Sergio Romo had two serious suitors in the off-season: the LA Dodgers, or the Tampa Bay Rays. He chose his previous team’s rivals, betraying a fanbase that enjoyed Romo for three World Series rings to try on Dodger Blue.
It was the wrong shade.
Los Angeles gave Sergio Romo 30 appearances over 25.0 innings, hoping his among-best-in-baseball slider would play in a tough division. It did, with Romo striking out 31 of 108 batters faced, but he also allowed 12 walks and 17 earned runs, resulting in a 6.12 ERA. The Dodgers couldn’t depend on him, so they released him, and the Rays were waiting with open arms.
In 15 appearances for the Rays, Romo has actually struck out fewer batters—15 of 69 batters faces—but he’s also walked only one batter, and allowed only four runs. And though he seemed like a righty specialist at best when he was first acquired, the Rays have even felt comfortable enough to use Romo for multiple innings.
So what’s changed?
Here’s a graph of the raw pitch counts for Romo with the Dodgers:
And here are the pitch counts with Tampa Bay:
I’m not convinced the offspeed pitch classifications above are entirely accurate, but let’s roll with the comparison. The first difference we can notice is that Romo is throwing far fewer pitches in his appearances for the Rays, and the second is that his fastball is getting a more even distribution alongside his slider.
And other than making fewer pitches with a slightly different mix, he’s mostly the same pitcher, so we’re not sure how much he's fixed and how much he's been really lucky.
With the Dodgers, Romo's walk rate was elevated, but that looks to be mostly from a couple of outings early in April. The homers were a problem and now they've been lower than expected. His strikeout rate also plummeted but today's 3 Ks in 4 TBF definitely will help that number look better.
Sporting a 15:1 K:BB ratio though with the Rays in 19.1 innings is the best stretch Romo’s had in his career, and his 1.86 ERA is below his 3.40 FIP, 4.24 xFIP (entering today for the FIP numbers), large in part due to a .180 BABIP.
Maybe credit belongs to the Rays for utilizing Romo correctly, and maybe including a few more fastballs actually emphasizes the qualities of his slider better. But there’s little else here to analyze.
The way he looked in St. Louis over the “Players Weekend” was outstanding. When he is nailing and expanding that bottom left corner, righties can’t touch him. Romo pitched three full innings: two on Friday, where no base runners were allowed, and striking out three to be credited the win on Sunday.
If he's used in spots where he's facing mostly righties, his numbers are gonna look better overall than if he has to face a mix, but the manager Kevin Cash hasn’t insisted on ROOGY usage. Romo faced two lefties on Sunday as he looked for the hold in a tie game in the ninth. One of those singled (Greg Garcia, of a sinker thrown to the same location twice) and the other (Matt Carpenter) struck out swinging at a change up.
We’re talking about relievers here. Maybe the Rays haven’t fixed Romo and this improvement is all a small-sample-size mirage, and he’s about to start giving up homers and walks at that rates that caused to Los Angeles to let him go.
Or perhaps, in the end, the Rays didn't "fix" Romo because Romo wasn't broken. They just had faith.