Game 6, Mariners at Athletics
Erasmo Ramirez vs Sonny Gray, 1:05pm
In 2012, Sonny Gray was coming off a disappointing year in AA, with an RA9 around 4.5, a high walk rate and a K rate under 6 per 9 innings. A year later, he’d made a splash in his big league debut, striking out more than a batter an inning, and outpitching Justin Verlander in a jaw-dropping 1-0 win in the AL Divisional series. This is why prospecting based only on numbers is such a fool’s errand, and why player development is at least as important as good amateur scouting.
The A’s overhauled Gray’s mechanics, and in about a year, he went from undersized, underperforming righty to the unquestioned ace of the Oakland staff. Development isn’t a straight-line path for any pitcher not named Felix Hernandez, and it’s not uncommon to see some ugly lines while a pitcher works on a tweak or learns a new pitch. James Paxton comes to mind, as does Stephen Pryor who was absolutely lost in High-A before learning a cutter/slider in AA and turning into an unhittable relief ace. Today’s two pitchers show that the process simply can’t stop. Both are short righties with solid fastballs, and both continue to adjust on the fly in the big leagues.
In 2012, Erasmo Ramirez made a splash from June through September when he hit the rotation and started relying on his best pitch, the change-up. In every game from June on, he threw his change up more frequently than his breaking balls (slider/curve), and looked like the M’s #3 starter for the next decade. In 2013, he was dealing with arm soreness, and whether it was due to pain or the predilections of then-PC Carl Willis, Erasmo went to his slider a lot. He made 11 starts from August through September and threw more breaking balls than change-ups in 10 of them. He also started using a sinker more than his four-seamer. In his first start this season, the sinker was back, but he paired it with a heavy dose of cambios. The sinker and change have very similar movement, and many (including me) thought that this may have been the reason his change-up was less effective than it had been in 2012. His last few starts of 2013 and his great opening start in Anaheim suggest otherwise – that the speed difference (which is ALSO less than it used to be, but still 10-11mph) is plenty to get hitters to swing over the change. One of his big problems, and one I didn’t see coming, was struggling against lefties. Part of this may have been pitching through injury, but part of it seemed to be the angle on his fastballs – for whatever reason, lefties have hit his four-seamer hard (though his career sample’s still small). Erasmo’s still a work in progress, but his willingness and ability to change on the fly are certainly good signs.
Sonny Gray didn’t look like he needed to make any adjustments after last year’s stunning debut (capped off by a season-ending win against the M’s and Erasmo Ramirez), but he’s got a new pitch this year. When he came up, he threw two fastballs, a change, slider and a curve. He used the big curve a lot, throwing it over a quarter of the time. Against lefties, he’d mix in the occasional change and a very rare cutter. He was great against lefties and righties, but the combo of fastball and curve destroyed righties in particular. Cleveland used a lefty-heavy line-up against Gray on opening day, and saw a flurry of cutters – 21 of them. With two very different breaking balls – the cutter’s a hard one, at around 86mph, and he hit 90 with one of them – he’s in a good position to give left-handers more than one look. His FB/Curve arsenal was great in 2013, but as hitters get more familiar with him, he’s adjusting and giving them more to think about.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Morrison, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Saunders, RF
9: Zunino, C
8 lefties to face Gray today.
Great day in the M’s system, as Victor Sanchez makes his AA debut for Jackson. South African control artist Dylan Unsworth makes his first 2014 start in the Cal League for High Desert. The Rainiers host Albuquerue as Chance Ruffin makes the start against Dodgers prospect Zach Lee – good game to head to Cheney if you’re in the area.
You’ll notice that Chance Ruffin’s in the Tacoma rotation and Brandon Maurer isn’t. That’s…different. This is something to watch this year; I’m just curious what the plan is for Maurer, who still has big league stuff, but obviously had a very difficult time in his first big league season last year.