What Sergio Romo Brings to the Twins Bullpen
Image courtesy of © Jeff Curry-USA TODAY SportsI wanted to mention Sergio Romo’s postseason experience right away because I think it is an invaluable asset that the Twins are adding to their team. While we can sit here all day breaking down his stats (don’t worry there is plenty of that to come) there is just no substitute for what a calming veteran presence can do for a bunch of young kids who might otherwise be deer in the headlights when they are preparing to get some of the most important outs of their lives. Pair Romo up with Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez, and all of a sudden, this team has a stable of veteran leaders to take them into Yankee Stadium come October.
In addition to the intangible benefits, Sergio Romo is still quite the effective reliever, even at 36 years of age. So far in 2019, Romo is 17 for 18 on save opportunities, and has a 3.58 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 37 and 2/3 innings pitching for the Marlins. However, that ERA is a little deceiving, because with the exception of two bad outings, one of which came in his very first appearance of the year, Romo has a 1.73 ERA in his other 36 appearances this year. While his strikeout numbers are down to 7.9 K/9 this year, Romo put up an impressive 10.0 K/9 just a season ago pitching with the Tampa Bay Rays. So, it is not out of the question that Romo could potentially find that strikeout form from last year and elevate himself to an even better level this year.
One thing that many of the critics will point out about Sergio Romo is he doesn’t throw the ball very hard, and this is true. Among the 553 pitchers who have thrown at least 100 fastballs this year, Romo ranks 546th with an average fastball velocity of 86.4 MPH. That’s a velocity that would make Terry Ryan blush. However, don’t get too sucked into this as Romo only throws a fastball just over 26 percent of the time (16.4% sinkers and 9.7% four-seamers).
While Sergio Romo doesn’t possess the high velocity fastball that many other backend of the bullpen relievers do this day in age, he does possess a slider that is one of the best in Major League Baseball. One of the more commonly talked about aspects of a pitch, especially a breaking pitch, is its spin rate, and Romo generates a lot of that on his slider. So far in 2019, Romo is averaging a spin rate of 2,852 RPM on his slider, which is the 9th highest among the 252 pitchers who have thrown at least 100 sliders this year.
However, we can’t just look at a high spin rate and assume the pitch has a lot of movement, especially with a slider. This is because sliders are often thrown with a lot of gyro spin, or spin that doesn’t create movement. Think of it like the spin of a spiral football, the ball is spinning, but that spin is what is actually keeping the ball from moving, not causing the movement. Gyro spin on a baseball has the same effect. Since we don’t yet have clear, publicly available, metrics separating gyro spin from transverse spin (spin that causes movement) a better metric to look at is the vertical and horizontal movement of the pitch, which like spin rate, is also tracked by TrackMan, and viewable on Baseball Savant. Romo’s slider doesn’t induce much for vertical movement, but it is right up near the top of the charts in horizontal movement across the plate. Here is a graph that shows the vertical and horizontal movement of each pitcher’s slider in 2019. Romo is the one circled in red.
As you can see, Romo is quite the outlier in terms of the amount of horizontal movement he generates on his slider. In this case, that is a very good thing. This horizontal movement has helped Romo become so dominate against right-handed hitters over the course of his career. For his career, Romo has held opposing right-handed hitters to a .574 OPS, compared to an MLB average of roughly .750. Here is a clip of Romo’s slider, courtesy of the Pitching Ninja, from 2018.
So, how does a pitcher with this unique skillset fit into the Twins bullpen? Well for starters, he is an immediate upgrade to the backend of the bullpen, and gives Rocco Baldelli another arm, besides Taylor Rogers, that he can trust to get big outs when they need him to. Hopefully, the Twins are able to add another big arm or two before the trade deadline and allow Baldelli to use Romo in the role he is more suited for, which is as a shut down option against right-handed hitters that the Twins are currently lacking.
Picture this, it’s the bottom of the 7th, the Twins are currently holding a 4-2 lead in Game 5 of the ALDS at Yankee stadium. The Yankees have runners on the corners with one out, and Aaron Judge is at the plate with Gary Sanchez on deck, and Giancarlo Stanton in the hole. This season is very much on the line in this moment, and the Twins need to get out of a jam with a few of the game’s best right-handed power hitters coming up. Who do you call on? Oh, I know, how about the guy who has made a reputation for making right-handed hitters look foolish for his entire career and has done it in even bigger spots than that one. That is the kind of impact this move for Sergio Romo could potentially have for this Twins team.
At the end of the day, does Sergio Romo solve all of the Twins bullpen issues? No. What he does do, however, is give them a great weapon to turn to out of the bullpen that they didn’t previously have. No one player can make a bullpen great, though Taylor Rogers has given it his best shot this year, it takes a collective of pitchers that can get outs when they are needed to the most.
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