Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Evolution of Ricky

With yesterday's post, I attempted to lay praise at the feet of an unsung hero; spreading the love for an effort that some may have overlooked. There will be no such reaching for the unconventional within this entry. With apologies to Jose Bautista, there's only one storyline up for conversation.

Ricky Romero was, and is, The Man.

The trouble with writing (blogging, whatever....) about Romero is how do you weave an interesting post without resorting to the standard "famously drafted ahead of Tulo" angle? But perhaps, just now, I've spoken too soon - because it seems to me that comparison - once thought to be the byline on his eventual baseball obit - is fast fading in Romero's rearview mirror.

We need to be careful about how far we go in mocking those who continually resorted to such in an attempt to degrade the management skills of JP Ricciardi (remember him?). Make no mistake - Troy Tulowitzki is a fantastic baseball player - shortstops who's names enter MVP discussions are among the rarest and most coveted commodities in baseball. But you know what else ranks at or near the top of any GM's wishlist? Left-handed starting pitchers with Cy Young potential.

Yeah, I just said that.

A 4-1 record (voters love that) with a 2.88 ERA and 59 K's in 56 IP. I'll allow for the standard caveat - it's only May - but a review of Romero's evolution allows you to dream on him. How did he get here? From potential first round washout (parts of two unimpressive seasons in AA, middling success in AAA), to potential major league reliever (once seen as an optimistic view from scouts), to back-end major league this. And what exactly is "this"? Established big league arm for certain. Frontline starter seems probable. Staff ace - which a few short seasons ago seemed laughable - is now realistic.

Romero is entering a stage in his career where he seemingly has it all going for him. A fastball comfortably in the 90's. A knee-buckling curve that seems to improve by the start. A split-action change-up that draws comparisons to Johan Santana (oh my God). And if you're not into the whole "intangibles" thing, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.....

"You know what?" Ricciardi said. "You need a wheelbarrow to take his balls to the mound. That's how big they are."

Indeed, Romero takes the mound with a bulldog mentality, regardless of the stuff he brings to the game on any particular day. Maybe it comes from the minor league struggles. Maybe it comes from enduring the "Tulo" taunts. Perhaps it was from Brad Arnsberg famously pulling Romero aside in Spring Training '09 and telling him just how nasty his stuff was. Or maybe that's just who he is as a competitor.

At the end of the day, maybe we shouldn't bother to over-analyze this. Ricky Romero is giving Jays fans one more reason to believe that better days are ahead (if they're not here already).....and that's pretty much all we could have asked for from this season, isn't it?


The Southpaw said...

As I recall, one of the qualities that was most praised when Romero was in college and being evaluated for the draft was his competitivness and make-up - and there were allusions to his minor league struggles at least partly involving a crisis of confidence.

So in a lot of ways, this persona isn't a new thing for him - assuming all those comments were true - but more a reclaiming of a former skill.

Brad Fullmer Fan said...

Clearly he's an extreme talent, but I think Romero's success is a perfect example of the mental side of athletics. Having confidence in yourself is a quality that should never be understated.

Gil Fisher said...

Just checked, but I can't find that confidence meter on Fangraphs. Every once in a while, it's nice to get a reminder that statistical evaluation in baseball is not a finished product.

Anonymous said...

No one has any right to mock those fans at all, other than perhaps JP himself. Are you saying that when he was struggling in the minors and Tulowitski was doing well in the bigs you defending the selection? You knew, being the astute observer of talent that you are, that one day Romero would be better?

Fans' reactions to that situation were based on 2 to 3 years of observation. Yours, on the other hand, are based on one decent year and a hot start to the second.

Your analysis is even more knee-jerk than theirs (ours, I suppose). This should be re-visited in August at the earliest.

Jimmy said...

Anonymous, you realize that Tulo has only had 2 solid seasons as well?

