Skeptics Say: There is a noticeable difference between Romero's xFIP and ERA. His xFIP was actually better in 2010 when he was the 167th best player than it was last year when he was ranked in the top 50 overall. Romero's strikeout rate is not very good for what his expected average draft position will be. He had the 45th best strikeout rate among starters last seasons, but Cockcroft and CBS have him going as one of the top twenty-two starters. Drafting Romero means there is a gap in a teams strikeouts. And playing in Toronto means facing the Red Sox and Yankees 38 times. He had a WHIP over 1.50 against both teams last year.
Peer Comparison: Virtually nobody else has Romero ranked ahead of James Shields, so the fact that Shields is three spots behind Romero on this countdown deserves an explanation. Sheilds was the better pitcher in any important category you can think of, but it was very close in all of the most important ones (wins, ERA, WHIP). And while Romero's rise was a surprise, Shields' rebirth was a shock.
After being ranked in the top 100 in 2007 and 2008, Shields fell to 240th in 2009 and then hit rock bottom by being ranked outside the top 1000 in 2010. In Shields' defense, that season wasn't nearly as bad as it first appears. His ERA which was over 5.00 was a reflection on bad luck as he had career lows in home run per 9 innings, home run per fly ball, his ability to strand runners, and the batting average on balls in play against. Last season though, all of those numbers dipped the other way and Shields was probably getting too lucky. His BABIP against was a career best .258, but the line drive rates didn't fall enough to make this stat appear sustainable for 2012. Don't get me wrong Shields was a better pitcher last year. Like Romero he altered how often he threw his fastball (Shields opted for the opposite track of Romero by throwing it 10% less in 2010) and his xFIP was reduced by 0.30.
That said, I think both pitchers have to come down to earth in 2012 and it's going to be close on where they both ultimately end up. Shields could easily be ranked ahead of Romero at season's end, but a 27-year-old just has more upside than a 30-year-old. Regardless, Romero is a much better value given that Shields is ranked the tenth best pitcher by CBS.
Team Outlook: John Farrell was well-respected as one of the game's best pitching coaches before he became manager in Toronto and perhaps some of his coaching played a part in Romero's development last season. Romero was able to throw a harder fastball by about 1.1 miles per hour on average versus his 2010 season while facing more batters and going deeper into games. That can be attributed to a change in his mechanics (I couldn't find anything documented, but it's hard to imagine Farrell didn't say anything to him after watching a talented guy from an opposing dugout all those years in Boston) as well as Romero's work ethic in the off-season. Romero was throwing that fastball about 10% more than he did a season ago. It was his second best pitch and probably helped the change up which was also more effective than it was in 2010 according to Fangraphs.
What They're Saying: CBS Sportsline: #22 Starting Pitcher; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com: #20 Starting Pitcher & #81 Overall; RotoChamp:
Projection: Year two under Farrell will result in more adjustments and make him a better pitcher, but perhaps not by the five by five standards of fantasy baseball leagues.
17 wins 3.26 ERA 1.16 WHIP 182 K in 212 innings