Since the Phillies acquired J.C Romero in 2007 after he was waived by the Red Sox, he has been a key part of the bullpen. He always had the talent to get hitters out, he just struggled with his command and this led other teams to give up on him. As a Phillie he has been the team’s top lefty out of the bullpen. After being with the Phillies for parts of 5 seasons, the writing may be on the wall for lefty and his time with the team may be coming to an end. The emergence of Antonio Bastardo and the continuous control problems of Romero may force the Phillies to close the book on his time with the team.
When Romero was placed on the disabled list earlier this season , it may have been a blessing in disguise for the Phillies. Manuel was forced to use the young and unproven Antonio Bastardo as the team’s top lefty. He was forced to pitch in big spots and he has exceeded everyone's expectations. Bastardo made his major league and Phillies debut way back in 2009 as a starter, and earned a win in each of his first 2 starts. During his starts it was obvious that he had a good arm and his fastball seemed to jump at the hitters. He was then switched back to a reliever and bounced back and forth between Leigh Valley and the big club for most of last season. So far this season, the 25 year old lefty has arguably been the teams 2nd best reliever. He is 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 12.10 K’s per nine. He has the talent to be one of the best left handed relievers in the game.
While Bastardo has been surging, Romero has been fading. His usually suspect control is no longer worth the possible reward. He is now 0-0 with a 3.46 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP this season. Romero has also accomplished the rare feat of having walked more batters than he has struck out. He has walked 8 batters and struck just 7 in just 13 innings of work! By comparison Bastardo has walked 9 and struck out 26 in 19.1 innings. His control problems where magnified during his brief appearance in last week’s 19 inning marathon. He walked 3 consecutive hitters and wouldn’t have recorded an out if Brandon Phillips had not been chatting with Rollins before he was picked off. The ability to strikeout hitters out and minimizing your walks are perhaps the two most important ingredients for a successful reliever.
Romero’s control problems might have been a necessary evil when he was striking hitters out and throwing in the low to mid 90’s but when you throw in the upper 80’s you can’t afford to be wild. Some people have pointed to his drop in production since his suspension as proof that was helped by whatever he took. But I think it is just a easy excuse for a players poor performance. I’m not a doctor or an expert on PED’s but I would think that their main effect for a reliever would be increased arm strength and it would result in higher velocity on their pitches.
According to fangraphs.com (which is the best site out there for all of your random baseball statistics), Romero’s Fastball averaged 91.1 and 90.3 MHP while he pitched for 3 teams in 2006 and 2007. In the year he tested positive for a “banned” substance, his fastball velocity was 91.1 MPH. A major reason for his success was having better control and this resulted in fewer walks. In 2007 with the Red Sox, he averaged 6.75 walks per nine innings. In 2008 with the Phillies he lowered it to 5.80. Over the last 2 full seasons that rate has climbed to over 7 in each season. The reasons for his success had more to do with better control because of other things and had little to do with whatever caused him to be suspended.
He has also been able to dominate left handed hitters during his time with the Phillies and he has gotten a lot of big outs against some of the best left handed hitters in the game. In 2008 he held lefties to an amazing .102 batting average, this year it has jumped to .278. He no longer has the stuff to be able to get both lefties and righties out, but there are a lot of left handed pitchers who can’t hit 90 but keep their jobs because they can dominate their fellow lefties. If he can’t get left handed hitters out, he serves no purpose on this team.
Yesterday the Phillies called up left handed reliever Mike Zagurski from Lehigh Valley to take Vance Worley’s place on the 25 man roster. I may be reading into this move way too much, but I think the team may be trying to see if they have a capable replacement in the organization or if they have to explore other options externally. Zagurski has had a lot of success in the minors during the last few seasons, but he hasn’t been able to translate that to the major league level. Last year he pitched in just 7 innings and posted an ERA of 10.29 and this season in just 2.1 innings he has a 7.71 ERA. The Phillies have a lot of talented relievers in their system but they are right handed. Zagurski is their best option and I have serious doubt he will ever have success in the majors.
So what kind of options do they have with Romero? If it was my choice I would DFA Romero when they need the roster spot when Lidge returns from the disabled list. He would then be placed through waivers and any team would have the chance to claim him, if they would claim him they would assume the remaining portion of the $1.35 million he will make this season. I would be surprised if anyone would take a chance on him and if they do, the Phillies save approximately $0.7 million. If Zagurski would prove that he is not an option, they would then need to look for a left handed specialist at the trade deadline.
Now that Romero doesn’t have the ability to strike out hitters at the rate he did before and no longer can dominate his fellow lefties. The Phillies will face a difficult decision with him in the next few weeks, if they can’t find a replacement either in the organization or via trade. Will they feel comfortable with Bastardo being their only left handed reliever? Madson’s changeup is a very effective pitch against lefties and that allowed them to carry one lefty for most of last season. But with Madson pitching in the 9th, they won’t have that luxury this season. The Phillies face yet another difficult decision with another player who was a key contributor during the 2008 World Series Championship. Will they close the Romero chapter or will they hope he can find some of his old magic? We should all find out in just a few weeks.