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If there’s one thing that’s gone right during the early part of the 2022 Toronto Blue Jays season, it’s been the performance of closer Jordan Romano.
Romano has posted a miniscule 1.29 ERA (it was 0.00 heading into Thursday's rubber match in Boston), saved seven of the team’s eight wins and set the franchise’s consecutive save record.
While this club has a number of worries including the health of Danny Jansen and Teoscar Hernandez, the performance of Bo Bichette and how Hyun-Jin Ryu is faring in both categories, Romano wouldn’t seem to be among them.
That said, a more in-depth look reveals that there are a number of red flags surrounding the relief ace’s hot start. That begins with his velocity, which has dipped significantly in 2022. Romano’s 96.0 mph fastball is more than respectable, but last year it sat at 97.6. The fastest pitch he’s thrown this year has come in at 97.7 mph — a mark he bested 270 times last season, or approximately 4.4 times per game.
Based on his excellent results, it would be fair to assume that Romano has compensated for his velocity decline with improved command, but if anything the right-hander has left more fastballs in the middle of the plate this season…
… than in 2021, when he elevated it more consistently:
That hasn’t caught up to Romano yet as he’s allowed a .125 batting average on his heaters, but that’s come with an xBA of .318 and xSLG of .439. Across the board, the closer’s contact management numbers have been dicey, especially compared to what he managed in 2021.
Clearly there’s a disconnect between the results Romano is getting and what Statcast thinks his contact allowed should result in. The question is whether Statcast is missing something or if the closer is truly getting lucky.
As is almost always the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
Romano has allowed seven batted balls with an xBA of at least .500 in 2022 and only two have gone for hits. That supports the luck hypothesis, but a couple of those plays look harmless enough — like this routine double play…
… or this liner right at Lourdes Guirriel Jr:
On the flip side, Romano has had a couple of absolute bullets find their way into his infielders' gloves.
Exhibit A - 108.3 mph
Exhibit B - 99.9 mph
While it’s possible Romano is being sold slightly short by his expected statistics, good fortune and strong defence have done him a few favours in the early going. To be fair, that’s true of anyone who’s been as near-perfect as Romano has.
Of course, the Blue Jays are more interested in how Romano projects going forward than how he’s come by his early-season results. On that count, panic certainly isn’t warranted. The 29-year-old saw his fastball velocity rise by 0.8 mph from April (96.9) to September (97.6) last year, and he might follow a similar pattern in 2022. Even if his velocity dip persists, he still projects to be the most effective reliever in Toronto’s bullpen.
There is a difference between being the best pitcher in the Blue Jays bullpen and replicating a 2021 season that saw him become one of the most reliable shutdown arms in the game, though.
As much as it might be tempting to think that Romano’s fast start means he’s finding a new level, his combination of flagging velocity and hard contact allowed makes a step back more likely.
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