A Reminder: J.C. Romero Not As Bad As He Seems

Recently, I have seen a lot of negativity regarding left-hander J.C. Romero. It is somewhat justified as his 3.75 ERA does not speak to his performance. His BB/9 is currently higher than his K/9 (6.00 to 5.25) and he has had three appearances that qualify as “meltdowns“. From a fan perspective, he is not fun to watch because he is constantly making situations tougher than is necessary.

Last night’s game against the Reds was a great example. Romero came in to face the left-handed Joey Votto with one out and a runner on first base. He quickly fell behind 3-0 before issuing a five-pitch walk. The lead base runner, Brandon Phillips, was picked off as his attention drifted, lessening the blow of the free pass. Romero fell behind the right-handed Scott Rolen 3-0 and walked him on five pitches. Finally, Romero got ahead of the left-handed Jay Bruce 1-2, but walked him on six pitches. His final line? Three walks in one-third of an inning.

Romero has never had good control. His career average BB/9 is 5.2. That he has a 4.07 ERA and not a 6.07 ERA is a miracle. However, Romero’s wildness can be mitigated by utilizing him properly. I have mentioned many times before that Romero should be used strictly as a left-handed, one-out guy (LOOGY). Romero has a career 3.59 xFIP against lefties; against right-handers, his xFIP balloons to 5.38. Romero strikes out significantly more and walks significantly fewer lefties.

Charlie Manuel has not been putting Romero in the best situations, as he has had the platoon advantage in only 38 percent of his match-ups, down from 57 percent last year and 44 percent in 2008.

With Jose Contreras nearing his return, many are calling for the Phillies to cut ties with Romero. That is absolutely the incorrect move. Romero’s poor performance thus far can be blamed solely on Manuel’s usage. The Phillies front office knew going in what Romero’s strengths and weaknesses were; no one should be surprised when he fails after being put in statistically unfavorable positions.

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33 comments

  1. JB Allen

    May 26, 2011 08:41 AM

    Good point, Bill. General question for you and anyone else out there: is Manuel getting worse with his bullpen management, or are his poor decisions just getting more noticeable, given the team’s transition to more low-scoring games?

  2. Kyle

    May 26, 2011 09:11 AM

    The fact that his poor performance is because Charlie misuses him doesn’t mean he should stay with the big club. Charlie is not going to change his managerial style, so as long as Romero stays with the club, he’ll be misused and will pitch poorly. The cause is irrelevant, Romero needs to go.

  3. lorecore

    May 26, 2011 09:19 AM

    Bill – Are you suggesting that Charlie should have yanked Romero after walking Votto?

  4. Dave

    May 26, 2011 09:27 AM

    Last night Romero was used almost as well as you can use him, with two very good lefties coming up in Votto and Bruce (and Rolen in the middle). He went walked all three. If it wasn’t for Jimmy able to distract Phillips that would’ve been a disaster of an inning.
    Sure, Charlie might misuse him, but even when he uses him correctly he still doesn’t perform. If you’re a ONE OUT guy, the last thing you should be doing is walking batters. But, unfortunately, that’s what J.C. does the most.
    I also don’t see the value in keeping a pitcher on the roster who (by defintion of LOOGY) should AT THE MOST face one batter a game.

  5. Bill Baer

    May 26, 2011 09:35 AM

    I should have written this explicitly in the article, but here are Romero’s career B/9 rates…

    vs. LHB: 4.0
    vs. RHB: 6.9

    No, a 4.0 walk rate isn’t great, but the NL average BB/9 for relievers is 3.7. So he’s about average, which is just fine for a reliever earning just $1.35 million.

  6. Colonelmike

    May 26, 2011 09:37 AM

    I was shocked at how many people killed the Phillies for re-signing Romero this off-season. All he’s done is post a 2.69 ERA over half a decade with the team, winning 2 World Series games in the process. He’s off to a rough start this year, but you would think he was a terrible journeyman just called up from AAA the way he gets ripped.

  7. lorecore

    May 26, 2011 09:43 AM

    If they released JC Romero, what are the odds another team would sign him?

    5%?

    If so, I think it is worth releasing JC to bring up bullpen reinforcements for the next couple of games. The risk of being short on arms over the next two days is bigger than the risk of JC being picked up + the level of underperformance of the replacement releiver compared to JC in 2011.

    And “just $1.35M”? You know very well that about a dozen or so veteran LOOGY types over the last two years make that or less i free agency. Romero is far from a bargain at $1.35M even if it is fractions of the teams overall payroll.

  8. Bill Baer

    May 26, 2011 09:50 AM

    Romero’s $1.35 million salary represents a very, very small fraction of the Phillies’ opening day payroll that was north of $165 million. That he earns $600,000 more than other pitchers of his skill set and tenure is largely irrelevant, especially considering he willingly took a pay cut to stay in Philadelphia. Romero is not a bargain, but he is not overpaid, either.

