SLATER SCOOP: Marlins will be placing A.J. Ramos on 15-day DL. Also, team will be sending newly acquired P Hunter Cervenka to minors.— Andy Slater (@AndySlater) August 9, 2016
Given that one of Ramos’s most prominent recent appearances was a disastrous outing versus the Chicago Cubs in which he gave up three runs and blew a save for the Fish in the finale of a three-game sweep by the NL leaders, it may be easy to chalk up what Ramos has been doing lately to injury concerns. Ramos owns a 6.48 ERA and his prominent blown save of the season this past month. Perhaps this supposedly jammed finger is what has ailed him all month.
However, a simple check of his numbers shows that A.J. Ramos is still A.J. Ramos, the same guy he has been for a little while.
|2016, last 30 days||26.2||11.9||6.48||2.65|
Last season, Ramos posted an impressive campaign in large part because he stopped walking hitters at an extreme rate. In the second half, however, he went back to walking said batters at what felt like his usual rates; Ramos put up a 12.5 percent walk rate in the second half that almost exactly matches his career mark right now. Walks are now and forever going to be a part of A.J. Ramos’s game.
So are strikeouts, and it seems that they will be at these rates forever. Ramos’s differential between his strikeout and walk rate last month was at 14.3 percent, which is close to the 15.5 percent mark that is both his 2016 and career difference. He is going to strike out a lot of guys, and he is going to walk a lot of guys.
As always, we like to wonder what the difference was between last month and this one. Ramos last season gave up an average exit velocity on his balls in play of 85.6 mph, with an average launch angle of 9.4 degrees. In 2016, that velocity is up to 86.4 mph. But last month, when he posted a ridiculously unsustainable .440 BABIP, Ramos’s average velocity of opponent’s bats was 85.2 mph, and he was allowing more ground ball contact (48 percent rate) than usual (career 40 percent). In all aspects, it looks as though Ramos was allowing softer contact and pitching at least as well if not better than usual.
So how could he be pitching so badly and put up such an awful ERA with a performance that seems his usual overall? Well, when you only throw 8 1/3 innings in an entire month, it is really easy to have two bad outings affect your entire outlook. Ramos made nine appearances total and pitched well in seven of them. In two games, he gave up six runs, and one of those outings was to a degree exacerbated by poor defensive play. Ramos did not pitch well in those outings, but checking his month against the rest of his career, it looked like it was as stable as it gets.
The question then becomes whether Marlins fans are happy with Ramos thus far. He made the All-Star Game having only blown one save opportunity in the first half. He pitched well, but perhaps not as well as fellow reliever David Phelps did. He is performing like he has throughout much of his career, with some of the jump he made in 2015 retained this season. Since last season, Ramos’s strikeout rate ranks 10th in baseball among relievers with 100 or more innings, right next to closer names like David Robertson, Wade Davis, and Roberto Osuna. At the same time, his walk rate of 11.1 percent is the fifth-highest in the game, and only one guy with regular save opportunities (Trevor Rosenthal) has walked more men on a rate basis. His changeup has lost a little dip from last year based on the MLB Gameday data, but it remains a fantastic, if no longer unstoppable, tool. Batters are swinging less at his pitches though he is throwing them in the strike zone at the same rate he did last season.
All of this points to the soon-to-be 30-year-old Ramos being a steady performer who may find himself closing in on a decline. That yet again brings up the age-old question the Marlins have failed every time: should the Fish keep him 2017 and beyond? On the one hand, the Marlins are unlikely to find a similar replacement at the price Ramos figures to earn next year ($6 million to $7 million). At the same time, Ramos is a strong, but ultimately limited pitcher, and betting on relievers to continue to succeed is always a risky proposition. Should the Marlins turn to another effective, risky, but cheaper option like Kyle Barraclough? The two pitchers have the same problem, though for different reasons; Barraclough owns the third-highest strikeout rate and the highest walk rate among relievers this season. Would he be just as effective as Ramos in that spot and allow the Fish to stock up on cheaper talent and reallocate those extra $3 million? Or would keeping Ramos to form an effective bullpen trio with David Phelps and Barraclough (with a possible Fernando Rodney resurgence?) be the better play?
Those are questions for next season, not this year. The Marlins should not be worried about Ramos’s performance this year, because it looks the same as it has been for a few years now. He is who he is, and this year that translates into an excellent reliever, even with the wild, scary ninth innings. The true question is whether this is something Miami will want next year, especially if the team is still in contention.