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Once again, the bullpen projects to be a strength for the Seattle Mariners. Not only are late-inning studs Paul SewaldDrew Steckenrider, Diego Castillo, and Casey Sadler returning, experienced closer Ken Giles and hard-throwing Andrés Muñoz join the mix. But there’s another Seattle reliever we shouldn’t sleep on – Yohan Ramirez.

It’s understandable if Ramirez is relatively low on the depth chart for fans. After all, the more recognizable names just mentioned are the basis for the buzz surrounding the 2022 Mariners bullpen. Sewald, Steckenrider, and Sadler were outstanding during a dramatic postseason chase; Castillo has an proven record as a premium reliever; newcomers Giles and Muñoz project to make the bullpen even better this year. Still, I wouldn’t sleep on the Yohan.

Ramirez’s xwOBA Was Superb

Ramirez is the Seattle reliever I’m most excited to watch heading into 2022. There’s more to the right-hander’s story, but my confidence in his ability begins his opponent xwOBA.

Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA for relievers = .310

For me, xwOBA is the ideal metric for our discussion. It integrates quantity of contact used to calculate wOBA with the quality of that contact. Preventing damaging batted balls is essential to any pitcher’s success, particularly relievers thrust into high-leverage situations. Ramirez’s xwOBA suggest he was as effective at limiting quality contact than his more popular teammates. In some cases, he was even better.

Mariners Reliever xwOBA & MLB Ranking
Casey Sadler – .241 (8th)
Diego Castillo – .259 (25th)*
Paul Sewald – .262 (31st)
Yohan Ramirez – .276 (62nd)
Erik Swanson – .281 (74th)
Drew Steckenrider – .284 (90th)
Anthony Misiewicz – .311 (173rd)

*Includes playing time with Rays

Ramirez not only compared well to Seattle’s other relief arms; he was top-75 among relievers facing 100-plus hitters in 2021. The prospect of having the 26-year-old on the big-league roster for the entire season is another reason to be enthusiastic about this year’s version of the Mariners.

His Other Stats Were Also Great

To be clear, xwOBA isn’t the end-all stat, although it does happen to be my starting point when I look at hitters or pitchers. That said, let’s review other numbers that will tell us more about the second-year reliever.

Yohan Ramirez in 2021
*MLB averages for relief pitchers

Honestly, I’ve been fascinated with Ramirez ever since the Mariners acquired him from Houston via the Rule 5 draft in December 2019. He’s always been a high-strikeout pitcher, but mastering his control has been a challenge. As a rookie in 2020, his 21.3% walk rate was the highest of any pitcher with 20-plus innings. This wildness continued a trend that began in MiLB.

Still, Ramirez did perform much better in the walk category in 2021. As the preceding table illustrates, he was slightly above the MLB average (9.8%). But considering his extended history of allowing too many free passes, the improvement is a welcome development. Plus, there’s been another positive sign this winter.

Although it’s a teeny, tiny sample size, Ramirez’s performance in the 2021-22 Dominican Winter League suggests that perhaps he’s figured something out. Per Baseball Reference, the 26-year-old has struck out nine and walked no one in four innings of work with the Águilas Cibaeñas. As I said, a very small sample. But a pitcher who’s struggled with wildness surrendering zero walks, while striking out nine, is a good news story worth mentioning.

He Has A Killer Slider

Ramirez’s slider has been a particularly potent weapon during his brief MLB career. Among starters and relievers throwing at least 300 sliders in 2020-21, only two pitchers had a lower opponent’s batting average than the Mariners reliever on the pitch. Take a look at this top-5 list, which includes the last two NL Cy Young Award winners.

Lowest AVG on Sliders (2020-21)*
Liam Hendriks (.082)
Cristian Javier (.084)
Yohan Ramirez (.091)
Dominic Leone (.096)
Trevor Bauer (.098)

*300 slider minimum

Something else I like about Ramirez, his knack for avoiding loud contact. Since debuting in 2020, opponents have a 29.6% hard hit rate against him – the MLB hard hit rate was 38.4%. Furthermore, the native of Villa Mella, Dominican Republic ranked 23rd 0f 525 pitchers allowing at least 100 batted balls during this span. He placed just behind Sadler (29.3%) and former Mariners closer Edwin Díaz (29.4%).

Per Statcast, a “hard-hit ball” has an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher. A player’s “hard-hit rate” is the percentage of batted balls with an exit velocity of 95+ mph.

Perhaps this feat isn’t repeatable, but it’s still a fun stat. Ramirez registered a 14.1% pop-up rate on batted balls in 2021 – the MLB average was 6.9%. Why does this matter? A pop-up is nearly as valuable to a pitcher as a strikeout since hitters posted a measly .017 AVG on pop-ups this year.

What’s Next For The Yohan?

A full baseball season is extremely demanding on bullpens in an era when starters are getting pulled out of games earlier than ever before. And let’s not overlook the emergence of the bullpen game being an option for managers. For this reason, having a dynamic arm like Ramirez’s is such a plus for the Mariners in 2022.

Having said that, the issue moving forward for Ramirez will be his control. If he can manage the walks, he’ll have a breakout season and be a formidable weapon for Servais. Perhaps even a late-inning option at some point. Yep, I wouldn’t sleep on the Yohan in 2022.

My Oh My…

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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