    Why release Romero when you can demote Herndon and not risk losing a potentially vital part of your bullpen? If anyone should be released and risked just to bring up “bullpen reinforcements”, it should be Danys Baez, whose arm is probably falling off after his five innings last night.

    EDIT: By the way, I apologize that your comments keep getting flagged for spam. The reason that happens is because your browser doesn’t support JavaScript, which my comment filter apparently does not like. Let me know if I happen to miss one of your comments and I’ll try to dig it up if I haven’t already emptied my spam comment bin.

  9. Larry

    May 26, 2011 09:57 AM

    I stayed up. It was a slog to watch to be honest. I’m exhausted today and my wife is pissed at me for not paying attention to her for 6 hours.

  10. lorecore

    May 26, 2011 10:00 AM

    Agreed, not overpaid either, but when you measure him against the average of other relievers, you should measure him against his peers’ salary and not his team’s payroll.

    Yes I would agree Baez would be a better candidate – but thats just too cold blooded ever for sabre folk isnt it?!

    Dont worry about it – i use a proxy to dodge work internet filters so I’m used to having to jump through a few extra hoops to get my fix. Great site by the way, agree with you about 90% of time.

  11. John

    May 26, 2011 10:14 AM

    Bill,

    Can you tell us what the average BB/9 is for relievers in left / left situations? Be more useful than the blanket number of 3.7 because that counts non-leveraged innings from your non-critical bullpen pieces.

  12. Bill Baer

    May 26, 2011 10:20 AM

    I don’t think Baseball Reference or FanGraphs has LHRP vs. LHB splits, so I can’t tell you that unfortunately.

  13. hunterfan

    May 26, 2011 10:33 AM

    Romero really took a discount this offseason to stay with Philadelphia? What other team offered him more?

  14. Bill Baer

    May 26, 2011 10:36 AM

    crashburnalley.com/2010/12/20/j-c-romero-is-still-an-option/

    Quote from him:

    “You have to understand that I’m not asking for $4 million,” Romero said. “That’s what I made at my best. It’s not like I’m expensive right now.”

    Romero noticed that Lee left money on the table to return to Philly. He hinted that he’d do the same.

    “What Mr. Cliff Lee did was a class act,” Romero said. “Sometimes being comfortable and in a place where you can make a difference means more than money. Hopefully, the Phillies and my agent will talk again.”

  15. hunterfan

    May 26, 2011 11:56 AM

    Bill, I remember reading something along those lines at the time…Romero hinting he WOULD leave money on the table, but not that he actually did in the final accounting of things.

    I mean, I thought his deal was more than fair for how he pitched last season. Was another team really going to throw $2+ million at him?

    I thought that whole thing was merely wishful thinking by Romero than anything else.

  16. Dan

    May 26, 2011 12:57 PM

    hunterfan, considering the contracts certain players have been receiving, I don’t think it would be a stretch to think at least one other team would have offered him 2m+. Here’s a hint, one potential team that would have done that rhymes with Smankees and paid over 11m/year for a set up guy.

  17. Jonny

    May 26, 2011 02:42 PM

    Bill, I never comment but read your blog plenty. I like your take on things. I like your factual POV and no nonsense points. Refreshing to see a Philly fan who doen’t just say “such and such sucks!!!, Booo!” I agree if Romero is used as he should (loogey) he’d be a better asset. How long before you write a thread about Lee, and not being as good as Cole Hamels?

  18. Jonny

    May 26, 2011 02:49 PM

    * so far in 2011, sorry but I am aware of THAT much. lol..

  19. COAL HAMLETS

    May 27, 2011 04:56 AM

    I think an argument can be made that Cole Hamels has been the 2nd best starting pitcher on the Phillies so far this year, after Doc of course. With that being said, Cliff Lee has still been doing very well this year, and I think it’s pretty reasonable to expect him to do better as the year goes on.

  20. Richard

    May 27, 2011 07:49 AM

    Bill – though I agree with the overall thrust of your post, I actually disagree that Romero > Herndon. Certainly Herndon looked awful in the early part of the year and needed to be sent down. But since his recall he looked much better. I think he has more potential to help the team than Romero does. I realize he was sent down again with Contreras’ activation, but I wouldn’t so hastily dismiss him either. (Though it is arguable that in a post-season scenario, Romero is more useful, since long-relief is less necessary, and there might be more need for that one or two outs Romero can get from a lefty. Even so, his awful control makes him an unreliable option.)

  21. Bill Baer

    May 27, 2011 08:36 AM

    Herndon’s BB and K rates are Kendrickian in a very limited sample so far: 2.9 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9. The 58% ground ball rate is nice, but he still has a 5.31 SIERA. Romero, when used properly, is significantly better.

