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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #44 Ricky Romero

Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Ricardo Romero | LHP | 2009 - 2013

Ricky Romero was born November 6, 1984, in East Los Angeles, CA. The Blue Jays made him their first-round pick in the 2005 draft (6th overall), out of California State University, Fullerton. A lot has been made that Troy Tulowitzki was the next pick by the Rockies. No one mentions that the Mariners used the third pick on Jeff Clement. It could have done worse.

Ricky didn’t exactly burn it up on his trip through the Jays minor league system. In 2008, the season before he made it to the majors, Ricky went 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA in 21 starts at Double-A New Hampshire, though he did have a 3.38 ERA in his 7 Triple-A starts. In his 81 career minor league starts, he was 16-23 with a 4.42 ERA with 183 walks and 336 strikeouts in 430 innings. Not numbers that make you think you have a top of the rotation starter.

Romero became the poster boy for the ‘Ricciardi doesn’t know how to draft’ crowd. I’ll admit, I thought he wasn’t really a prospect back in 2008. I felt that a lot of pitchers had moved past him on our prospect list. His control was not great, and he didn’t strike many guys out. I didn’t think he had much hope for a major league career. =

Something changed during spring training in 2009. Then Blue Jays’ pitching coach, Brad Arnsberg, made a small change to Romero’s windup. I don’t know if that’s what turned things around for Ricky, but he made the Jays rotation to start the season.

Romero went 13-9 with a 4.30 ERA in 29 starts in his rookie season. He walked 79 while striking out 141 in 178 innings. He was second among AL rookies in wins, 3rd in innings pitched, 2nd in strikeouts, and 4th in ERA. His 13 wins were also the 2nd most wins ever for a Blue Jay rookie, one short of Mark Eichhorn’s 14 in 1986. His first major league start was against a fellow first-round draft pick, Detroit’s Rick Porcello. Ricky got the win. He tied for the season record by throwing 24 consecutive scoreless innings (matched by teammate Roy Halladay) from June 24 to July 6. Ricky missed a few starts with an oblique strain, going on the DL April 20 returning to the Jays May 25.

Ricky improved some in 2010, winning 14 games, making 32 starts, and pitching 210 innings. He brought ERA down to 3.73, his walk rate down a little, and strikeout rate up a little. Ricky started the season really well. He was 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA at the end of May and finished well, going 7-2 over the last couple of months. Romano helped himself out by keeping the ball on the ground and getting 25 double plays turned behind him. On April 13, he took a no-hitter into the 8th inning against the White S60ox, but Alex Rios hit a home run to end the fun. He also led the AL in wild pitches with 18.

During the 2010 season, the Blue Jays signed Ricky to a 5-year contract extension worth $30.1 million with a club option for the 2016 season at $13.1 million. It can be filed under ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time.’

In 2011, with the off-season trade of Shawn Marcum, Ricky became the number one starter in the Jays rotation. He set new highs in wins (15), innings pitched (225), strikeouts (178) while setting a new low for ERA at 2.92, 6th best in the AL. Romero made the All-Star team and was 10th in Cy Young voting. He went 5-0 in August, with a 2.05 ERA, and was named AL Pitcher of the Month. He finished the season on an 8-2 run. Baseball-Reference has him at a 5.9 WAR for 2011, making it his best season so far, but Fangraphs figures WAR differently and has 2010 as his best season at a 4.1 WAR.

Unfortunately, 2012 is where it all started going downhill. Ricky went 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA in 32 starts and 181 innings. He led the AL in walks with 105. He went from an 8.7% walk rate, in 2011, to a 12.7% rate in 2012. In 2011 batters hit .216/.296/.365. In 2012 they hit .282/.381/.440 against him.

He started the season very well. At the end of April, he was 3-0 with a 3.18 ERA. The rest of the way? 6-14 with a 6.37 ERA and almost as many walks as strikeouts.

In 2013 he made a couple of poor starts in May, was sent off to the minors, and made a couple of relief appearances in September. In between, he made 22 starts in Buffalo.

We knew there was likely going to be trouble when reports came out, late in spring training, that they were fiddling with his mechanics:

Toronto pitching coach Pete Walker and bullpen coach Pat Hentgen noticed a flaw in Romero’s delivery this spring and are now making a series of adjustments prior to the regular season.

Romero had been throwing across his body, with a lot of his momentum heading toward the third-base line instead of directly to home plate. That has stopped Romero from properly following through on his delivery and creates problems with location.

I was pretty skeptical about playing with his delivery with just 10 or so days left of spring training. Major changes to a delivery take a long time to become second nature.

In 2014, Romero spent most of the season on the DL. He did make 9 starts in Buffalo. The Jays released him early in 2015 with $8.1 million left on his contract. He spent two seasons in the Giants’ farm system before calling it quits.

What happened? Most of it can be attributed to knee troubles that made it harder to overcome a delivery that had him throwing across his body. It is too bad. It looked like he was set for an excellent career.

Like Marco Estrada, just behind him on the list, Romero’s best pitch was a changeup, which would ‘just fall off the table.’ He also threw a low 90s fastball (generally 91-92 at best) and a slow curve that averaged 76 MPH. Unlike Estrada, Romero was a ground ball pitcher.

Ricky was part of the Blue Jay Winter Tour that came through Calgary, and we had a quick interview with him,

Post-retirement, he did some work on Vancouver Canadians’ broadcasts and, I felt he did an excellent job. He is married to former Canadian National Team soccer player Kara Lang. They have two sons.

Ricky Romero’s place among Blue Jay pitching leaders:

bWAR: 19th

ERA (>500 innings): 11nd, 4.16

Wins: 11th, 51

Win-Loss %: 16th, .531

Innings: 13th, 801.1

Strikeouts: 14th, 622

Starts: 13th, 127

Hi Batters: 4th, 43