Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 8/22/12

There exists the idea of a kind of proof-of-concept game, that I’m rather fond of. In any individual baseball game, a player’s performance is essentially unpredictable. The range of possible outcomes spans every possible outcome, as looking at one game is no way to evaluate a player’s true talent. But it stands to reason that a guy can fluctuate around his true talent by a magnitude of only so much. Kerry Wood established in one game that he was capable of 20 strikeouts, and, say, Kirk Rueter could never have done that. Juan Pierre has had games where he’s finished with zero hits and five hits, but he’s never had a game where he finished with multiple homers or four or five strikeouts. Extreme performances are notable, because they demonstrate that a given player is capable of such an extreme performance. It’s within the error bars around his true talent.

Tuesday night, against the Tigers, Ricky Romero put together such a proof-of-concept game. Those who followed along know I don’t mean that in a good way. Tuesday night, against the Tigers, Ricky Romero faced 29 batters, and he walked eight of them while striking out zero of them. Romero and the Blue Jays, unsurprisingly, lost.

Not just any starting pitcher could go out and post a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 8:0. It takes a lot of work to walk eight batters. In the majors, it’s been proven to be difficult to strike out zero batters. Even the Red Sox version of Aaron Cook is averaging one strikeout a start. Romero showed on Tuesday that he – or at least the 2012 version of him – is capable of an ugly start of historical significance.

In terms only of walks and strikeouts, this is the ugliest start ever. Sid Hudson walked a dozen Tigers without striking a single one of them out. That was in 1948. The most recent starter to post a ratio worse than 8:0 was Jose Guzman, at 9:0, in 1991. Before that, you’d have to go back to 1971, and before that, you’d have to go back to 1951. The most recent starter to post a ratio of 8:0 was Greg Reynolds in 2008, and the less said about Greg Reynolds, the better. Before that, the most recent 8:0 start happened in 1982.

It’s clearly not impossible to do what Romero did, but what he did was something very rare and it’s a minor miracle he came away allowing only five runs. Romero did settle down in the middle innings, but his bookends were hideous. With two outs and a runner on third in the first, for example, Romero walked Prince Fielder on four pitches. Then he walked Jhonny Peralta after getting ahead 0-and-2. Then there was this four-pitch sequence to Delmon Young:

With the bases loaded, Romero issued a four-pitch walk to Delmon Young. Not all of the pitches were completely terrible, but none of them were strikes, and we’re talking about a four-pitch walk to Delmon Young with the bases loaded, remember. According to the leaderboards, there are currently 140 qualified position players. Young’s walk rate is the fifth-worst. He’s got a lower walk rate than Starlin Castro. He’s got a lower walk rate than Tommy Hanson, batting.

This isn’t the first time Romero has struggled in 2012. In fact, his entire 2012 has been a struggle, but this isn’t the first time he’s messed around with miserable walk and strikeout numbers. He had six and one on June 27, and six and one on July 25. He had five and zero on May 13. Ricky Romero has previously been talked about as a guy who might be an ace, and while he never truly qualified for that label, he did inarguably have the talent, and so his 2012 has been a nightmare. It’s been a 2012 that’s captured the spirit of the ballclub around him.

People overuse the team/season-in-a-nutshell technique, and in a lot of ways it’s too easy. There are parallels you can find between almost anything and almost anything. If you forgive me, though, you can see a lot of the Blue Jays in Romero’s 2012 campaign. Romero can function here as our nutshell. He is a capable shell of a nut.

The Blue Jays came in as a talented team – not as the most talented team, but as a more talented team than many – and for a while they hung around. They peaked at five games over .500 toward the end of May, and as late as June 7 they were within two games of first place. Then everything began to fall apart with merciless haste, unfairly and inexplicably. The Jays’ pitching staff has been absolutely ravaged by injuries. Jose Bautista got hurt. J.P. Arencibia got hurt. Brett Lawrie got hurt. The two members of the rotation who’ve taken every turn have been Romero and Henderson Alvarez, and Romero has turned into a complete mess while Alvarez has struck out fewer batters than Brandon Lyon. You might be aware of how unfortunate a season the Padres have had. The Padres have had nothing on the Blue Jays. The team the Blue Jays have been fielding has lately not looked at all like the team the Blue Jays were supposed to be, in ability and identity.

Here’s where the Romero/Blue Jays parallels fall apart, though: the Blue Jays will, presumably, recover from their injuries in time. They should have less bad luck in the future, and they should think about brighter days in 2013. Romero might be far more challenging to fix. He’s only 27, and his stuff is all still there, but thanks to his strikeouts going away and his walks happily filling the void, Romero’s xFIP has gained more than a full point from last year. Romero, probably, is not unfixable. That which in theory can be fixed does not always get fixed.

So we’ll wait to see what Ricky Romero becomes down the road. If Romero’s Tuesday night against the Tigers was anything, it was a tortured cry for help.


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