    In relief, strikeouts are king since you want to limit base advancement as much as possible. Romero does that; Herndon doesn’t. I could see a use for Herndon as a ROOGY, like Kendrick, though.

  22. Richard

    May 27, 2011 09:07 AM

    Bill, you’re not responding to the spirit of my comment; citing Herndon’s full-season stats in response to me is not remotely helpful, since I already distinguished between his horrible pre-demotion performance and his post-recall performance. Yes, we’re talking even smaller sample sizes, no question about it, but after striking out 8 in 9 minor-league innings before recall, he struck out 2 in 5 (obviously still not great), while walking none. Now, I’m absolutely not trying to lean on the statistical evidence of 5 innings. The statistical evidence is merely suggestive of improvements.

    In this case, I’m arguing that Herndon has more upside going forward. Romero is a one-batter, maybe two, pitcher, who is very very wild. Herndon can go multiple innings and gets lots of ground balls. He’s obviously redundant on a team that already has Kendrick and Baez, so I’m not saying you’d want him instead of Romero when you have the other two (especially with contracts and options factored in). And I’m well aware of the primacy of strikeouts for relievers.

  23. Richard

    May 27, 2011 09:17 AM

    btw, I re-watched some of the 19-inning game last night, including the 11th (mainly to see the pickoff of Phillips in real time). I focused on Romero a lot, his movements between pitches, with the crowd booing. He looked really uncomfortable; his body language exuded an utter lack of confidence, which only got worse with each ball. I felt bad for him.

    (This is not meant to add anything to my points above, just sharing an observation. Though I remember Herndon’s body language in his few appearances before being demoted was just awful. He needed to be demoted for his own good if not the team’s. He’s obviously regained some confidence since then.)

  24. Scott G

    May 27, 2011 03:20 PM

    Romero was also sweating profusely. I remember thinking that he was losing it (more so than usual).

  25. Matt

    May 28, 2011 08:55 AM

    I’m sorry, real life isn’t Strat-o-matic. The left side of his card may look pretty good, and in SOM, no matter when you pitch him against a lefty, that left side will always look the same. But in real life Romero doesn’t dominate left-handers. You need to generate more statistics to prove his worth to me. The biggest mistake that lefties probably make with Romero is that they actually swing. I would like to see what percentage of the time he goes to a 3-ball count in a one-batter lefty-lefty situation regardless of the outcome. Please prove that he is anything other than a time bomb. The problem with the Phillies is that they have four time bombs in their bullpen — Romero, Herndon, Baez, and Kendrick. So cutting Romero doesn’t necessarily solve anything by itself.

  26. Drew K

    May 28, 2011 01:24 PM

    Yes, Romero would be better used as a LOOGy, but he was signed as (and his role was to be) a setup man. Pitch the seventh or eighth if needed. If Bastardo hadn’t stepped up in the big way he has this season, we’d be a lot less forgiving of Romero. But he has not pitched well at all this season, and even last season he struggled. As Lidge comes back, I would suspect the Phils would try to shop Romero, if the don’t try to get a minor league arm for one of their six outfielders once Shane comes back. Baez (save one or two outings) has been stellar, and Herndon’s in the minors right now, anyways. Right now, Romero is the last option. And he’s out when Lidge comes back. And oh, btw, his awful 0.94 strikeout/walk ratio is LAST among the 201 qualifying relievers over the past THREE seasons.

  27. Bill Baer

    May 28, 2011 02:52 PM

    Drew,

    Romero was not signed to be a set-up man. Going into this season, the pecking order was Contreras-Madson-Lidge.

    There will be next to zero interest in Romero on the trade market.

    As for his K/BB ratio, check it out for LHB. Since that is what’s relevant.

  28. Drew K

    May 28, 2011 03:09 PM

    Point taken. I should have said that was his role when he was doing very well for the Phils. When Lidge got hurt, I assumed it would be Romero-Madson-Contreras, so maybe that’s what I was thinking. But if there is no interest in him from other teams, why is there still interest in him by us? But with carrying only 12 pitchers right now (and considering 11 from what I’ve heard) I would think the Phils would be more interested in versatility than they would OOGys. Just a thought.

  29. Bill Baer

    May 28, 2011 05:36 PM

    Romero is more valuable to the Phillies than to other teams because they know him better than other teams. Research by Matt Swartz at Baseball Prospectus has shown that teams that re-sign players get more production than free agents that switch teams.

    Getting a known product at $1.35 million is good for the Phillies, but it induces yawns from the other 29 GM’s.

    Hopefully, the Phillies carry 12 pitchers because you don’t quite know what Worley can offer. He admitted to not being in “shape” after his last outing against the Reds on Tuesday.

  30. Adam

    June 14, 2011 09:13 PM

    On the plus side, he’s apparently a switch hitter.

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