Sergio Romo: To Live and Die With the Slider

Ezra Shaw

Sergio Romo may be a one-trick pony, but it's a pretty good trick, as he figures to ride his devastating slider to a solid full season as the Giants' closer.

Well, he may look illegal, but I'm sure that opposing hitters think that there's something unlawful about Sergio Romo's slider as well. Sergio Romo has gotten more mileage and achieved so much success from just that one pitch, it's truly a sight to behold. I don't think we've seen a pitcher utilize one single pitch so successfully since Mariano Rivera. Romo's slider breaks hard and away from right-handed hitters and has a very sharp, and very late, drop. The pitch gives right-handed hitters fits, and it's so filthy that Romo can basically throw it over and over again in an at-bat, and the hitters just never recognize it. The single pitch, and the sight of hitters continually flailing feebly at it, is what makes Romo one of the most entertaining and quirky pitchers, and one of the most fun to watch, in all of baseball.

How often does Romo throw that slider? The answer shocked even me. In 2012, Romo threw 801 pitches, not counting intentional balls. Of those 801 pitches, 595 of them, or 74%, were sliders. He threw exactly 195 fastballs, and only a handful of changeups. To rely so exclusively on one pitch, and yet still be able to consistently get batters out with it, is just a testament to how special a pitch that slider is.

Romo began the 2012 season as a setup man and was essentially a ROOGY, used in a role similar to the one that he filled in 2011; he was brought in to face one or two tough righties in the late innings, and then he left. With the Giants' bullpen in flux, though, his role started to expand. The Bearded One, Brian Wilson, went down for the count in the season's first weeks, and the Giants began using Santiago Casilla as their closer. Casilla was fine for a while, but sometime around late-June, he suddenly developed a penchant for giving up game-tying homers, and suddenly the Giants were looking for different ninth inning answers.

The Giants officially went with a closer-by-committee (i.e. every fantasy owner's nightmare) down the stretch, but by late-August, Romo essentially had the closer role to himself, and in the postseason he was quite clearly the team's ninth inning guy. He saved the clinching game against the Reds in the NLDS and then earned three flawless saves in the World Series, including when he memorably got Miguel Cabrera looking at a fastball right down the middle to end Game Four. Although the Giants shelled out lots of cash in the offseason to bring back pretty much their entire bullpen from last season, Romo is still a guy to target if you need saves. Bruce Bochy is likely to stay creative with how he uses his pitchers in the ninth inning, but as of now, Romo is the nominal closer and should stand to get a healthy number of saves.

If there's one thing Romo excels at, it's getting right-handed batters out. And by excel, I mean...there's probably nobody better in the game. In 2011, when he was basically only facing right-handed hitters, Romo faced 126 righties and gave up hits to just 18 of them. That's a .150 average, for those of you scoring at home. Oh, and of those 126 right-handed batters he faced, he struck out...wait for it...61 of them. Sixty-one! Almost half. That's insane. In 2012, the odds were similarly uneven. Out of 153 right-handed hitters faced, Romo allowed just 28 hits while striking out 57.

Of course, what this does mean, is that with the expanded closer role, Romo will face more left-handed hitters, against whom he isn't nearly as brilliant. Romo faced 62 lefties in 2012 and only allowed nine hits, which is damn good, of course. However, he struck out just six of them, meaning that he isn't fooling left-handed hitters to nearly the extent that he does righties. This would still make Romo a good ninth inning guy, but don't expect the gaudy strikeout totals from 2011 if he's pitching to more opposite-handed hitters.

Romo is an interesting case for fantasy owners. The Giants will still likely employ some semblance of a ninth-inning committee, which would cut into Romo's save opportunities and marginalize his value. However, the Giants generally play in a lot of close games and he should get a lot of saves regardless. Not to mention, the fact that he's absolute death on the most common type of hitter, the right-hander, means he'll almost certainly put up a good ERA and strike out close to a batter an inning. I won't try to go crazy with Giants bias here, but I'll project about 25-30 saves for Romo with an ERA around 2.50. In the land of unpredictable closers, Romo's a safe bet as long as his slider is biting. Now if only he can stay away from airports.

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