Everyone (In Canada) Loves Jordan

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Jordan Romano
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports activities

Jordan Romano is among the greatest closers in baseball, however you wouldn’t realize it from perusing your common sports activities web page. He’s a quiet star, within the mildly pejorative sense typically implied by “quiet” — not well-enough recognized, not well-enough talked about, in some way missing in no matter je ne sais quoi that makes you a star.

Right here’s the factor, although: that’s foolish. At FanGraphs, we attempt to keep away from that very mind-set, and but we’ve written nearly nothing about Romano up to now few years. An interview right here, a hockey anecdote there, the occasional fantasy piece — it’s not what you’d count on from a man on the high of the bullpen hierarchy for a playoff crew. I’m not kidding myself; this text is Canadian fan service. Let’s discuss what makes Romano so dang good, and ignore why audiences in America appear to disregard him.

In the event you’re it from a pitch perspective, this one is fairly simple. Romano is sweet as a result of he throws a hellacious fastball and backs it with an above-average slider. His fastball is a murals. All of the belongings you’ve heard about what makes a four-seamer good? He has them. He avoids the dreaded line of normality that plagues some heaters that underperform their radar gun numbers; his is usually up-and-down. Per Baseball Savant, his fastball drops 1.7 inches lower than the typical four-seamer thrown with related velocity and in addition will get 2.4 inches much less arm-side fade. In different phrases, when he throws it to a righty, it finally ends up much less inside than they count on, and in addition meaningfully greater.

As Romano defined in that aforementioned interview, he’s all the time gotten nice extension. He’s 6-foot-5 and lanky, his supply all legs and arms flying all over the place. Regardless of that top, he releases the ball pretty low to the bottom. Everybody raves about Spencer Strider’s low, long-stepping launch, and but Romano releases the ball decrease regardless of a 5 inch top benefit. Gerrit Cole? He’s shorter than Romano and but releases from the next level. That’s as a result of Romano steps up to now down the mound that regardless of an over-the-top supply, he’s low to the bottom by the point he lets go of the ball.

Right here’s what I’m speaking about in motion:

And as a degree of comparability, right here’s one other 6-foot-5 pitcher with an over-the-top four-seamer:

That extension does a couple of issues for Romano. First, he’s releasing the ball nearer to residence plate, so batters have much less time to react. Second, releasing an up-and-down fastball from a decrease start line means it travels residence on a flatter airplane. I discuss vertical method angle pretty typically right here, and Romano is a standout within the subject. He’s not fairly Jacob deGrom, however his four-seamer approaches with an angle among the many 15% shallowest within the majors.

Shallow angles imply bundles of swings on the high of the zone, and that’s the entire level of four-seamers. These swings come up empty regularly — 35.9% of the time up to now this yr, to be precise. That’s the tenth-best mark in baseball, and the third-best amongst pitchers who’ve induced not less than 100 swings (Félix Bautista and Luis Castillo are the 2 forward of Romano). He’s all the time gotten a pile of swinging strikes, however this yr represents a brand new excessive for him.

That fastball is the important thing to Romano’s recreation; it matches his supply completely and downright bamboozles opposing hitters. But it surely’s not even his most regularly thrown pitch anymore. The specter of that explosive fastball signifies that his slider, which seems to be extra stable than overpowering in a vacuum, carves hitters up simply as ably.

Stuff fashions agree that the slider is pedestrian; it will get a 51 on PitchingBot’s 20–80 scale and a 108 Stuff+ grade. It’s neither significantly sweeping nor significantly dropping, although it does boast a great quantity of downward motion given its velocity; most sliders thrown round Romano’s velocity have both negligible downward motion or upward motion (ignoring gravity). It doesn’t miss an otherworldly quantity of bats or something like that both; his swinging-strike charge is within the 57th percentile throughout the majors, hardly elite standing.

Counterpoint: so what? When you have already got one nice pitch, something common or higher performs up, as a result of it simply provides hitters extra to fret about. Romano instructions the pitch properly, as well. In the event you’re worrying a few fastball up, a slider that begins from an analogous spot and drops under the zone goes to be a nightmare:

One profit of getting a slider with much less horizontal motion is that Romano doesn’t want a 3rd pitch to make use of in opposition to lefties. In reality, his two pitches are just about north/south, platoon-neutral choices, which lets him simplify his arsenal. For his profession, he’s been meaningfully higher in opposition to lefties than righties, although I feel that’s extra a pattern measurement concern than the rest. One factor appears clear, although: he’s not helpless in opposition to opposite-handed hitters, which is a pleasant factor to have in your high-leverage arms.

With these two pitches taking part in off of one another so properly, Romano’s 30% strikeout charge feels about proper. He’s additionally commanding them higher than ever earlier than in 2023; his 6.4% stroll charge is a profession low. It’s the results of an underrated ability: when he’s behind within the rely, he’s attacking the strike zone, with a career-high 59.4% zone charge. That’s not spectacularly excessive or something, however he’d beforehand been zone-averse when behind within the rely, and now he’s staying within the rely extra regularly.

If this feels like a cookie cutter late-inning reliever profile to you, you’re not incorrect. What units Romano aside is his sturdiness. Relievers simply don’t keep good for lengthy; they get harm, lose effectiveness, or in any other case fade away. Romano is eighth in fWAR amongst relievers up to now this yr. He was sixteenth final yr and thirty third in 2021. Which means he’s been, on common, a high 20 reliever in baseball for 3 years. The one different reliever who can say that’s Emmanuel Clase (who checks in at sixth, second, and twelfth; he’s actually good). If you have a look at it that approach, Romano’s efficiency stops being cookie cutter and begins being exemplary. It’s so, so laborious to constantly succeed as a reliever. The samples are small, the perimeters are smaller, and there are a boatload of fellows with related stuff ready within the wings in the event you falter.

Will Romano preserve this up? I’d be mendacity if I mentioned I knew. Josh Hader seemed unsinkable for years earlier than posting a clunker (66th amongst relievers) in 2022. Giovanny Gallegos seemed like a member of the All the time Good Membership till 2023. So did Collin McHugh. Kenley Jansen was lights out in 2021 and has been once more in 2023 however was merely stable in 2022. Sustainable excellence isn’t assured.

Even with out predicting the long run, although, I really feel comfy saying this a lot: Romano is among the greatest relievers round, even in the event you don’t hear his title as typically as you must. If you consider him that approach — as mini-Clase, or maybe a steadier Craig Kimbrel or Camilo Doval — you’ll be quite a bit nearer to the reality than in the event you simply write him off as one other flash within the pan.

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