People criticizing the drafting of Romero were always just revisionist JP haters looking for another excuse to rag on the guy for other failures. We had Hill developing in the system who wes still projected to be an everyday SS, it would have been wholly irresponsible to waste such a high pick on a redundant position player.

Pelfrey, Bruce, Ellsbury, Garza, Rasmus and Bucholz are among the list of players who like Tulo were drafted after Romero. They all made major league contributions before Romero so where was all the outrage over not taking them? Most people banging the Tulo drum are irrational haters that don't understand the nature of the MLB draft relative to other sports. This situation is not unique, there isn't a single draft year where you couldn't go back and manufacture an argument for having skipped one player for another that turned out more valuable. If Russ Adams (a touted and sought after pick if you've read Moneyball) hadn't flamed out so spectacularly then this would never have been an issue.

The Ack said...

"You knew, being the astute observer of talent that you are, that one day Romero would be better?"

Quite the contrary - nobody knew. That's the point.

Or, by extension - you knew, based on 2 to 3 years of observation, that Romero would never make it?

I don't really get the bile - my observation is that both are great players, and perhaps measuring Romero against the "Tulo standard" has now lost some of it's bite.

Anonymous said...

Not only has it lost it's bite, it's pretty pointless. JP is gone and none of you are going to be GMs or even scouts -- ever!

I, only the other hand, am the best Cher impersonator in my county.

Mylegacy said...

I'm delighted for Ricky.

Redemption - what he's doing now. Revenge - when he strikes out Troy four times in inter-league play and on Troy's fifth at bat beans the ba*tard.

The way he's struggled so mightily - like Roy did - fought through it, kept his personal pride and dignity and then - Roy like - risen, phoenix like from the scrap heap to be - Roy like - a star.


Mattt said...

I don't think enormous testicles would get in the way when pitching from the stretch. From the windup though...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, so you left out, sorta, a 5 RBI night for Bautista. A 6 run lead has to help out a pitcher who is going for the CGSO.

Not to take away from Romero, it was great to have that happen shortly after we were told that the return of our usual suspect for the CGSO would not be here after all.

That said, watching this team, whether it is Marcum, Morrow, Romero or Eveland starting, it would seem that the departure of #32 has somehow improved this team. Almost as if knowing that they wont be bailed out by a master, they play hard every game.

Leaker19 said...

I've always thought the '09 spring training story was a bunch of hooey. I hoped for the sake of the organization it wasn't true anyway. I can't believe you draft a kid sixth and the big league pitching coach waits like four spring trainings before taking any interest. You would think the club would do anything within reason to care and nurture the kid.

Only real boneheads would compare Romero and Tulowitzki. One's an apple, the other an orange. How does Romero hold up against other pitchers? That might be the real test. It's early, but who has been better than Romero in the first round? Garza and Pelfrey have more wins, but both are sub .500. If the organization decided it needed pitching with the 6th pick in '05, it obviously could have done a lot worse.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, the Jays will have 2 getaway games in 3 days and 3 in 6 days. This is probably where things are going to go off the tracks (if this isn't the team's "true talent" level.

radar said...

Romero has mentioned Halladay's influence and mentoring during his development as a pitcher.You can definitely see his focus and competitive nature when on the mound.The final lesson to be learned when graduating to the show?No longer just a thrower with good stuff but a major league pitcher.

Christopher said...

I was in Chicago a couple weeks ago and I saw JP touting his Romero pick on Baseball Tonight.

He said it was hard to bring free agents to Toronto so he knew he had to load up on pitching. He said he loved Tulo but he knew a left handed SP was more valuable.

SP said...

SP said...

I never understood why only the Jays got the criticism for passing on Tulo. The Mariners drafted Jeff Clement and who was their SS? The Royals drafted Alex Gordon and who was their SS? The Jays had drafted Russ Adams and Aaron Hill already and still had legit hope that one of them would stick there. Actually, I do know why. A prominent national baseball writer who used to work for JP liked to bring up how much he wanted Tulo. Then there's that Dickard Griffin guy.