Worrying about a closer who’s tied for the Major League lead in saves sounds a bit ridiculous, but here we are. Besides some injuries that don’t really seem to be holding the Giants back at all, the current state of Sergio Romo and his slider represent the Giants’ top concern. This week, anyway.
This is all relative, of course. The Giants are at least three games better in the standings than every other team in either league and hold a 6.5-game lead over the Rockies (who’ve lost 11 of their last 17 games) and the Dodgers (who just lost Chris Withrow for the season). But something is clearly off with Romo, who after allowing at least one run in three straight appearances has an ERA in the mid-threes for the first time this late in a season since 2009.
— Romo is giving up home runs at a much higher rate than ever before (1.6 HR/9).
— His strikeout rate continues to sink. After striking out an otherworldly 13.1 hitters per nine innings in 2011, that number dropped to a still very impressive 10.2 in 2012, then 8.7 last year. This year he’s only striking out 7.4 per nine innings, not an impressive rate for a closer.
— As a result of those home run and strikeout numbers, Romo’s FIP is 4.70. He’s been a wizard in this category for his entire career up until this point, which is why many sabermetrics followers believed he’d be a better closer than Brian Wilson, and that was long before Wilson’s elbow injury eventually led to a switch.
— This isn’t just a case of bad luck, either. Actually, quite the opposite. Romo’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .186. The league average is around .300, and while Romo has always had a lower BABIP than most (.253 for his career), this year’s number shows what we’ve all seen. Opposing hitters have squandered several hanging sliders Romo has thrown this season.
Toss the tinfoil hats in the recycling bin
— Romo’s velocity is roughly the same. His fastball is averaging 88.79 mph this season, down slightly from last year (89.41), but his slider is actually a touch faster. He often ices his knee and elbow after games, but that’s nothing new.
— Against right-handed hitters he has 14 strikeouts, one walk and hasn’t hit a batter. In about two-thirds the number of plate appearances, Romo’s numbers against left-handed hitters signal some sort of mental block that’s making his mechanics get all screwy: five strikeouts, four walks and three HBP. His numbers have always been slightly better against righties, but in 416 plate appearances before this season Romo had walked 24 left-handed hitters and hit just three in his career.
— Even those who don’t believe one person should be the “closer” (a pitcher who pitches almost exclusively in save situations regardless of leverage and the hitters one is scheduled to face), Romo is performing the main task required. He has only blown two saves in 19 chances, and only once has he lost a lead and the game at the same time (May 20 at Coors). Saves without stress keep the manager’s hair brown and the fans from consuming too much alcohol in the ninth inning. But for the most part (including last night), Romo has gotten the job done.
— Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval started the season looking like they forgot how to hit a baseball, and now they’re carrying the offense along with Michael Morse. Gregor Blanco has raised his average over 100 points in the last few weeks. Fans were ready to cut Ryan Vogelsong after his fourth start. Romo was mostly awesome in April and early May, but hasn’t been himself for a few weeks. Players go through slumps, and just because Romo has been so consistent throughout his career doesn’t mean he should be judged more harshly than the average slumper.
Is this something to keep an eye on? Sure, and the Giants probably won’t be overly loyal in this case, since Romo’s contract is up at the end of the season. If there’s one area where the Giants are fairly deep these days, it’s relief pitching. But the idea that he’s a one-trick-pitch kind of closer who the league caught up with is ridiculous, unless you think it takes seven years and over 350 appearances to catch up with someone.
I probably won’t be writing any recaps on BASG during this road trip, as I’m filling in for Andrew Baggarly on CSN Bay Area. Here’s my first “Instant Replay,” written after last night’s win. It’s been so long since I’ve written on deadline because my current boss (me) is generally pretty lax in that department. I’m out of practice!