2018 has been quite the roller coaster ride for Sal Romano. He’s the typical young pitcher who has dramatic highs and lows throughout a season. The 24-year-old started the season allowing 11 earned runs in 15.1 innings (three starts), but rebounded in his next four starts, only giving up seven runs in 27 innings. Then came the May stretch. From May 14 against the San Francisco Giants to June 6 against the Rockies, Romano really struggled, giving up no fewer than four runs every start and making fans wonder if he would be sent down to Triple-A Louisville.
But Romano has once again bounced back. Aside from a start against the Chicago Cubs where he gave up five runs, Romano has pitched well enough to stay in the rotation. He’s only given up three runs in 20 innings, and has struck out 13 while walking seven.
That brings us to last Friday’s start against the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers at GABP. Romano pitched five innings and gave up seven hits but only allowed two runs, including one home run, while striking out five. That’s a 3.60 ERA and one inning shy of a quality start. (Update: Romano pitched yesterday against the White Sox and gave up four runs in five innings, including two home runs. He did strike out six, and did not walk a batter).
Yet in his post game interview after the Brewers game, manager Jim Riggleman made no excuses for Romano, saying he needs to pitch better. From the tone of his voice, it was obvious he was beyond frustrated.
"I don't draw many positives out of that game tonight, Sal's better than that."
Manager Jim Riggleman refuses to make excuses for starter Sal Romano after a difficult start against the Brewers. pic.twitter.com/xL6u334sgq
— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) June 30, 2018
Romano has four pitches: fastball, slider, curveball and change-up. He primarily uses his fastball and curveball; however, he has mixed in the slider for 5.5% of his pitches in 2018. He didn’t use a slider at all in 2017. Because of the slider, Romano has used his change-up slightly less (6.0% in 2018 compared to 9.4% in 2018). Adding a slider to his arsenal seems to have helped him. The slider and curveball are important tools for him when he is able to locate them, especially when he’s had trouble locating the fastball.
Sal Romano identifies difficulty locating his fastball during loss to Brewers. pic.twitter.com/TcihLtmzFy
— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) June 30, 2018
It’s easy to compare Romano to his other young teammates, Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle. Both Romano and Castillo are in their sophomore seasons, while Mahle still has rookie status. Although Castillo and Mahle have both shown to be better pitchers than Romano thus far, both still have somewhat similar stats this season, particularly Castillo.
Romano’s 92.2% z-contact% (number of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches throw inside strike zone) is much higher than either Castillo or Mahle. Both of their z-contact% is around 80%, while their contact% is about 75%–Castillo has a lower contact% than Mahle, though. Romano’s is at 83.1%. Batters are making contact at a much higher rate off Romano than off Mahle or Castillo. Romano isn’t giving up more home runs than Castillo or Mahle; in fact, his HR/9 of 1.61 is lower than Castillo’s and just above Mahle’s. His BABIP is about the same as their’s as well. But the difference is Castillo and Mahle are getting more swings and misses from batters than Romano is.
Romano’s SwStr% (percentage of strikes that were swung at and missed) is 7.5%. Even with Castillo’s struggles, his sSwStr% is at 14.0%. Mahle’s is at 10.8%. Batters are just making more contact against Romano, and therefore more likely to get hits when the ball is in play. This also shows in the z-swing% and swing%, as Romano is about three percentage points below Mahle and six percentage points below Castillo in both categories.
Riggleman may be frustrated with Romano, but Romano is showing progress and that’s what you want from players who aren’t 25 years old yet. Obviously Riggleman could know something the fans don’t, such as attitudes of players or mechanics that need to be fixed, and it could be the reason for the frustration. But from where I sit and watch, Romano is having a typical season for a pitcher trying to figure out what went wrong in one start and then fixing it in the next start. Mahle may be better at getting out of jams than Romano and both he and Castillo may just be better pitchers, but that doesn’t mean Romano is not performing adequately thus far this season. He’s pitching well enough to continue in the rotation, and sending him down to Triple-A when Homer Bailey returns would be a mistake.