San Francisco Giants: Why Sergio Romo has been their best player

After finishing a disappointing 2013 campaign as one of the few bright spots for the San Francisco Giants, Sergio Romo has continued to build on the success he has garnered since taking over for Brian Wilson in 2012. I’d even argue he has been the team’s best player so far, probably more so for what he represents than his actual performance.

Don’t get me wrong. His stat lines have been good this season, but has he been more impressive than other Giants like Tim Hudson, Angel Pagan, or Michael Morse? That question is up for debate. However, Romo has been the backbone of the best bullpen in baseball by some metrics, making him the most valuable player on the Giants thus far.

Romo has made 22 appearances, nearly half of the Giants’ 47 games, and his 15 saves are second only to Francisco Rodriguez of the Milwaukee Brewers in the entire MLB. While his 3.00 ERA only places him sixth on the team, he ranks second on the team in opponent OBP.Romo, Sergio (usable)

The most impressive stat of Romo’s season so far, though? Before Tuesday night’s blunder against the Colorado Rockies, his 0.64 WHIP was the best in baseball among pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched. His 0.76 WHIP is now good for fourth, which isn’t too shabby for a guy who hasn’t been pitching well recently.

A 3.00 ERA is solid, but that number could easily be much lower if not for a few mistakes. Before Tuesday night’s blown save, his second of the season in 17 opportunities, Romo had given up five earned runs, all occurring via the long ball.

The first earned run came on opening night when he hung a 2-2 slider to Miguel Montero with a two run lead in the ninth and no one on. Although you never want to see your closer hang a breaking ball, the last thing you want is to give a guy a free pass with a two run lead, so it’s hard to fault Romo’s aggression.

The next two earned runs came when Justin Morneau guessed right on a 3-2 slider with a four run lead in the 11th. It’s uncommon to see Romo enter a game in a non-save opportunity, but I don’t think Bruce Bochy wanted to take any more chances in a game that saw nine home runs. It wasn’t a terrible pitch. It was just one of those days at Coors Field when balls were flying out of the yard.

The subsequent blemishes on Romo’s ERA came when Hanley Ramirez launched a game-tying two-run bomb on a ninth inning hanging slider. The belt-high, batting practice slider resulted in Romo’s first blown save on the year. It was by far the biggest mistake of Romo’s season, especially considering the storied rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers.

There seem to be two common trends with Romo’s earned runs. The first trend being that hitters are beginning to sit on the slider and if they guess right, the results can be unfavorable to the Giants closer. Romo needs to continue keeping hitters honest with his fastball and his improving split finger.

On a more positive note, the second trend is that the Giants won all three of the games Romo had allowed an earned run. While two of the victories can be attributed to Romo’s focus, he should probably thank his offense for picking him up in the win over the Dodgers.

[Giants: Early season MVPs]

However, Romo’s second blown save two nights ago broke that trend. Nolan Arenado’s two-run double off the top of the left field wall finally put an integer in the loss column for Romo. What pitch did Arenado’s walk-off come on? You guessed it: A hanging slider. After starting the at-bat with two fantastic sliders, Romo completely lost his command. Arenado fouled off a couple hanging breaking balls before finally squaring up the game-winner.

Romo’s ERA looks a lot different when you eliminate Morneau’s round tripper during a game Romo logistically shouldn’t have even been in with the Giants up by four. Currently on pace for roughly 54 saves, if Romo can keep the ball in the yard and maintain his exceptional WHIP, the Giants will be in good shape. The scary part is that Romo hasn’t been himself lately. The slider has been his bread and butter since entering the league. He typically has uncanny control of it and it’s nearly unhittable for righties as it tails away. That control has wavered recently, though, and opponents are starting to capitalize on his mistakes.

Some might wonder why I say Romo is having the best season when there are other relievers on his own team having better starts. Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt both have ERA’s below 2.00. Jean Machi is tied for the team-lead in wins at 5-0 with a 0.40 ERA. But every great bullpen needs someone to shut the door at the end of games. Not every reliever has what it takes. The last three outs are the hardest and Romo has shown he’s not afraid. He epitomizes the mentality and success of the Giants bullpen.

Despite his latest struggles, Romo is still putting together one of the best seasons among qualified closers in 2014. Regardless of Romo’s projected numbers, it’s no coincidence that his recent success has correlated with the Giants holding the best winning percentage in the National League. Romo, along with the rest of the bullpen, has solidified the flourishing balance between pitching and hitting for the 2014 Giants. Although this year’s team has a slightly different winning recipe than previous years for the Giants, I don’t think the organization or fans will care if the season ends with Romo triumphantly celebrating on the mound some time in November.