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Manuel, Romero Make Romero Look Bad

J.C. Romero has walked a lot of hitters since he became a regular reliever in 2000 with the Minnesota Twins. 351 of them to be exact. ┬áSome of those walks were meaningless, while others decided the fate of his team in a close game. None of his 350 walks entering Tuesday night’s appearance against the Los Angeles Dodgers was as embarrassing as his 351st — a free pass issued to fellow relief pitcher George Sherrill, who logged exactly zero plate appearances prior. Yes, that’s right: J.C. Romero walked a relief pitcher.

It is likely that Romero is still not 100% from his off-season elbow surgery. In fact, Romero himself says that the surgery is the culprit. Via Matt Gelb:

“I have to get used to being healthy again,” he said. “My muscle memory has to be the way it was before. In the beginning, I was effective this year but my arm speed was slower and my hand was slower.

“But now, I feel real strong. So I have to make sure my hand stays on top of the ball every pitch like it was before my surgery. That’s all.”

The fact is, however, J.C. Romero simply never was that good, even before his injury last year. He always walked batters at an unacceptably high rate (career 5.2 BB/9) and he isn’t a maven of strikeouts as his K/9 didn’t cross 6.7 between 2006-10 (aside from ’08) and he never induced 10% or more swinging strikes.

Romero’s 4.38 ERA seems high, but he is actually much worse than that ERA indicates — his SIERA is 5.63. Since becoming a Phillie in mid-2007, he has done a great job of avoiding his SIERA thanks to a ridiculously low BABIP (.236 to .239) and a ridiculously high strand rate (81-90%). Both of those are unsustainable and should not be expected going forward.

Back at the end of March, I wrote that Romero should be used strictly as a LOOGY on account of the .200 difference in OPS against right-handed and left-handed batters (.810 to .601 respectively). That has generally been the case as 39% of the batters Romero faced in 2007 were left-handed, 44% in ’08 and ’09, and 55% this year. However, these are Romero’s last three appearances (8 batters faced, one out recorded; 5 ER, 2 HR, 3 BB, 1 K):

The Phillies simply need to realize that Romero is not a good relief pitcher, regardless of what his ERA since 2007 is telling them. As long as he is on the roster, they need to coddle him by making sure he only faces left-handed batters and never use him in a high-leverage situation. He currently has the fifth-highest average leverage index upon entering the game, ahead of nine other relievers that have spent time on the Phillies’ roster.

Because of his left-handedness and the Phillies’ lack of reliable left-handed relievers, Romero’s ineffectiveness will have to be tolerated through the rest of the season. But it doesn’t mean that he has to continue being asked to pitch in unfavorable situations.