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. Some 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):
- August 5 @ FLA: Chad Tracy (LH) is announced as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh. Charlie Manuel brings in Romero for the lefty-on-lefty match-up. Tracy is pinch-hit for by Donnie Murphy, who promptly hits an RBI ground-rule double. Romero issues two walks to Hanley Ramirez and Logan Morrison before being lifted. Basically, it came down to Roy Oswalt facing a left-handed batter in Chad Tracy versus Romero against Murphy. Given Romero’s platoon splits and Tracy’s .695 and .612 OPS the past two years, taking Oswalt out of the game was foolish. It wasn’t as if Manuel had no idea the Marlins would pull that maneuver — it’s common managerial strategy.
- August 6 vs. NYM: Danys Baez recorded two outs in the top of the ninth, but was pulled with runners on first and second when the left-handed Chris Carter was announced as a pinch-hitter. Charlie brought in Romero for the lefty-on-lefty match-up, but Carter was swapped for the right-handed Mike Hessman. The result? Three-run home run to bring the Mets to within two runs at 7-5. The Phillies manager was burned in the same situation two days in a row by two different managers.”Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
- August 10 vs. LAD: This appearance wasn’t as egregious as the previous two, but it’s just further evidence that Romero should only be used as a LOOGY, if and only if there is no chance he will face a right-handed hitter. The Phillies were down 13-7 in the top of the ninth. Romero was asked to simply record three outs as quickly as possible. He hit Andre Ethier with a pitch, then struck out James Loney, both left-handers. The right-handed Casey Blake then deposited a two-run home run over the left field fence. Romero capped his evening with that egregious walk to Sherrill.
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.