The Toronto Blue Jays added depth to their relief corps today by acquiring right-handed pitcher Neil Ramirez off waivers.
Blue Jays claim RHP Neil Ramirez off waivers from SF Giants.
— Blue Jays PR (@BlueJaysPR) May 4, 2017
The Blue Jays will be the 27-year-old’s fifth MLB team, following stints with the Cubs, Brewers, Twins, and Giants. A big arm, Ramirez offers a four-pitch repertoire the includes a four-seam fastball, slider, curve, and change-up, focusing on his 93 mph four-seam and slider the majority of the time.
The righty posted his best results in his rookie season with the Chicago Cubs in 2014. A 1.44 ERA, 1.053 WHIP and 2.61 FIP with excellent strikeout numbers showed a ton of early potential for the young reliever. Unfortunately, after an injury-plagued 2015 season that included stops on the DL from April 16 – June 28 for shoulder inflammation in his throwing arm as well as July 29 – September 8 for abdominal soreness, things haven’t been the same. 2016 saw Ramirez continue to struggle, resulting in him jumping between teams, unable to return what had him being so successful in 2014.
Coming into the new year, there was a promising start to 2017 for Ramirez. The reliever locked down the final spot in the Giants bullpen with an impressive showing in spring training. The regular season would have different results though. The Virginia Beach native suffered through a terrible start this year with a 1.94 WHIP and a 13.06 ERA. The poor results led to the reliever being designated for assignment, which is where the Blue Jays come in. So what exactly did the Blue Jays acquire? Look further into the peripherals, and there is both cause for concern and some silver linings.
The alarming peripherals include Ramirez’s walk rate. At 3.48 BB/9, Ramirez is still below his career average of 4.40. Putting men on base is not a habit any reliever should get into but unfortunately it seems to be one of Ramirez’s biggest hobbies. What’s interesting here, though, is that even in 2014 when he was a stud, he was posting a 3.50 BB/9. Of note, that mark is higher than what he has posted to start this year. In addition to that, the guys that Ramirez isn’t walking are hitting fly balls. Ramirez is posting a very low ground ball rate 26.7%. In Rogers Centre, where the home run park factor is 1.183, the high fly ball rate could lead to disaster.
However, there are some peripherals that tell a different story than his ugly ERA does. Ramirez has had a run of incredibly poor luck to start the season. Opposing players have a whopping .500 BABIP against him, approximately .200 points higher than league average. On top of that, his FIP and xFIP numbers demonstrate a significantly lower 3.53 and 3.43 respectively. All of this points to a high probability of a market correction; not only in opponents batting average (currently .333) but his ERA as well. Luck isn’t the only positive in this pick up either. Throughout his career, Ramirez has shown to be a strikeout artist. With a career k/9 rate of 10.76, and this season at a phenomenal 15.68, there is significant appeal.
There are a lot of similarities in this acquisition to what we saw last year with Jason Grilli. A high strikeout, high walk guy, struggling on their current team, picked up for nothing. With the Jays off to an abysmal start, this isn’t a “move the needle type of move”. It IS, however, a much needed, well-calculated addition. It is no-risk, high potential reward. With the injuries continuing to pile up, any depth is welcome. If Ramirez ends up finding a little more control and gets some better luck, this could have the same impact as the Grilled Cheese did last year and he could end up being an integral part of this Jays pen. If not, well, with the Jays running with a nine man bullpen, someone has to pitch in Buffalo.
*Featured Image Credit: udo.d (flickr) under CC 2.0