The man affectionately nicknamed Assmo (I swear it’s affection) has all of a sudden started to look like a useful piece after looking like a piece of crap upon arrival. The timeline makes a bit of sense as even a maestro like Rays pitching coach/Godhead Jim Hickey needs a bit of time for his magic to take effect. The best time to get through to someone regardless of their troubles is when they’re staring at the bottom willing to try anything that might lead to more success. Erasmo Ramirez knows what it’s like to look in the mirror and hate everything he sees, but with the help of this mentor it looks like he has made some strides. To wit:
The right-hand column looks at all, but his first two appearances this year, while the left-hand column lumps those two shitastrophes in with enough end of last season stuff to get a similar sample size. Obviously, this is evaluative, and not an estimate of true talent level, but that’s kind of the point. He has looked like a different guy with more strikeouts and less walks with more grounders and less fly balls. This is what a pretty good pitcher looks like.
We know that the first step in the Hickey Rehab Program is to Trust Thine Stuff. Pitchers generally do this by throwing in the zone more. Walks are killer. So much so that we’d rather give up the occasional extra home run than walk a bunch of guys who probably don’t deserve the respect. Well how has that worked out?
Not a whole lot of difference on the swing-side, but he sure is garnering whiffs in the zone more often as evidenced by that sweet Zone Contact rate and overall Swinging Strike rate. He’s actually throwing his first pitch for strikes less than the previous case, but overall, throwing the same number of pitches in the zone. This isn’t just a guy that’s pounding the zone, results be damned, Erasmo is able to get whiffs where previously he was giving up balls in play. That’s big, but it doesn’t tell us a whole lot about why because he hasn’t really increased his strike rate.
The next chapter in the Hickey Rehab Program is to Get Back to Basics. Eliminate your worst pitch and focus on your best one. Amp up the usage on that thing until batters tell you you’re throwing it too much. Here’s what his Pitch Type Usage looks like over his career (compliments of the unparalleled Baseball Savant):
We’re looking at the entirety of his career going from left to right with each point on each line representing the average of the previous 500 pitches. Because it’s an average of the last 500 pitches even the most recent point is going to retain a little over a hundred pitches from 2014. This is stuff that will sort itself out better throughout the year so I hope that doesn’t detract from your enjoyment. While we’re at it I reclassified a handful of cutters and sinkers as sliders and two-seamers, respectively.
The big point here is how he has basically shut down his slider and that can be traced back to before he arrived so let’s move on. The curve has oscillated, but he’s also throwing that about as infrequently as he ever has. So without the benefit of the breaking ball he has seemed to revive his career some.
Ramirez is doing this almost entirely by eschewing the two-seamer for the four-seamer and amping up the change up usage even further to over 30%. The two-seamer, or sinker, is nice because it gets groundballs by the gallon, but it does this by being an easier to contact pitch so you’re talking about more balls in play and less whiffs. It also helps to move on from the pitch because he hasn’t gotten very good results with it:
Pitchers would prefer their run values to be lower than higher and ideally they would prefer those numbers to be better than average (below the line). I’ve also included his swing and zone rates which correspond with the right-axis. While Erasmo had shown a bit of success at a couple of different points in his career with the pitch it has mostly been worse than average and that has been the case with his most recent offerings which look like a bad pitch on paper.
Let’s briefly cover the breaking balls next. He hasn’t thrown them a ton and when he has it hasn’t been a good pitch for him. The curve looked like it wasn’t bad for stealing strikes early in his career, but whether batters have figured out how to pick it up via a different release point or grip or whatever the tell is they’ve sure figured it out over time as it looks like a non-pitch at this point.
Early in his career batters feasted on his straight fastball before a very strong and prolonged stretch of greatness for Erasmo. He then saw various levels of success until last year when it got hit pretty hard. That has changed over the most recent term as there has been a drastic decline in his run values on the four-seamer. The swing and zone rates haven’t changed very much over the last couple of years, and he has done the opposite of gain velocity, which has helped the movement play up a little, but not a ton:
This means that we’re looking at either location or sequencing. We already know that he’s throwing it more so I want to focus on the former, but first let’s finish up this section by looking at his bread and butter:
The change has always been his best pitch and that is no different over this nearest term. While the most recent period does follow some of his worst results we can see that he is back to making magic happen with the cambio. He’s able to sport a wide gap between strikes and swings, which for me is the signature of a put away pitch. It’s a really good one, but it looks like it’s at his best when he doesn’t need it to be in the zone. Here’s a summary of his Run Values per 100 Pitches, Swing and Zone rates over his career:
We see that the four-seamer and the change are good and really good pitches, respectively. This brings us to the third central Tenet of the Hickey Rehab Program: Create Space. You can do this by either pitching to the entirety of the zone or you can create space by mixing the speed of your pitches. The ideal Hickey Resurrection Project shows the ability to throw the four-seamer up and the change down while keeping around 10 MPH difference between the pitches. The two-seamer works best when it’s down in the zone, but that’s exactly where a pitcher like Ramirez needs to be throwing his change up. Additionally, the two-seamer is usually a MPH or two less than the four-seamer so you’re cutting into that velocity-separation gap. These two things working in conjunction make the two-seamer a strange bedfellow for the change. Luckily, Erasmo has a useful four-seamer he just needs the direction and the confidence to throw it up in the zone.
You’ll find 2014’s four-seam fastballs on the left and 2015 on the right. It’s difficult to say with confidence that he’s throwing the pitch up more often, but we can see that he’s burning that pitch into a really nice corner this year instead of leaving it out over the plate. He has already thrown as many four-seam fastballs this year as last year so you have to think that as he continues to repeat that motion he’ll continue to gain command on the pitch. If he can continue to get strikes upstairs via the take or the whiff then it all sets up the moneymaker:
It looks like he’s able to work below the zone a bit more perhaps because he’s stealing strikes and getting ahead by throwing the fastball that looks nothing like his change. I don’t think the recent version of Erasmo Ramirez is here to stay for long, but I think he can still be a useful pitcher, if not this good. If he’s just going to throw fastballs and change ups then he should probably only see a lineup twice. This leaves him in the spot starter/swingman/mop up role where it’s necessary to have a guy that can pitch 2 – 5 innings if necessary while hoping to keep the team in the game. I think he will be quite good in that role even if he has competition from a guy like Matt Andriese whom looks like he has similar upside.
That guy typically ends up being a bit of an unsung hero on the team. Not getting much press or accolades, but going out and doing his job more often than not. In a year where the word “devastation” barely seems to touch the surface of the Rays staff situation that could be an even more vital role. For these reasons I believe it is time to retire the nickname “Assmo.” His performance on the field has been enjoyable and it looks like something that should stick, though it will be interesting if Erasmo can eventually bring the curve back in once batters adjust to his now two-pitch arsenal. That story will have to wait until another evening, kiddies.