August 14, 2010

Locking Up Ricky

The Toronto Blue Jays believe in Ricky Romero. So much so that they rewarded him with the largest contract in history -- five years, $30.1 million -- for a pitcher with less than two years of Major League service time to his name. And you know what? I'm totally fine with that. Actually: I'm more than fine with it; I love the decision. Because like the braintrust, I too believe in Ricky Romero.

Here's the breakdown of the deal, courtesy of the always reliable MLB Trade Rumours:

2010: $1.25 million bonus
2011: $750,000
2012: $5 million
2013 - 2015: $7.5 million
2016: $13 million club option ($600,000 buyout)

When Romero was the first pitcher chosen in the 2005 draft, 6th overall by the J.P. Ricciardi regime, here's what the then 20-year-old had to say: "I love competing. I love getting the ball in big games ... I have a lot of confidence that I can get the job done. That's just the type of competitor I've been."

And Romero wasn't lying. Because they said he was a bust; they said he'd never make it.

Five years later, and a year and a half into his pro career, they were dead wrong, and Romero has come as advertised; he's a fiery competitor. It was Ricciardi who in September of last year famously said: "You need a wheelbarrow to take his balls to the mound. That's how big they are."

Do yourself a favour and read that post linked above, from The Tao of Stieb. Almost three months ago to the day, The Ack wrote of Romero's development; he even called him "The Man," which Ricky most certainly is from this day forward.

Think about it: the Toronto Blue Jays went into the 2010 campaign with four young starters at the top of their rotation who are making, in baseball salaries, pennies:

Ricky Romero: $408,300
Shaun Marcum: $850,000
Brett Cecil: $400,000
Brandon Morrow: $409,800

Here's what they're worth, in terms of WAR (Wins Above Replacement):

Romero: 3.4
Morrow: 3.1
Marcum: 2.3
Cecil: 2.3

I've already spent far too much time on FanGraphs, so I'm just going to go ahead and assume that there is no more cost-effective rotation in baseball than Toronto's. There can't be. And Romero's leading the way. As amazing as that above quote from Ricciardi will always remain, it's clear there's more to #24 than just his cojones. There is the business that is his devastating changeup. The pitch he throws when he's got two strikes against a batter; the pitch the batter should know is coming. Below are the counts when Romero gets ahead, the batter at his mercy, and the percentage of time he unleashes his changeup:


It's his out pitch. Only when the count runs full does Romero turn to his fastball (44%) more than his changeup, as he probably should. And what he's doing is working. The batter, if he's done his homework, is thinking off-speed; he just can't hit it. Below are Romero's opponents' batting averages in those same counts:

0-2: .143
After 0-2: .125
1-2: .122
After 1-2: .150
2-2: .160
After 2-2: .165
3-2: .188
After 3-2: .188

Romero's a stone-cold killer. More often than not, he will put you away.

What's made RickRo so effective this season has been the improvement in his fastball, and his ability to throw five above-average pitches, something he wasn't able to do in 2009. According to Fangraphs' Pitch Type Values, Romero's fastball last year was 11.8 runs below average. His slider: 2.1 runs below average. Here's how what he's tossing in 2010 has fared:

Fastball: 7.4 runs above average
Slider: 3.0 runs above average
Cutter: 0.2 runs above average
Curveball: 3.2 runs above average
Changeup: 3.9 runs above average

Romero's changeup hasn't been as effective as it was last season (9.8 runs above average). But he's a more well-rounded pitcher in spite of the fact. He's getting better. And he's only 25.

There's more: Romero's ground ball to fly ball ratio (GB/FB). In 178 career innings pitched since bursting onto the scene a year ago, it's an immaculate 2.01; Halladay-esque. His 2010 GB/FB ratio of 1.99 is third-highest in the American League. And if Romero isn't allowing fly balls, he's not allowing home runs. His 2010 home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) is 8.5%, in tune with the likes of Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Jered Weaver, Jon Lester, and Phil Hughes. That's fine American League company, and RickRo is worthy.

There's more still. Because Romero is striking out more batters, walking fewer, allowing fewer hits, and becoming one of the premier ground ball pitchers in the game, his xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.60 is among the best in the business. It ranks sixth in the AL, and those with lower numbers are: Francisco Lariano, Cliff Lee, Lester, Hernandez, and Weaver. And, yes, there are still some who have the audacity to say the Toronto Blue Jays are without an ace.

