Key Stats: For two seasons in 2009 and 2010, Ricky Romero demonstrated that he was capable of being a dominating force in fantasy baseball. In June of 2009, he was the 38th best player according to Yahoo and in April of 2010 he was also the 38th best player in that month. Romero’s problem has been that he has not been able to establish consistent success. He did make very subtle gains across the board though from 2009 to 2010. His strikeout rate went up by about .3 K/9 and his walk rate was reduced by about .5. He also lowered his line drive rate against and fly ball rate against, while raising his groundball rate. All of these improvements were minor, but given that there were improvements in so many areas it added up. Romero moved up the player 262 spots into the top 170 overall. Thus the seeds were planted for a potential breakout from a 26-year-old in 2011. And that’s exactly what happened.
Skeptics Say: There is a noticeable difference between Romero’s xFIP and ERA. His xFIP was actually better in 2010 when he was the 167th best player than it was last year when he was ranked in the top 50 overall. Romero’s strikeout rate is not very good for what his expected average draft position will be. He had the 45th best strikeout rate among starters last seasons, but Cockcroft and CBS have him going as one of the top twenty-two starters. Drafting Romero means there is a gap in a teams strikeouts. And playing in Toronto means facing the Red Sox and Yankees 38 times. He had a WHIP over 1.50 against both teams last year.
Peer Comparison: Virtually nobody else has Romero ranked ahead of James Shields, so the fact that Shields is three spots behind Romero on this countdown deserves an explanation. Sheilds was the better pitcher in any important category you can think of, but it was very close in all of the most important ones (wins, ERA, WHIP). And while Romero’s rise was a surprise, Shields’ rebirth was a shock.
After being ranked in the top 100 in 2007 and 2008, Shields fell to 240th in 2009 and then hit rock bottom by being ranked outside the top 1000 in 2010. In Shields’ defense, that season wasn’t nearly as bad as it first appears. His ERA which was over 5.00 was a reflection on bad luck as he had career lows in home run per 9 innings, home run per fly ball, his ability to strand runners, and the batting average on balls in play against. Last season though, all of those numbers dipped the other way and Shields was probably getting too lucky. His BABIP against was a career best .258, but the line drive rates didn’t fall enough to make this stat appear sustainable for 2012. Don’t get me wrong Shields was a better pitcher last year. Like Romero he altered how often he threw his fastball (Shields opted for the opposite track of Romero by throwing it 10% less in 2010) and his xFIP was reduced by 0.30.
That said, I think both pitchers have to come down to earth in 2012 and it’s going to be close on where they both ultimately end up. Shields could easily be ranked ahead of Romero at season’s end, but a 27-year-old just has more upside than a 30-year-old. Regardless, Romero is a much better value given that Shields is ranked the tenth best pitcher by CBS.
Team Outlook: John Farrell was well-respected as one of the game’s best pitching coaches before he became manager in Toronto and perhaps some of his coaching played a part in Romero’s development last season. Romero was able to throw a harder fastball by about 1.1 miles per hour on average versus his 2010 season while facing more batters and going deeper into games. That can be attributed to a change in his mechanics (I couldn’t find anything documented, but it’s hard to imagine Farrell didn’t say anything to him after watching a talented guy from an opposing dugout all those years in Boston) as well as Romero’s work ethic in the off-season. Romero was throwing that fastball about 10% more than he did a season ago. It was his second best pitch and probably helped the change up which was also more effective than it was in 2010 according to Fangraphs.
Projection: Year two under Farrell will result in more adjustments and make him a better pitcher, but perhaps not by the five by five standards of fantasy baseball leagues.
17 wins 3.26 ERA 1.16 WHIP 182 K in 212 innings