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Fernando’s freaky fastball

Fernando Romero impressed on Wednesday with a devastating heater

Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins
Fernando Romero throws hard.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Twins right-hander Fernando Romero made his major-league debut Wednesday, and his arrival couldn’t have come at a better time. The Twins were (I’m optimistically using the past tense...) in free fall, and Romero pitched a solid 5 23 scoreless innings in his debut to pick up the win.

From the first pitch of the game, Romero flashed the kind of velocity Twins fans aren’t used to seeing from their starters.

That is what we call easy cheese, ladies and germs — and Romero’s cheddar stayed fresh until the end of his debut. Here’s his 92nd pitch of the day.

Romero threw 97 pitches Wednesday; 49 of them clocked in at 95 miles per hour or faster, per Baseball Savant.

According to Fangraphs, which uses PitchFx data to go back even further than Statcast, Romero’s average fastball is harder than any Twins starter since the team moved to Target Field.

Screenshot via Fangraphs

Romero combines top-tier velocity with some wicked arm-side run to chew up bats. Watch Kevin Pillar wonder what in the H-E-Double Hockeysticks he’s supposed to do with this fourth-inning pitch.

Across his first start, Romero featured a fastball with a killer combination of velocity and tailing action unlike anything Twins pitchers — starter or reliever — have unleashed the past couple seasons. (Think of the below image as being from the catcher’s P.O.V.; Romero is bunched together with the other righties on the left side; the lefties and their tailing heaters are scattered to the right.)

Image via Baseball Savant

In fact, Romero’s fastball is devastating enough to stand out among all MLB pitchers so far in 2018, putting him in some rarefied air: Romero’s fastball had more heat behind it and more horizontal movement than Justin Verlander’s so far this season, and more movement and a tick (or two) less velocity than Noah Syndegaard’s.

Image via Baseball Savant

Romero’s combination of smoke and slice allows him to throw his fastball confidently and without as much precision as, say, Phil Hughes, whom Romero replaced in the rotation. Fernando’s fastball gave righties a lot of trouble Wednesday, even when he couldn’t command it.

Everything played off Romero’s fastball Wednesday, including some knee-buckling, back-foot sliders to lefties. Against his very first major-league hitter, Romero had the confidence to shake off Castro twice to get to the slider and strike out Curtis Granderson.

Romero threw an even better two-strike slider to Granderson to K him again in the third.

Romero also threw plenty of flat sliders that just kinda hung there for Jays batters to pounce on...

But the specter of his 95+ mph two-seamer allowed Romero to get away with some hanging sliders that looked awfully tasty.

Though Romero did throw some tight sliders, especially to lefties, overall the pitch didn’t offer much movement. Here’s Romero’s slider plotted against every other 2018 pitcher’s average slider for vertical and horizontal movement.

Screenshot via Baseball Savant

But Romero’s fastball and changeup (more on that in a second) both dive so hard to the arm side that the 2.5 inches of movement to the glove side and the slight change in speed were often enough to fool Toronto’s hitters, even when the slider was located poorly.

Romero’s changeup is interesting primarily for its speed. Numerous times throughout Wednesday’s broadcast, Dick Bremer wasn’t quite sure whether Romero had just thrown a fastball or a change. Smalley wisely used Castro’s signs to determine that, indeed, Romero regularly threw his changeup upwards of 90 miles per hour — even hitting 93 at one point. (I’ve left in Castro’s pre-pitch finger wiggle, the universal sign for changeup, so you know I’m not sneakily passing a fastball off as a changeup.)

Romero threw 10 changeups on Wednesday, and their average velocity was 90.6 miles per hour — the fifth-fastest average change of any pitcher the past two seasons, per Baseball Savant. (I set the minimum at two because Statcast data can be a bit noisy and there are occasionally some goofy outliers sneaking their way in.)

Avg. Changeup Velo 2017-2018 (min. 2)

Player Avg. Changeup Velo
Player Avg. Changeup Velo
Dovydas Neverauskas 93.7
Jhan Marinez 91.9
Sandy Alcantara 90.8
Al Alburquerque 90.7
Fernando Romero 90.6
Hector Rondon 90.5
Brad Goldberg 90.3
Carl Edwards, Jr. 90.3
Tanner Rainey 90.3
Alex Colome 90.2

I’m guessing Twins pitching coach Garvin Alston would like to see more separation between Romero’s fastball and his change (I was always taught that you’d like to see about a seven- or eight-mph difference), but even when Romero’s pulling the string at 90 or 92, there was enough fade and change of pace to deceive batters.

Romero wasn’t razor-sharp Wednesday, but with his fastball he doesn’t have to be.

“It all starts with the fastball,” goes the old cliche, which feels especially apt for Fernando Romero. Despite some shaky command and inconsistent off-speed pitches, Romero was hugely impressive Wednesday. And with the way he’s able to sling his fastball, Romero should only impress more in the future.