Despite the fact that he had to adjust to a new role, Sergio Romo experienced much success in 2013 and was able to make his first All-Star team. This season was the first as a full-time closer for the 30-year-old, and his 60.1 innings thrown were the second-most that he’s ever thrown during his Big League career. This was a pretty major accomplishment for the undersized reliever who has frequently had elbow trouble due to the violent slider that he throws, especially since he was able to avoid the disabled list for the second straight year.
Romo ended the year with a 2.54 ERA while converting on 38 of his 43 save opportunities. He doesn’t have traditional closer stuff, so therefore it may be shocking to some to notice that he had a rather pedestrian 58 strikeouts and a 1.08 WHIP, but the closer still had very few issues with getting guys out.
It’s also worth noting that he made a pretty impressive jump from a right-handed specialist role to the closer position. Romo previously was able to come in against a right-handed hitter, fool them with his slider, and then come out when a lefty came to the plate. This year, he spent a career-high 25.2 innings facing left-handed hitters, and for the most part he didn’t seem to have problems with them.
One of the nice things was that unlike most closers, Romo didn’t experience any extended slumps during the season. His worst month was a July in which he made just nine appearances, and it was mainly because of a July 7 game against the Los Angeles Dodgers where he gave up two walks and three earned runs. Romo never blew more than one save in a month, and he was pretty consistently effective when put in crucial situations.
If there’s one thing that should concern Romo as he heads into 2014, it’s the performance of his fellow reliever, 24-year-old Heath Hembree. After being recalled at the beginning of September, Hembree, who has been near the top of the Giants’ top prospects list for several years, was unscored upon in nine appearances while giving up just four hits and striking out 12. Unlike Romo, Hembree is a power pitcher and has a traditional closer repertoire, including a fastball that is said to hit speeds near 100 MPH. It’s doubtful that Hembree will become the closer unless Romo struggles significantly, but Romo probably will have a shorter leash than usual if he does encounter difficulty next season.
Romo is deserving of an “A” grade for his performance in 2013. Both his durability and effectiveness over the course of the season were pleasantly surprising. If he can keep up the good work, he should be able to keep a strong grip on the closer’s role.