All things considering, the ‘problem’ that the Toronto Blue Jays have with the No. 5 spot in the rotation is hardly what you’d call a significant problem at all.
Yet, with only a couple of weeks before the start of the season and roster decisions looming, it’s all anyone can talk about when it comes to the Blue Jays these days.
As far as the team goes, of course, the decision has already been made, and it was made long before camp opened: Ricky Romero, the team’s Opening Day start over the last two seasons and the team’s de facto ace this time last year, will get his shot at redemption at the bottom of a rebuilt starting rotation.
That hasn’t pleased J.A. Happ very much, and he’s been very vocal about his disappointment in the matter. But, the prevailing thought is that the team owes it to Romero for his performances through 2009-2011.
So why the discussion? Well, Romero hasn’t been very good this spring (seven runs on 11 hits and seven walks over 8.2 innings, with six strikeouts), with each outing drawing more criticism and adding more voices to ‘Happ over Romero’ side of things.
With one more bad start, those calls will likely reach a fever pitch.
Some context is needed here, though. Firstly, there’s the age-old baseball wisdom of not putting stock into Spring Training numbers. I’m a little bit pragmatic when it comes to spring results myself, but even if you are the type to put all the stock in those numbers, the fact is that this wouldn’t even be a topic of conversation if 2012 never happened.
It’s going to seem like a long time now after last year’s disaster, but Romero was an All-Star once … back in 2011.
And what do you know? His spring numbers leading up to it were terrible: the lefty posted a 7.91/1.71 ERA/WHIP with a BAA of .324, and allowed 17 runs on 24 hits and nine walks over 19.1 innings.
The following spring, Romero was simply brilliant, allowing no runs on just two hits and a pair of walks over 11 innings, while striking out 10.
If he hadn’t ended up pitching with an ailing elbow in 2012 and wound up as one of the worst starters in the majors, would we really be talking about his struggles in spring as being indicative of how his season will fall apart? I would guess not.
Which is to say that despite his struggles and Happ’s insistence on being a major league starter, there’s really little reason the Blue Jays should deviate from their plan at this point until the team has had some time in the season to re-evaluate things.
How long should that leash be, though?
I would imagine that the team, with Happ presumably banging at the door, won’t tolerate anywhere close to the kind of run that saw Romero lose a franchise record 13 games in a row (not that it’s about the wins and losses — he would have been terrible even if the Jays won every one of those games).
It will likely take five or six poor starts for the team to pull Romero out of the rotation, I think. If those happen consecutively out of the gate, then he’ll be down in the minors by the time it’s May. If he sprinkles in a couple of good starts, he’ll likely have bought himself an extra couple of games each time.
Either way, it’s not as though Romero’s job is totally secure, and the Blue Jays won’t hesitate to bring up Happ if in fact Ricky is hurting the team over a long run. He does have minor league options left, and doing so won’t exactly be the end of the world (or his career) here.
Until then, I’m of the mind that the lefty has earned it by being a 9.8 fWAR pitcher from 2009 to 2011.
No, he isn’t looking too pretty in Spring, but given his track record and upside, there’s little to no reason why he shouldn’t get a shot to show that well, it’s just Spring Training.