, Jon Hale figures that “Morrow botched the analysis (although obviously a standing ovation […]

  2. “…an incredibly detailed picture of every picture it throws”
    “Romero’s sinker use soared in 2011 ago”
    “the debacle that was Romero’s 2013 season”
    you mucked up a bit in these places. I wouldn’t say its a debacle for poor ricky yet!

    And I don’t really get what your saying. Rickeys changeup is garbage now, and he threw alot of sinkers in 2011, which was his best year. sounds perfectly logical to throw more sinkers to me, so morrow was on the money. I mean obviously it would be better to fix his change up but they must have tried everything to fix it already you’d think.


    February 28, 2013 at 12:34 am

    • Thanks…I tend to spew things out and then edit later. Forgot to edit. I think you’ll find at least a few fans who are willing to write off his season as a debacle after one spring training start, though. 😉

      I hear what you’re saying. My view is that in order to actually say anything about pitch selection/repertoire — to the point where you’re advising a change is in order — it’s got to be highly conclusive. Unless we’re going to split things down on count-by-count basis, break things down into strike zone quadrants, LHB/RHB, type of hitter, blah, blah, blah, unless there is a really strong correlation between failure/success and a big jump in some pitch usage, you’re most likely just chasing fluctuation in the numbers, the fact that you’ve lumped a bunch of splits together, or indirect causes based on something else related to the overall quality of his pitching (for example — LHB crushed everything Ricky threw early in the count last year so maybe he wasn’t getting quite as many opportunities to try and 2-seam the outer corner on them). It’s like using garbage sample sizes and making wild claims…if you don’t have a significant signal, you have to say nothing at all or else you’re just confusing the issue with plausible guesses that don’t actually have any stats behind them. Mild correlation does not imply causation, especially when there is a counter-example when everything was completely fine (although not his best year) using the same repertoire. You need an absolute smoking gun in the numbers — like his changeup — or else you should just listen to a pitching coach, scouts, someone who can see his whole package and apply good old fashioned experience and observation to his woes. Maybe Morrow has done that as well and is just backing it up with pitch f/x — awesome. But otherwise the purely 2-seam statistical argument is so weak (for other reasons as well, but 2012-2010 having the same % shoots it to hell for me) that it shouldn’t affect Romero’s focus in spring training.

      I honestly have no idea, but I think there’s a chance nobody knows about his broken change. It LOOKS awesome these days with all that break, and even coming up he was always known for his big curveball. I was shocked when I first learnt the change was actually his strikeout pitch. And his numbers against lefties last year were so bad, and MLB has this over-the-top fear of throwing changes to them despite relatively good results, and an equally insane hard-on for tossing them curves, that I could see how it would be the absolute last suspect, as the value of changing speeds usually is…


      February 28, 2013 at 2:50 am

  3. Interesting points about Romero’s changeup.

    I do think you’re a little too dismissive of the probable impact of the Romero’s use of his sinker in 2012. It looks like it was less used because it was ineffective- not being thrown enough in the zone. I think that’s basically the entire reason it was less effective, as it got the same number of whiffs and the same groundball rate (per Brooks Baseball). You take away an effective pitch, and it should make the other pitches less effective, all else being equal.

    On the changeup, it was still a good pitch for Romero last year according to Fangraphs’ pitchf/x, but it did generate fewer swings, was called a ball more often, and got hit harder when put into play. I think the telling thing is that Romero lost about 2 mph on his changeup in 2012 compared to 2011, further indicating that he’s changed something about how he throws the pitch (fastball velocity was down too, but less than 1mph). But I don’t know that the difference in movement is a big factor: he actually had more movement in 2011, and that was the best year for his changeup. I think the best explanation is that it wasn’t as deceptive last year as in previous years – perhaps the velocity change indicates he wasn’t using quite the same arm speed as the fastball. That could also explain why the swing rates went down, and it didn’t generate as many groundballs.

    Gabriel Syme

    February 28, 2013 at 5:56 am

    • Yeah…but again, his 2010 2-seamer was only in the zone 4% more often, and he had a great year. I agree that 34% is not good at all and losing any pitch will have a cascading effect, but for a pitch that he doesn’t typically throw that often or rely on strikeouts from, it seems unlikely to me that such a small change would cause him to crumble so badly. I think Brooks uses whiffs per swing? Because overall swings at his 2-seamer also dropped from 28%->22%, not good for a pitch that he almost certainly wants hitters to offer and/or ground out, since he has thrown it over his career in the zone about 40% of the time.

      I guess you’re looking at Fangraphs pitch values for his change? I don’t know how they work, but his changeup was getting hit so badly last year by lefties that he abandoned it, and righties were just taking it for balls (28% swing, 32% in zone). He got 37 K’s with it compared to 68 the previous season and 86 the year before that. I only show a 1mph drop for the change, but don’t think it was a good pitch at all. Could be a lack of deception for sure.


      February 28, 2013 at 7:48 am

      • Well, I think it’s likely to be a combination of problems with the sinker and the changeup. Part of the problem is that the data probably isn’t finely grained enough to be dispositive.

        But I’m worried about some of your data: Brooks has the swing rates dropping, but from a much higher level. A 28% swing rate would be pretty horrible with any pitch you want swings on. Anyway, Brooks has him dropping from about 43% to 38%. That’s bad, but not 22% bad. Also, RHs swung at 46.6% of changeups last year, down from 52.5%, but that’s still way different than your numbers. Brooks has a better than 2mph drop in velocity for the changeup- and the two fangraphs’ measures have velocity declines of 2 and 1.9 mph. I’m not sure what explains the disparity.

        I think Fangraphs calculates its pitch values on a chain-event approach. So a pitch that moves the count from 2-1 to 2-2 gets attributed the change in expected wOBA outcome; and similarly for a pitch that ends an at-bat. He got hit harder on the changeup, but still not terribly hard absolutely.

        Gabriel Syme

        March 1, 2013 at 2:47 am

      • Yep, messed up there…I keep fouls separately and forgot to add them back in to get all the swings. Brooks’ numbers are correct. The disparity is almost certainly due to a slightly different pitch classifying algorithm trying to tell hard changes and soft two-seamers from each other.

        I’m not a big fan of that kind of thing — I feel it’s a clumsy attempt to try and include context and results into one number that might be giving misleading results for any one of a number of reasons related to how often and in what counts/for what purposes you’re throwing pitches after one of them goes to hell. Much rather just look at peripherals, and they’re not pretty at all for the change especially against LHB.


        March 1, 2013 at 4:35 am

  4. […] Jeff Sullivan looks at Ricky Romero‘s sinker usage first, Jon Hale looks at it definitively. [The Mockingbird] […]

  5. […] It’s great to hear that Morrow is embracing this sort of information, though The Mockingbird makes the case that Romero’s sinker will not be the cure to what ails […]

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