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The Ups and Downs of Jordan Romano’s Season

Jordan Romano broke out as the Blue Jays closer last season, with a 2.14 ERA and saving 23 games.

He was a rock at the back-end of the pen and helped stabilize what was a shaky bullpen. This season the bullpen is much improved and with Romano entrenched as the closer it looked like it could be a strength of the club. However, that hasn’t been the case so far. Blue Jays relievers have a 4.22 ERA, the sixth lowest in the Majors.

Everything starts with Romano who has had his ups and downs this season.

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The Up – The Season to Date

Romano has had an incredible start to the season. He is currently tied for the league lead with 12 saves. He had 1.59 ERA in April on his way to winning AL reliever of the month. He’s had some rough outings here to start May, but a 3.29 ERA, supported by a 3.01 xFIP and a 2.87 SIERA is very good. He’s walking just 8.8% of hitters which is tied for the lowest rate of his career. Hitters are hitting .231 off of Romano, which has been inflated by a .294 batting average on balls in play. Surely that will come down closer to his career average of .268 as the season progresses right?

The Down – The Fastball

Well about that. Romano’s bread and butter is his fastball, but like his season that’s been up and down.

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Nick Ashbourne wrote about the red flags in Romano’s game three weeks ago as he was dominating hitters in April. The velocity of Romano’s fastball is the biggest red flag of them all. At the time of Nick’s post, Romano was averaging 96.0 mph on his fastball, well below his season average from 2021.

Then in his next few outings, Romano came out pumping 98 and was back up to his usual velocity and everyone assumed he was fine. Just looking at the chart above you can see the fluctuation in his velocity game to game. In his last outing against the Yankees, in which he blew the save, his velocity was down to 94.7. That outing was only the 13th time in his career he has averaged less than 95 on the fastball and just the second since the start of 2021.

The other red flag Nick discusses is the location of the fastball. Romano isn’t elevating the fastball like he was last season and too many of them are staying over the heart of the plate. It’s not a sticky stuff issue or a spin rate issue. The spin rate on Romano’s fastball is virtually identical to last season, post-crackdown.  He simply hasn’t been able to locate this season and it’s leading to far too much hard contact.

LD% Hard Hit% Pull% Exit Velocity Barrel%
2021 13.5% 25.4% 39.4% 89.1 9.2%
2022 25.7% 47.2% 50.0% 94.4 11.1%

These stats are not exclusively for the fastball, but considering he throws his fastball 58% of the time, much of this damage is coming against the heater. Romano is allowing the eighth highest exit velocity against and the 24.5% increase in hard hit rate is the highest increase for any pitcher in baseball, per Baseball Savant. Romano has been quite fortunate to have the results he does.

The Up – The Slider whiff rate

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With the fastball not being as effective as it’s been in years past, it forces Romano to go to the slider more. He’s throwing his slider around 40% of the time, three percent more over last year. The slider has been his groundball pitch, inducing one 53.3% of the time. The slider has been his best strikeout pitch getting a strikeout 29.2%, thanks to a career-high 21.2% swinging strike rate on the pitch. Overall Romano’s swinging strike rate is an elite 16.9%, up two percent from last year and the slider is a big reason why.

Looking at Baseball Savant, Romano has added about four inches of drop to the pitch, while adding an inch of break. Here is what the slider looked like last year:

Compared to this year:

One big difference between the two clips is the velocity. Romano threw 62 sliders last season that were 90 mph and above. This season Romano has yet to hit 90 with the slider, topping out at 89.4 mph.

The Down – Still too much hard contact, and where are the strikeouts?

Despite some success with the slider, when batters hit it they hit hard. Batters have hit .227 off the pitch with a .409 slugging percentage. Those numbers even suggest that Romano has been fortunate as the slider has an xBA of .303 and an xSLG of .570.

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What about the strikeouts? Romano is getting swing and miss yet is only striking out 10.54 batters per nine innings. Well below the 12.14 per nine he struck out last season. The swinging strike rate suggests more K’s are coming, and Romano should see his strikeout rate climb back into the 30% range as the season moves on.

It’s been an interesting season for the Blue Jays closer. On paper everything looks great, with lots of saves and lots of success. Under the hood, things aren’t looking as good. This is especially concerning as offense has been down across the league. Once the weather gets warmer we expect offense to pick up and hitters are already hitting the ball hard against Romano to begin with. He either needs to see his top-end velocity come back or improve the location of his fastball.

Ideally, we see both of those things this season, if not we may be riding this roller coaster with Romano all season.


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