The Dodgers took a late-offseason flyer on Sergio Romo. For $3 million, it looked like a bargain because Romo has been a constant performer throughout the course of his career. With the Dodgers needing a good late-inning relief option not named Kenley Jansen, they were hoping Romo would be that guy.
His first 15 1/3 innings in a Dodger uniform have been, well, quite bad. Romo has a 7.63 ERA, 5.77 FIP, a 22.2 HR/FB and an 11.9 BB%. All of those would be, by far, the worst of his career. But it isn’t all bad — at least, that’s what I’m saying to myself in hopes of convincing me (and hopefully you) that they shouldn’t give up on him quite yet.
Romo’s swinging strike rate is 14.4 percent — right in line with his career average and down just a half a percent from last season. When the rate is that high, losing half a percent isn’t that big a deal. His velocity has been better than last season when he missed time with a sore elbow.
But we all know Romo doesn’t thrive on velocity. His fastball runs above average, according to FanGraphs, is -0.1 this season and just +6.3 for his career. His slider is how he makes his living. It has been positive every season of his pro career — except this one. It sits at -2.4 right now after checking in at 7.5 last season. For his career, it’s 70.7. So, it’s clearly the problem for him. What’s happening with it? Let’s take a look.
This is the horizontal movement on his slider over the course of his career. It is the lowest of his career and the lowest since 2014, when his slider graded out at the second-lowest runs above average in his career at 3.6. It was at 3.4 in his rookie season, but he did that in 24 fewer innings, and RAA/pitch value is a cumulative statistic. But the vertical movement on his slider might be more concerning.
It has the most vertical movement of his career. Sliders aren’t supposed to have a ton of vertical movement. Here’s an excerpt from a Hardball Times article by Josh Kalk from 2008:
“It is possible that extra horizontal movement in curves and extra vertical movement in sliders are additional giveaways for a batter. So if you are a pitcher and you want to hide your off-speed pitches as best as you can, try for large vertical movement with your curve and large horizontal movement with your slider.”
Because Romo doesn’t throw a curveball, batters know if they see a bigger loop coming out of his hand, they’re going to know it’s a slider. And since it isn’t breaking as much horizontally, it isn’t as effective.
He’s still getting whiffs on the slider to the tune of 19.05 percent. That’s up 2 percent from last season. But, his fly balls per balls in play rate on the slider has jumped to 40 percent, possibly because of more vertical movement. And this shouldn’t be a surprise: All four of the home runs Romo has allowed have come on the slider. Hitters have a .359 ISO against it, which is bad. If he can fix his issues with the, he might be able to get back on track. But that isn’t a guarantee.
Romo, surprisingly, has been at his best in high-leverage situations, even though he has no business throwing in them right now. He’s allowed just a .133/.235/.133 triple slash in 17 high-leverage plate appearances. It’s definitely a case of small sample size, and he was signed to be a high-leverage pitcher (mostly against righties), but so far, he hasn’t been dependable.
I know there are folks calling for the Dodgers to DFA Romo. That would be hasty, especially since he isn’t making a lot of money and there is enough evidence that shows he might still have some value to this team. But if he continues to struggle, the Dodgers won’t hesitate to cut the veteran loose in favor of someone who would be able to help. We’re a ways off from that happening, though.