The live right arm of Yohan Ramírez remains a tantalizing and elusive grail among the many volatile “what if?” aspects of the Mariners bullpen in 2022. Let’s be honest, though. With an average BB% of 15.4% from his combined appearances in 2020 and 2021, Ramírez is ideally not Plan A, B, or C when it comes to the bullpen. But, with the loss of Casey Sadler to injury and the (spits through fingers, tosses salt over shoulder) impending avalanche of arm injuries sure to come league-wide in the wake of an abbreviated Spring Training, Ramírez stands to get plenty of opportunities to get his control woes behind him and evolve into the good kind of “effectively wild” relief pitcher the Mariners will need to compete in 2022.
Staff writer and pitching analyst Mikey Ajeto wrote about the improvements Ramírez made in 2021. By lowering his arm slot, similar to what Paul Sewald did, Ramírez added a level of deception to his delivery and to the movement on this pitches that makes life extra difficult for batters.
As Mikey notes, this arm slot change has also helped Ramírez hit the zone more regularly, which can be bad for his home run numbers if he’s too in the zone or misses his spot. But, generally speaking, being able to throw strikes when you need to is better than walking the whole world.
In five appearances in 2022 Spring Training, Ramírez has managed to keep the walk rate fairly respectable in that small sample size (5 IP) with a BB/9 of 5.4, along with 7 strikeouts. We take all ST stats with a massive grain of salt, but it’s reassuring to see things are more or less in line with where he left off.
When a pitcher gets the “effectively wild” reputation, it tends to stick for their whole career. Whenever I hear that tag, I think of two things: Fernando Rodney and the “Drunken Master” martial arts movies starring Jackie Chan. Rodney needs no introduction here at LL, but we are all aware of how pitch control issues can turn a sure victory into a demoralizing loss in a hurry. We also know about the joy of seeing a pitcher hone in control of such devastating pitches and seeing them embarrass batters with half-swings and knee-bucklers.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of Drunken Boxing, it’s a fascinating and mythologized style of Chinese martial arts in which the combatant imitates the off-kilter behavior of a drunk person. As a young preteen who was obsessed with video games like Street Fighter II and later the Tekken series, it quickly became a big deal for me whenever a new Jackie Chan movie hit the theaters in the US, starting with “Rumble in the Bronx” in 1995. In 2000, perhaps my favorite Jackie Chan movie showed up in US theatres six years after it came in Hong Kong, re-titled as “Legend of Drunken Master.” Now, teenage Eric thought this was the first time anyone had ever portrayed this style of Drunken Boxing on film, but of course it turned out that Chan had already made several movies about the style dating back to the 70’s and this was just the re-packaged, cranked-up-to-11 for American consumption version and man, I was SOLD.
Anyways, we’re in the weeds now, but hey that’s what you’re here for, right? In the movie, (and most Drunken Boxing-related movies) Chan realizes how self-destructive the style can be if/when he over-indulges and he gets into all kinds of trouble with family and friends (extremely relatable, right?) before figuring out how to “dial it in” and use the style correctly to protect himself and others. Sounds like an “effectively wild” reliever, right? Reader, I know you already got there a couple paragraphs ago, but I just like talking about Jackie Chan whenever possible, so here we are. Just watch the final fight scene before you move on, trust me. It’s nine minutes of PURE CINEMA (pinched fingers emoji).
Can Yohan Ramírez be the “Drunken Master” of the Mariners bullpen, but in a good way? Can he keep batters completely off-balance and in fear of their lives due the unpredictable path of scorching sliders and fastballs? Doing so will require Ramírez proving he can indeed hit the zone when he needs to, otherwise the walk rate will continue to climb and sad times will ensue. Here’s hoping Ramírez can regularly find that sweet spot between blackout drunk and effortlessly, beautifully buzzed whilst striking out the side during each appearance in 2022.