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Erasmo Ramirez is only getting better

Looking back at Erasmo's 2015, and seeing what's ahead for 2016.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Erasmo Ramirez was traded last March from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for LHP Mike Montgomery.  The trade was driven by necessity on the Rays' side, after they had lost Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Alex Colome and with Matt Moore not scheduled to come back until the middle of the season.

Ramirez would spend most of 2015 in a starting role, and after his first pretty disastrous two starts he began to provide solid service as the #5 starter on a hobbled together rotation.

2015 Performance

Here is what Brooks Baseball had to say about Ramirez's pitches in 2015:

His sinker has an obvious tail, generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers' sinkers and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers' sinkers.

His fourseam fastball has an obvious tail, has some natural sinking action and has essentially average velo.

His change generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers' changeups, results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers' changeups, has slight armside fade, has slightly below average velo and has some natural sink to it.

His slider has less than expected depth and has primarily 12-6 movement.

His curve generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers' curves, has little depth and has primarily 12-6 movement.

How did Erasmo Ramirez do compared to his career? Well, after his first two starts it was looking pretty bleak. It started to look as if it would be a wasted trade for the Rays, but fortunately Hickey's plan took effect and Ramirez became a quality rotation option for the Rays, and possibly the second best starter.

Erasmo Ramirez Games Innings K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2015 34 163.1 6.94 2.20 3.75 3.76 3.88 2.4
Career 81 370.0 7.08 2.72 4.23 4.27 4.12 2.8

Comparing Ramirez's careers numbers to his 2015, nothing looks too crazy or out of the ordinary. He posted better walk numbers and ERA, FIP and xFIP numbers. Lets take a look at some other stats:

Erasmo Ramirez BABIP HR/FB FB% GB% WHIP
2015 .272 10.4% 31.8% 47.8% 1.13
Career .280 11.7% 35.6% 43.5% 1.26

The biggest change is a decrease in fly balls, and increase in ground balls. Of the fly balls that Ramirez did induce, fewer of them left the park for home runs. We do see a decrease in WHIP, which comes as no surprise given his decrease in walks. Ramirez had a fantastic second half of 2015, which certainly helped his numbers. Brooks baseball shows the change in strategy.

2015 vs LHH

In 2015 Erasmo kept everything away from LHH, throwing the majority of his pitches outside and down in the zone. Even if the pitches were in the strike zone, they were mostly down and away, with very little down the middle and even less on the inside.

2015 vs. RHH

There is obviously a very deliberate strategy here when it comes to both sides. Keep the ball away. A huge amount of pitches are coming down and away from RHH, and almost none up and above the zone.

Earlier this off season, Kevin Antonevich looked at rising fastballs and the effectiveness of throwing them up in the zone. We know that a lot of Rays pitchers throw high fastballs, but Ramirez doesn't.

We could see a change in strategy in 2016 where Ramirez throws his fastball higher in the zone, even though his fastball only averages 90.9 MPH. After all, Jake Odorizzi's fastball isn't that fast either at 92.3 MPH and Kevin noted that he posted an above average whiff rate by throwing it up in the zone.

Odorizzi has significantly more vertical movement on his fastball than does Ramirez, which leads to more whiffs. Instead of the "Rays Way" of pitching high rising fastballs in 2016, we might see "Erasmo's way" of striking people out by a deceptive change-up, and a lot of ground balls getting turned into outs by the Rays solid infield defense.

2016 Projections

Here is what Fangraphs' Eno Sarris had to say about Ramirez for 2016:

The changeup has always been great, so Erasmo Ramirez always had a chance to make it in the big leagues. But the velocity that popped up and made him a super sleeper has gone. And the above-average whiff rates on his breaking pitches have always hidden the bad ball in play numbers -- he can't command those breakers well, and so he gives up home runs on them.

The Mariners gave him some chances, but maybe never a real long look, and then basically gave him away to the Rays. Then the Rays told him to use his slider as a show-me pitch, a strike-stealing pitch, and everything started to work together.

Ramirez leaves the slider in the zone too often -- now he throws it in counts where batters don't want to swing at junk, and steals strikes. That's how he finally had a normal home run rate and a good year. It seems sustainable, unless batters figure it out and start swinging at those sliders anyway, in which case the projections will be right to show more than a home run per nine innings... that double-digit swinging strike rate may even lead to more strikeouts in the future.

Eno is referring to the 1.07 HR/9 rate Steamer has projected for Ramirez in 2016, and also includes a decrease in K% from 18.9% to 17.9% and BB% from 6.0% to 6.8%. Eno is hopeful that Ramirez can build on a successful 2015, although a new strategy might be needed when the batters start figuring out to swing on the sliders.

Erasmo Ramirez Games Innings K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP BABIP WAR
Steamer 24 135.0 6.86 2.62 3.96 4.16 .287 1.3
ZiPS 30 148.0 6.75 2.61 4.26 4.20 .286 1.1

Both ZiPS and Steamer have similar projections for Erasmo Ramirez. They expect him to give up more walks next year, and to have a higher BABIP, which could lead to the higher 2016 ERA projection. The decrease in innings could be explained by projections that anticipate Ramirez shifting to the bullpen later in the year.

Erasmo Ramirez Games Innings K BB ERA WHIP BABIP WAR
PECOTA 29 154.0 121 47 3.85 1.32 .295 1.0

Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections are more optimistic on Ramirez, posting a lower ERA and WHIP as the 3rd starter despite the larger BABIP.

Overall, I think Erasmo builds on a breakout 2015, and continues to steal strikes, outperforming his 2016 projections and eventually serving as a successful swingman for many years.