August 23, 2012
Painting the Black
A good result is borne from confidence; or is it the inverse? I never can remember. The closest thing baseball has to a chicken-or-egg debate deals with confidence. Typically, confidence evaluations rest on two variables: how the player plays and how the player acts. In reality, one variable is king. A player can be mercurial, like Brett Lawrie, or stolid, like Mike Trout, and still register as confident. Provided their play is acceptable. Once a player slips into poor play, the confident label tends too as well. This is the spot where Ricky Romero finds himself.
The Blue Jays made Romero the first pitcher taken in the 2005 draft. Despite being a sixth-overall pick, scouts felt Romero’s ceiling was as a no. 3 starter. It was about stuff, not confidence. Romero had a three-pitch mix with the ability to command each, but his fastball was closer to average than plus. He reached Double-A in his second professional season. Those no. 3 starter projections looked optimistic during Romero’s days in Double-A. He spent parts of three seasons at the level before leaving for Triple-A with a career 4.90 ERA and 1.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That was in 2008.
After the season, David Laurila asked Dick Scott, then the Blue Jays director of player development, what had changed about Romero. Scott said, “I just think that he just got a lot more confidence. Before, I don't think he had the confidence; he put a lot of pressure on himself as a no. 1 pick.” He continued, ”This year he really realized that it was time to just go and pitch the best he can, and our coaches did a great job with him. It has taken time, plus, I think we rushed him, like we do with a lot of guys. He just didn't respond.”
Eleven months later, Laurila asked Romero a question about a coach’s impact on his performance. Romero’s response ran 189 words, eight of which were variations of confidence, belief, and positive. It reads as if Scott gave Romero a page of buzzwords and bet him $50 he couldn’t use those words once per sentence; like a lesser version of Bennett Cerf’s bet with Theodor Geisel. The Jays’ plan to make Romero more confident seemed to work. He pitched well upon reaching the majors and hasn’t returned to the farm since. Yet.
On Tuesday night, Romero made his 119th big-league start. He faced the Tigers and walked eight batters, struck out none, and flashed body language like this throughout:
Romero’s deflated mannerisms are visible to anyone paying attention. Including his teammates, who are on the record as having noticed:
Tellingly, after the Kansas City Royals whacked Romero for eight runs on July 2, close friend [J.P. Arencibia] told sportsnet.ca that, “I just don’t see the fire, the Ricky that goes out there and wants to just, not literally, kill everybody that goes in the box.”