Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez has struggled this season, tossing out two decent starts in five tries with three ugly ones standing out above all. The buzz Wednesday night was that Ramirez may be optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to work on things. True or not, it’s clear Ramirez hasn’t been what the Seattle Mariners have needed from their defacto No. 2 starter. It’s also clear why he’s struggled to such a degree.
Felix Hernandez is among the game’s very best aces in baseball. Comparing Hernandez and Ramirez is unfair to both pitchers. A strikezone plot comparison, however, demonstrates Ramirez’s main problem. Not his only issue, but the end-result of his pitches that have produced bad game results for the 23-year-old.
Below is Ramirez’s strikezone plot from April 17 versus Miami:
Here is Ramirez’s strikezone plot from April 12 versus Texas:
The above two plots are very much representative of Ramirez’s starts this season, with one and a half exceptions. Now, check out Hernandez’s strikezone plot from April 11 versus Oakland, a plot that is very much like nearly all of Hernandez’s outings in the matter of point:
You’ll notice Hernandez lives on the edges of the zone and is rarely up and in the middle of the plate. Ramirez, on the other hand, far more often is up and just out of the zone, and catches the middle quadrant of the zone significantly more often, an especially-alarming difference since Hernandez throws more total pitches. Ramirez can rush his fastball up there just as fast as can Hernandez. He’ll touch 94-95 mph, but pitch in the low-90s. The difference in velocity, according to FanGraphs, is less than one mile per hour. Ignoring the significant advantage Hernandez has in secondary offerings — because whether or not Hernandez better than Ramirez is not the issue at hand, nor is why he’s better — the reason Hernandez can sit 90-92 mph and get away with it two-fold but also very simple. First of all, Hernandez gets a lot more movement on his fastball; it sinks, it rides in on right-handed batters and away from left-handers. He can backdoor the pitch on the inside corner to lefties — with sink, too. That’s a big deal.
Ramirez doesn’t get that kind of consistent movement, and since he’s five inches shorter than is Hernandez, he’s not pitching downhill, either. So, command is so immensely critical for him to have success. He must stay on the edges, missing down or so far up that the batter cannot get on top of it.
Ramirez’s command is poor right now. He’s throwing enough strikes in general, but they aren’t quality strikes. His best pitch, the 60-grade changeup, is not much of a weapon when he cannot spot the fastball, get ahead and force batters to deal with a average slider and curveball, and ultimately the change. It’s pretty elementary, but it’s the absolute No. 1 problem for Ramirez at present. The stuff is fine. But if Ramirez is to be what many believe he;s capable of being, he must live down in the zone and on the edges. Down is the key. Hernandez is the perfect example of that. He’s not blowing away hitters with velocity, and there are times when he throws a ton of fastballs. Almost all down, unless it’s up with purpose, and so rarely over the middle portion of the strikezone.
There are some potential problems with Ramirez’s delivery, too, but I’m not sure they are contributing to the command problem since some innings the delivery is sound and the next it’s not, yet in both innings the command was poor. If he’s sent to Triple-A to work on things — and he’s currently not listed to go over the next five games, a sign he’s being skipped or shipped — it’s worth keeping an eye on his mechanics, including minor changes in where his hands are throughout and how he uses his lower half.
Average command for Ramirez probably is enough for him to be a solid No. 4 starter, which is more than the Mariners need out of him. His struggles has been magnified by the club’s offensive woes and pitching injuries, and ultimately he fits best in a long relief and spot starter role, covering 70-90 innings per season and rarely being asked to go through the middle of the opposing lineup more than once, which helps him hide some of his deficiencies, and in such a role we may see the velocity tick up a notch or two. Until the club’s preferred rotation gets healthy, however, Ramirez is needed.
All StrikeZone Plots Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net
Jason A. Churchill
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