clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What to Do with Erasmo Ramirez

New, comments

For much of this offseason, Erasmo Ramirez has been the forgotten man on the Mariners. So what should the Mariners do with him?

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

There are under three weeks left until pitchers and catchers report and the Mariners still have a few decisions to make before they finalize their roster. The shortstop position battle has received the most attention but there are a number of other spots on the roster that could be up for grabs. The pitching staff seems to be set in stone heading into Spring Training except for the fifth spot in the rotation and the final spot in the bullpen.

The seventh man in the bullpen has three candidates: Carson Smith; a second lefty like David Rollins, Lucas Luetge, or Mike Kickham; or a long man. I think you can guess who I'm going to be talking about today by the title of this post.

Erasmo Ramirez is in an awkward position heading into Spring Training. After 200+ major league innings, we're still no closer to figuring out who Erasmo Ramirez is. His brilliant work in 2012 seems like forever ago and is overshadowed by his alarming home run problems the past two years. All of his peripherals are trending the wrong way and now he's out of minor league options. The Mariners can't easily stash him in Triple-A without exposing him to waivers where he would probably get snatched up by another club. So what should the Mariners do with Erasmo Ramirez?

Before I try and answer that question, let's dig a little deeper to see if we can find any sign that he could be a useful major league pitcher.

Did you know that Erasmo Ramirez had a whiff rate of 11.0% last year? That was good enough for 20th in the majors among starters who threw at least 60 innings. In his FanGraphs+ write up for Ramirez, Eno Sarris wrote that each of his pitches had average or above average whiff rates. I was intrigued.

Sarris and Daniel Schwartz have been developing a Pitch Arsenal score for pitchers to determine which pitchers have the best pitch arsenal to call on. If a pitcher is able to get batters to swing and miss and induce grounders with a pitch, the outcomes should be pretty favorable for the pitcher when they use that pitch. You can read about the methodology here and here. In short, Sarris and Schwartz have calculated z-scores for whiff per swing rate and the ground ball to fly ball ratio for every pitch that was thrown over 100 times by starters who threw at least 60 innings in 2014 (221 pitchers under this criteria). The combined weighted z-scores give a pitch score and the pitch scores are summed to give an Arsenal Score.

Unsurprisingly, Felix Hernandez ranks #2 in the majors with an arsenal score of 3.97 -- that is almost four standard deviations above average. His slider, changeup, and curveball are all around a full standard deviation better than his peers. Felix has three plus pitches and another two average pitches that he's able to use to get batters out. That's an excellent arsenal to call on.

Here are Erasmo Ramirez's pitch scores and his combined Arsenal Score:

Pitch

Velocity

Frequency

Whiff/Swing

GB/FB

Pitch Score

Rank

Fastball

92.2

30.0%

22.3%

40.3%

0.71

31

Sinker

91.6

23.0%

13.1%

45.4%

0.13

70

Changeup

80.3

9.2%

39.4%

29.0%

0.51

29

Curveball

80.5

25.7%

28.6%

23.8%

-0.15

85

Slider

85.9

12.1%

23.3%

30.1%

-0.95

115

0.26

91

As you can see, Ramirez's best pitches are his fastball and his changeup. Both pitches fall within the top 15% of all fastballs and changeups in the major leagues. Max Scherzer and Drew Hutchison have a similar fastball score. Chris Sale and Chase Anderson throw changeups with a similar score to Erasmo's. That's some excellent company he's keeping. Unsurprisingly, he's given up the least amount of home runs off of these two pitches in his career. If Erasmo is going to be successful, he's going to have lean on his changeup more than 10% of the time.

His sinker is pretty average by this metric and it was hit pretty hard last year. He had been able to limit the amount of home runs he gave up off his sinker in years past but in 2014, the opposing batter's ISO off his sinker was .233.

The real problem was his breaking balls. If you thought a .233 ISO was high, his curveball and slider had ISO's of .385 and .413 last year. His slider is truly a terrible pitch. It's almost a full standard deviation below average as he just isn't able to get enough whiffs with it. Neither pitch induces grounders and as long as he continues to throw his slider and curveball, he'll be plagued by home runs.

So what would happen if he cut his slider out of his repertoire? He primarily uses it against righties so he'd need another weapon to use against them. Oddly enough, his changeup seems like it could be a weapon against both lefties and righties. This goes against the common wisdom, but in his career, when facing righties, his changeup has a 47.37% whiff per swing rate. That's well above average and it's even higher than the whiff per swing rate he runs against lefties with the same pitch.

For now, this is all wishful thinking. Erasmo hasn't made these changes and we can only assume that he's heading into Spring Training ready to hurl his slider on a regular basis. We also can't be certain that cutting out his slider would actually help him. He's clearly lost some of the control that he showed in the minors and in 2012. If he can't throw his pitches for strikes, no amount of fiddling with his arsenal will help him. What we do know is that the building blocks are there. Erasmo Ramirez has two plus pitches and two more average pitches. There have been successful major league pitchers who have gotten by on less.

Erasmo Ramirez is on the outside looking in heading into Spring Training this year. There is no room in the rotation and there might not be room in the bullpen. One of the holes in the organization is starting pitching depth. After Roenis Elias or Taijuan Walker (whoever isn't the fifth starter), there just isn't much there. Ramirez seems like he might be one of the only options on the roster after that. The seventh man in the bullpen seems like the best place to stash Ramirez. He'd work as the long man and spot starter and his arsenal might play up as a reliever.

The other way Ramirez could find his way onto the roster is if Lloyd McClendon decides to go with an eight-man bullpen. For most of last year, the Mariners ran with an eight-man bullpen and left the bench shorthanded.  This might be harder to do this year due to the right field platoon and the two starting caliber shortstops on the roster but it's not impossible.

For much of this offseason, Erasmo Ramirez has been the forgotten man on the Mariners. He hasn't shown that he's capable of holding down a spot in the rotation and his peripheral stats are trending the wrong way. Still, all the pieces are there for him to put everything together and become valuable depth and possibly more. He'll be entering his age-25 season in 2015. It's time for Erasmo Ramirez to show us what he's capable of.