A hundred and seventy-eight innings. Enough to have me convinced. (I've been convinced for a while.) And at an average of $6 million a season, with $7.5 million being the most Romero takes home in any given year of the new deal, numbers that are "fair to both sides," enough to have the Blue Jays convinced, too.

Ricky got paid. Rightfully so. Your Troy Tulowitzki references are no longer of any use.

Finally, one last quote I'd like to share with you. It's from that fateful day in June way back in 2005, when Romero became a Blue Jay ...

"We figured we would lean more toward the pitching ... The more pitching we can develop the better off we're going to be."
- J.P. Ricciardi

Ricciardi was right. #TeamRomero.


Escaped Lab Rat said...

It's a good signing, I agree. It'll be interesting to see how AA proceeds with locking up the rest of the staff either late next year or the year beyond. It'll also be neat (and beneficial, I think) to see how the staff dynamics play out i.e., who becomes the staff ace? We've certainly got some options.

The Ack said...

See, this is what I like. Actual numbers to back up my anecdotal bullshit.

I could never be a lawyer. Every case based on circumstantial evidence only, relying solely on the closing argument.


William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Great post and great work with the numbers. Romero is a stud and he might not be the best pitcher on the team.

It's weird how his salary goes down for a year.

Ian H. said...

This is amazing, great stuff eyebleaf. I knew Ricky was good, but I didn't know he was THAT good. His pitches are phenomenal and they just keep getting better. The only criticism I have of AA is I might've waited till the offseason just to see how Ricky finishes this year (since he tailed off so much last season).

eyebleaf said...

@ Escaped: In my books, Ricky is the ace. And you're right about the rest of the staff. As you can see, they're all making nothing. I think AA's got to lock up all of them, no? Unless one of them is trade bait. And that would have to be Marcum, I think. Cecil and Morrow look too good, and are younger. Not that Marcum isn't good, but he's the oldest, and could help someone right away. He's got the most service time. But do Cecil and Morrow get the same type of deal as Ricky? That will be the interesting part, indeed.

@ The Ack: I hated numbers. Until I discovered FanGraphs. That being said, your anecdotes are a wonder, mate. If I'm ever in need of a lawyer, real or not, I'd gladly have you represent me, and use words like "NAILS" in the closing statement.

@ William: Thanks, mate. And you're right. Ricky MIGHT NOT be the best pitcher on the team. A testament to the arms Ricciardi stockpiled, and Anthopoulos added to. As for his salary going down, I think of it as his 2011 salary actually being $1.25 million plus the $750,000 grand. He just go the $1.25 now, as a "bonus." So the salary is actually $2 million. Then $5. Then $7.5

@ Ian: Thanks for the props, and for the retweetage of the post. Most appreciated. I'll admit, it was fun taking an in-depth look at Ricky and what he's throwing. I'm madly in love with FanGraphs. I was curious about whether AA should have waited too. Post All-Star game last year, here are Romero's numbers:

6-6, 91 IP, 112 H, 49 BB, 72 K, 5.54 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, .312 BAA

Here's how he's faring so far this season, post All-Star break:

4-1, 43.2 IP, 37 H, 12 BB, 28 K, 2.68 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, .231 BAA

So far, he's been better post-break than pre-break. Which is a great sign. I think last year was fatigue more than anything, and hitters getting the read on him and the fact that he was using his changeup so much, and so effectively. We're seeing him grow now, and adapt. I love it. It will certainly be interesting to see how he finishes the season, but yesterday was a fantastic way to start his new life as the ace of the Toronto staff.

Team Romero, yo.

Lee(tch) said...

I'm totally fine with this contract too. Even if we only get a couple of good seasons from him, this type of contract does not hinder our team from locking up other players. You gotta roll the dice sometimes when signing up-and-coming studs and I think if the Jays had waited a little longer and Romero continues to dominate, the price would have been much steeper. I think this gives us a chance to sign our other pitchers to long term contracts too without having to pay any one of them Roy Halladay type of money in the near future.

And given the history of RETARDED contracts Toronto teams have handed out to some players in recent memory (looking at you Turk, Amir Johnson, Jason Blake, Jose Calderon, etc..) in leagues that DO have salary caps, this one's got the most potential of becoming a huge victory for Toronto.

Archi said...

You HAVE been spending too much time on Fangraphs. This post is phenomenal.

Well done.