Game 119, Mariners at Astros

marc w · August 12, 2018 at 10:57 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Dallas Keuchel, 11:10am

Three games against the toughest set of opposing starters the M’s have faced, with the possible exception of Chris Sale, and the M’s head into today with a three-game winning streak. The offense teed off against Justin Verlander, but they won the last two thanks in large part to great, timely, pitching. Solid starts from Wade LeBlanc and Mike Leake, and then solid relief efforts leading up to the nearly-unhittable Edwin Diaz. If you squint, you see a true AL contender, a team with good-but-not great everything leading up to an undeniably great closer – a team whose greatness doesn’t bowl you over, but reveals itself slowly through consistency and calm. Of course, this is the same club that played terrible baseball in Arlington and have put themselves behind the A’s, so it’s hard to give them TOO much credit for consistency, but the team could’ve let the last few weeks overwhelm them. No one would’ve batted an eye if they’d lost these last three, so it’s a testament to the club and to the eternal weirdness of baseball that the M’s are riding somewhat high again.

And that brings us to Erasmo Ramirez. The Nicarguan righty hasn’t started since April, when he gave up 5 HRs in 5 IP against Cleveland. It’s been a strange, strange career for the afterthought of a prospect, who ignored the doubters and rose to the M’s in 2012 behind a much better than advertised FB and a true weapon in his diving change-up. He threw 93-95 that first year, and his change came in about 12 MPH slower, leading to tons of swings and misses. That gap was important, because the movement on the pitch was quite similar to his sinker, and the M’s loved having him pitch off of that sinking fastball, perhaps as a way to reduce his dinger problems. Almost immediately, though, things deteriorated. His FB velocity dipped by 1 then 2 MPH. That 12 MPH gap between SI and CH shrunk with it. More importantly, he always struggled to develop a real breaking ball – something to throw against right-handed batters. He had a slider, and the M’s kept tweaking it, but nothing really worked. By 2014, batters slugged .731 off of his slider, with 5 HRs against a sparingly-used 3rd pitch, and the M’s had seen enough.

Erasmo revived his career in Tampa, with a slower slider, a different approach, and then a hard cutter. Used as a swingman and occasional high-leverage long-reliever (there’s a concept for you), he thrived. His FB never recovered its 93-95 velo, but he had enough guile and deep enough repertoire that it didn’t really matter. As the game approached Peak Dinger, Erasmo suffered, but he remained playable thanks to a low BABIP and low walk rates. Upon returning to Seattle last season, though, his gopheritis returned with a vengeance. He gave up 12 HRs in 11 starts (62 IP) down the stretch, and then 7 in just 2 starts (9 2/3 IP) this year. That’s 19 HRs in just over 70 IP, and while that will regress, that’s…that’s ugly. The velo gap between FB and CH is down to 8 MPH, and there’s essentially no difference in the vertical movement between his sinker and cambio. He uses his 88 MPH cutter as a fastball now, but while there’s a big horizontal movement gap between the sinker/cutter, it means he’s throwing 88 MPH fastballs to left-handed batters an awful lot. The slider’s regressed yet again, as batters are back to slugging over .700 against it since he arrived last August. But they’re slugging .765 against his primary fastball, his sinker.

There are a number of options here. He could go back to using his four-seamer, which maximizes the gap between FB and CH, and which has been successful for him in Seattle. He could use his cutter up in the zone a bit more, instead of keeping it low (same as his sinker). I’d love to have more confidence that the M’s are the team to unlock Erasmo’s potential. And frankly, potential’s too strong a word for it – he just needs to do what he was doing for a few years in Tampa. He’s regressed badly, and if he’s going to stabilize this post-Felix rotation, he needs to be the guy he was in St. Pete again. If not, then the M’s won’t have improved by demoting their icon to the ‘pen.

Dallas Keuchel remains an extraordinarily successful sinkerballer despite below-average velocity, and he’s maintained a well above-average HR rate throughout the HR-explosion of 2016-18. His low spin pitches stay down, and his command enables him to make the most of so-so stuff. Fundamentally, he’s got the same basic repertoire as Erasmo, with a rare four-seamer, a sinker, a cutter, and then a slider and change. Erasmo’s pitches have much higher spin rates and are thrown from a lower arm angle, and I wonder if that’s part of the problem. You look at Erasmo’s mechanics, and then the whole sinker/slider, high-ground ball thing makes some sense. But his sinker’s got above-average spin, 200 RPMs more than Keuchel’s, and that gap remains after taking into account Erasmo’s higher velo. The gap’s even larger for his cutter. Erasmo’s got a very high spin rate cutter, and he’s now targeting the bottom of the zone with it. Sure, cutters show higher spin rates, but I’m just not convinced that he should be trying to get grounders and whiffs on a pitch with the kind of spin he puts on the ball. Keuchel’s pitches have much lower than average spin, hence his GB-centric approach makes sense. Erasmo’s HIGHER than average spin would seem to conflict with his cutters-and-sinkers-at-the-knees approach.

1: Haniger, RF
2: Maybin, LF
3: Segura, SS
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Heredia, CF
9: Romine, 2B
SP: Erasmooooo

Another day off for Dee Gordon as the M’s face a tough lefty starter. After facing three super-high-velocity starters in Verlander/Cole/Morton, we’ll see how they adjust to a low-velo, command and sink guy like Keuchel today. They’ve shown very little in the way of splits against fly ball or groundball pitchers this year.


9 Responses to “Game 119, Mariners at Astros”

  1. mksh21 on August 12th, 2018 12:31 pm

    IF they sweep this series I won’t say another word about the disaster of a trade deadline and the fact Andrew Romine is going to be on the roster for 162 games.

  2. Stevemotivateir on August 12th, 2018 12:35 pm

    So far, so good. Ramirez has answered some questions well.

  3. Stevemotivateir on August 12th, 2018 12:40 pm

    Goddamn Seager. What the hell has gotten into his glove lately?

  4. Stevemotivateir on August 12th, 2018 12:44 pm

    Luckily they got out of that jam unscathed.

  5. mrakbaseball on August 12th, 2018 1:38 pm

    Poor job by Servais managing the bullpen to have both Colome and Diaz unavailable today.

  6. Stevemotivateir on August 12th, 2018 1:52 pm

    ^They won the first 3 games and the alternative in 2 of those 3 games would have been Lawrence or Rumbelow.

  7. mrakbaseball on August 12th, 2018 2:08 pm

    Well, we’ll get to see Felix make his 2018 bullpen debut later

  8. Longgeorge1 on August 12th, 2018 2:27 pm

    Rasmo gave them a chance. And the rest is…

  9. Stevemotivateir on August 12th, 2018 3:45 pm

    Ladies and Gentlemen, we just swept Houston in their house–4 games.

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