Given the struggles that the Toronto Blue Jays have had finding a quality shortstop at times over the years, a main criticism of the team has been the team's decision to choose left-handed pitcher Ricky Romero over shortstop Troy Tulowitzki with the 6th pick in the 2005 MLB Draft. To many, Tulowitzki was viewed as the one who got away, as he emerged as a Rookie of the Year and is now arguably the best player on the Rockies, who took him with the next pick.
Romero was expected to be a left-handed groundball machine, a polished pitcher who showed off his craft while leading Cal State Fullerton to a College World Series victory. But shaky command and an inability to miss bats caused Romero to somewhat fall off the prospect charts after placing 87th on BA's 2006 Top 100, until a return to prominence last season. After finally having some relative success in the upper minors in 2008, he was a surprise inclusion on Toronto's Opening Day roster in 2009, winning a spot in the team's starting rotation.
To say the least, Romero burst onto the scene, finishing the year as a Rookie of the Year candidate with a 13-9 record and a 4.30 ERA in 29 starts. The underlying numbers were just as impressive, as he posted above average contact and swinging strike rates, as well as a 54% groundball rate to top it all off. He finished the year with a 4.33 FIP and a 4.09 xFIP, good for 2.7 fWAR in his debut season.
Before this season, most projections had Romero pegged for some regression, a roughly league average pitcher, possibly slightly below avearge. Romero was slotted in as the No. 2 starter behind Shaun Marcum to begin this season, and he's been nothing short of a marvel, putting the projections to shame. The Jays didn't have to go very long without a top of the rotation pitcher on their team, it appears.
Romero is currently 4-1 with a 2.88 ERA in 56 innings covering 8 starts and his underlying numbers indicate that he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball so far this season. His contact rate is the second-lowest in the AL among starters, with only teammate Brandon Morrow's mark being lower, and he's seen significant improve in his swing-and-miss percentage. Romero is not only inducing groundballs at his consistently impressive rate (he's currently at an above average 56%), he's missing bats with consistency now. He's tied for the AL lead in strikeouts, his K/9 is the 7th best in the AL, and he's even posted an improved 3.36 walk rate.
He generally depended on an impressive sinker early in his career, but now he's learned to mix in a variety of curveballs, changeups and sliders, and according to FanGraphs' pitch values, those latter three pitches have been by far his most effective pitches this year compared to his sinker. Romero's third in the AL in FIP and xFIP, and he's already tallied 1.8 fWAR for the year, 6th in the AL overall and 2nd among AL pitchers, behind only Minnesota's Francisco Liriano.
When the Blue Jays were looking for trade partners to deal Halladay, much of the talk surrounded trying to add a high upside pitcher that could potentially replace Halladay at the top of the rotation.They showed serious interest in Aroldis Chapman and even made a major bid to sign him, and eventually landed a potetial top of the rotation pitcher in right-handed prospect Kyle Drabek. While Chapman or Drabek might turn into a star pitcher within the next few years, it appears that the Blue Jays already have one in hand with Ricky Romero.
You know, it takes more than even four years to determine if a draft pick is a success sometimes, especially with pitchers. Because sometimes, with guys that are so loaded with talents, something clicks eventually. Apparently for Romero, something's clicked these past two years.