Erasmo Ramirez is coming. Last year, the changeup was enough to star in Orgazmo. This year, there have been some bumps in the road. Just how sexy will he be for mixed leaguers isn’t quite so obvious.
Because of iffy strikeout rates in the minor leagues, the projection systems don’t like like Erasmo. A below-average strikeout rate, buffeted by a below-average ground ball rate, can only last so long on the stamina provided by an above-average walk rate. And of course, in the meantime, Ramirez lost his best asset: the comfy soft pillow of a home park that SafeCo used to be. Still, Seattle is cold, and home runs suffer shrinkage in cold weather. Perhaps SafeCo provides enough comfort that we can take the under on Ramirez’ Steamer-projected 1.04 home runs per nine. He never had a homer problem, even in the PCL.
Still, take a few homers out of the equation, and those projections still don’t allure. And yet we have this changeup. That’s a heck of a change piece. Last year, he had as much x-movement on the pitch as Fernando Rodney did. And while Rodney throws 96 with an 84 mph change, Ramirez throws 93 with an 81 mph change — and has control. That’s some good motion of the ocean.
Since a changeup has either no platoon split or a reverse one, Ramirez is in a good position with only his fastballs and his changeup. He has a legitimate curve and slider combo that he can use against same-handed hitters. Well, the curve may fall by the bedside as he ages. Right now, it’s just a change of speed, as it goes 78 mph, since it doesn’t get whiffs, grounders, or strikes like the rest of his pitches. Maybe he should focus on the slider, which looks about average in most respects. An average slider, that ridiculous changeup, and 93 with two fastballs seems like a decent arsenal.
So why the disconnect between looks and performance? Maybe he just needs to learn the intricacies of his game. He actually has a reverse platoon split right now — his strikeout rate has jumped in both the majors and minors against lefties, and some changeups have reverse splits, so that wouldn’t be strange. The slider isn’t great, but if he throws the curve less, and tightens that primary breaking pitch, he can have a weapon against same-handed hitters. He’s already doing some of this, since he throws his slider twice as much as his change against righties.
But the real reason we may not have seen this coming is hidden velocity spike. Ramirez was more high eighties/low nineties when he first signed with the team. Last year, he averaged 93 on the heater. That creates more separation between his hard and soft stuff.
So let’s turn on the rotating bed and the rosy lava lamps and take the over on the projected strikeout rates. With those whiffs, that fastball, and great control, Ramirez can probably repeat his 20-ish % strikeout rate, which is well above the 18.2% strikeout rate that AL starters were showing as a group last year. He likes the high heat, so the fly balls won’t go away, but his park will do enough to mitigate that damage.
Now that I’ve got you all hot and bothered, I’ll leave you with an attractive list. This year’s qualified American League starting pitchers that have struck out more than 18.5% of the batters they’ve seen while walking fewer than 8%. If you limit it to pitchers that also gave up less than a home run per game, the list gets even sexier, so I sorted it for that stat.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.