Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays traded former Royals first round draft choice and top prospect Mike Montgomery for Erasmo Ramirez, an up-and-down starter from Seattle who will presumably slot into the Rays injury-laden rotation.
Most of the luster had come off Montgomery by now, so this is something of a low-stakes swap. The Rays gave up a pitcher with a strikeout rate well under 20% in four seasons at triple-A, and got a major leaguer with a 4.62 ERA and 4.66 FIP over parts of three major league seasons.
Let's put the numbers aside for a second, though (we'll come back to them), and just look at some pictures.
This is a great representation of his pitches, but don't lean too heavily on the two-seam/four-seam pitch categorizations in this graph, we'll use Brooks Baseball's nuanced categories for that (and most everything else).
The velocities for Ramirez are:
Here's what I see:
- There's not much going on with the regular-old four-seam fastball. It has average major-league velocity and its movement is totally pedestrian, with below-average rise and run. For that reason, I wouldn't expect Ramirez to come in and immediately start throwing heat up in the zone like so many other Rays pitchers. He just doesn't have the right stuff for that. The value in Ramirez's fastball comes merely from its existence. It sets up his other pitches.
- The sinker (two-seam fastball) is more interesting. It's just as hard as his four-seam, but as you can see in the plot (although many of the pitches are hidden under purple changeups), Ramirez is capable of giving it radically different movement. Sometimes, Ramirez's sinker even achieves negative vertical movement (meaning that it drops more than would a pitch without spin). Pitches like this—true sinkers—are usually ground-ball machines, although there are ways to turn them into strikeout weapons as well, which I'll talk about later on. For clues about how the Rays will ask Ramirez to use this pitch, think back to how they tweaked Roberto Hernandez's approach.
- The changeup is where it's really at for Erasmo Ramirez. His fastball may not be blazing, but it's over 10 mph faster than his changeup. And what's more, this isn't a changeup that just sits there and relies on the speed differential to fool a hitter. It dives off the table in dramatic fashion. The horizontal run doesn't wow, but that's the only thing preventing me from calling it one of the best changeups in the game (on paper). If he can command it and use it intelligently, Ramirez's changeup is a deadly pitch that has the potential to befuddle both righties and lefties.
- On the other hand, Ramirez's slider is the type of pitch that really shouldn't be thrown that often. There's very little vertical break to it, and the horizontal movement is below average as well. At 86 mph, it's a little bit on the harder side of sliders, which helps, but it's not what you would call a "hard slider." This is a pitch that can succeed when the batter is looking for something moving the other way, but it shouldn't be overexposed.
- Ramirez's curve is very similar to his slider: average horizontal movement, poor vertical movement (it doesn't drop as much as most curves), and slightly above average velocity. About the nicest thing that can be said about it is that its existence helps with the game theory.
Photo credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Historically, Ramirez has used his sinker 29% of the time against lefties and 22% of the time against righties. The pattern is the opposite of his four-seam usage, in that he throws it in all counts against the same-handed righties, but much prefers it when behind against opposite handed lefties. Take a look.
Here's an area where I do think the Rays will make a change.
Recall how I said Ramirez throws this pitch when behind in the count, and largely abandons it when ahe? That's a common practice for pitchers who depend on a sinker, and locate it on the outside edge of the plate. In this location, it's movement takes it toward the end of the bat and tends to produce weak contact and ground balls, but it doesn't often result in a whiff.
The last time the Rays had a starter with a legitimate sinker was Roberto Hernandez, and they taught him a new trick. They had him locate his sinker on the inside edge of the plate to lefties, where it's horizontal run would take it back into the zone for strike calls, and where it's vertical drop moved at a right angle to the swing plane, leading to whiffs.
Ramirez's sinker has produced a whiff on only 10% of all swings, which is a pretty paltry number. I believe the Rays will move its location inside and try to turn it into an out pitch, rather than just a way to buy a strike.