The Miami Marlins bullpen betrayed them toward the end of the 2016 season. Midsummer acquisition Fernando Rodney disappointed in his late-inning role (36.2 IP, 5.89 ERA, 4.97 FIP, 5 HR allowed). Even their best arms struggled in high-leverage situations—the Fish went 7-15 over their final 22 one-run games. All of a sudden, a team with legitimate playoff aspirations plunged below the .500 mark.
Vowing to change that, Miami entered 2017 focused on reinforcing that relief corps. The front office flirted with adding a stud closer in free agency to complement a strong nucleus. Ultimately, the Marlins signed Junichi Tazawa and Brad Ziegler.
Settling for those second-tier veterans improved the roster, but meant that AJ Ramos would open the season with ninth-inning duties. Even after saving 40 games the previous year, he realized there were plenty of haters who still had doubts about him in spring training (via Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald):
“Although I’ve been gradually getting better at the closer’s role, it’s only my second year of closing. I have to prove again why. I’ve just got to keep my head down, keep working, and prove why I should be closer. Once I hit that peak, then they’ll start realizing (Ramos) is one of the marquee guys, too.”
Ramos’ 2017 performance fell a bit short of his usual standards. Compared to his other full seasons at the MLB level, the 30-year-old set career worsts in earned run average (3.63), Win Probability Added (0.5) and OPS allowed (.646). Only 11 of his 40 appearances with the Marlins didn’t involve any baserunners. There were a few high-profile screw-ups, too.
AJ Ramos, MLB Stats
|2017 (with MIA)||40||39.2||30||17||16||4||22||47||3.63||3.91||1.31||0.3|
However, an impressive track record and strikeout rate made Ramos a desirable trade target when the Fish fell out of contention. The New York Mets struck a deal on July 28, sending prospects Ricardo Cespedes and Merandy Gonzalez to Miami.
He would return to pitch at Marlins Park one more time after that. Justin Bour’s solo home run sparked a rally against him in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the home team went on to win in extras. It was the first time in Ramos’ career that he has ever blown a save with a three-run lead.
Fastball velocity in the low 90s is very ordinary in today’s game, so Ramos relies on a mix of secondary pitches for success. He took that to an extreme in 2017—he only threw fastballs 39.3 percent of the time prior to the trade. That’s the lowest* rate by any Marlins pitcher in a single season (min. 10 IP) since at least 2002**, according to FanGraphs.
*I’m counting cutters (abbreviated CT) as a variety of fastball. Ramos ranks third-lowest on the leaderboard before making this adjustment.
**Complete pitch type data goes back to 2002. It’s fair to assume that knuckleballer Charlie Hough threw fewer fastballs than Ramos when he was with the Marlins in 1993 and 1994.
He’s no longer in the clubhouse, but all publicly available evidence suggests that Ramos remains close to his former Marlins teammates, even after the business of baseball has separated them. He was among the first to congratulate Giancarlo Stanton on winning the NL MVP Award. Just a few days later, here he is chilling with Stanton, veteran right-hander Ricky Nolasco...and Snoop Dogg?
Assuming good health, Ramos should have an impact on the 2018 Marlins. He remains with the NL East-rival Mets and projects to see significant action against them as a setup man.