We see this every year. Relatively unknown pitchers have a few starts that blow us away and we simply don’t know what to do. Is this player going to have a breakout season? Is this just a flash in the pan? Is it something in-between? JC Ramirez is the latest example after collecting 25 strikeouts across his last three starts and 17.2 innings. With a 3.36 xFIP to his name, a 10.96 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, and 23.9% soft contact, all the advanced peripherals are suggesting the 28-year-old may be the real deal. However, I wanted to know what makes the flamethrower tick and I watched his latest start against the Texas Rangers to get to the bottom of the Angels’ phenom. Here is my inning-by-inning analysis of that start with 15 HD GIFs.
As always with our GIF Breakdowns, let’s take a look at Ramirez’s strikezone plot for the day:
A few things pop out to me. First is the heavy Slider usage down-and-glove side that Ramirez hinged on constantly in the outing. It’s a great spot to hit consistently – it’s what made Kenta Maeda so good last year – and he’s been making a season out of it thus far. Meanwhile, his Curveball is hanging out inside the strike zone a good amount – another good sign as Ramirez uses the pitch to steal free strikes early and as a surprise putaway offering. Problem here is his Fastball – a Two-Seamer that he didn’t have confidence with through the outing. Save for one inning, Ramirez barely used his heater and when he did, it often sailed arm-side, as he pulled his left shoulder open too soon (possiblly a product of overthrowing). Keep this in mind as we go through each inning of his start.
First Inning – 17 Pitches, 9 Strikes, 1 Hit, 1 BB, 1 Run
Right off the bat, Ramirez wanted to establish his Fastball, but couldn’t get it done, walking DeShields on four heaters. This was a common theme in his previous start against the Athletics and it doesn’t seem to have changed thus far.
DeShields stole second on the first pitch to Mazara- a gameplan for the Rangers as they stole three bags against JC – while Ramirez got ahead with a Curveball that fell in for a strike. After a foul from a Fastball that missed its spot outside, Ramirez showed off his world class Slider to earn his first out of the afternoon:
Get used to that Slider. It’s Ramirez’s best pitch by a longshot and is the reason I’m writing this entire piece. He throws it more than his heater and the next pitch to Carlos Gomez for strike one is one that we’ll see all afternoon. Remark its location down-and-away to the right-handed Gomez:
Sadly, Ramirez still couldn’t locate his Fastball, missing arm-side when trying to nail the outside corner, allowing Gomez to slug an RBI single to center. The following AB was all around poor – Gomez stole second, Ramirez missed with each option in his repertoire across the five pitch at-bat, resulting in a single to left on a hanging Slider inside. Thankfully Gomez was gunned out at home or this could have been a nightmarish start to the afternoon.
An elevated Slider away to Elvis Andrus led to a lazy flyout to right field and Ramirez has one frame in the books. Not a good start by any means and I was already nervous that he would get his Fastball command in order.
Second Inning – 14 Pitches, 10 Strikes, 1 Hit, 0 Runs
Ramirez wanted to keep the same approach of establishing his heater, but it just wasn’t meant to be with ball one sailing up-and-away to left-handed Joey Gallo. However, two strong breaking balls of a Curveball and Slider backed him up and a decent Slider down in the zone – should have been lower – resulted in a groundball through the teeth of the shift for a base hit:
This is the typical kind of at-bat from Ramirez. He couldn’t find his Fastball so relied on his breaking stuff and rendered a desirable result, even if it snuck through for a base hit and probably could have rendered a strikeout if he located his slide piece a touch lower.
Shin-Soo Choo followed as Ramirez still couldn’t get comfortable. He missed badly with a first pitch hook, then let this heater fly up in the zone with middling velocity that Choo gave for a ride for a long out to right-center:
If that doesn’t make you uneasy, I’m not sure what will. Ramirez hasn’t shown that he can command his heater and that spells disaster. With right-handed Ryan Rua up next, Ramirez recognizes his poor heater and elects to lead off with back-to-back Sliders – not his best ones, but inside the zone for a quick 0-2 count. Gallo steals second on the 0-1 pitch and after a third Slider off the plate, Ramirez tries to paint the outside corner with his Fastball, but once again it rides arm-side. However, an inside heater after a breaker away is textbook effectiveness and it worked here to get a jammed grounder to third for an out:
I like emphasizing the pitch above because even with the poor command of his heater, the pitch still comes in at a good velocity with a great amount of movement. The sky is the limit for Ramirez if he can harness the pitch, but even in the meantime he’s able to avoid getting punished despite his mistakes with the pitch just because of its speed and life.
The final at-bat of the second goes a bit as you’d expect. Sliders away to start, followed by a heater (this one had decent location this time), then another Slider for the flyout. He escaped without any damage though there are clear signs for concern.
Third Inning – 15 Pitches, 11 Strikes, 0 Hits, 0 Runs
After missing on four heaters initially to Delino DeShields in the first inning, Ramirez elected to feature four slide pieces out of five pitches to earn himself his second strikeout of the game. The final Slider shows just how much bite the pitch has as DeShields couldn’t resist giving chase:
Now let’s focus our attention on a landmark pitch for Ramirez as he opened his at-bat to Nomar Mazara:
This was the first Fastball of the game that was a called or swinging strike. Amazing that we had to wait 37 pitches for that to happen, but hey, we got there! Considering how we hadn’t seen it yet in the game, I wondered if it meant he’d start turning to the pitch more with added confidence. Sure enough, the 1-1 pitch was another Fastball – fouled off late by Mazara – and made me encouraged for future at-bats.
Mazara was punched out on a pretty lame Curveball a few pitches that really wasn’t a strike and it’s not worth your attention. The following at-bat should be the standard affair for right-handers, which was mimicked by Ervin Santana in his start against the Rangers last week: breaking balls away followed by a heater inside for a weak groundball out. After getting 1-2 on Sliders, Ramirez turned to his Fastball and for the third straight time in the inning, and he executed the pitch perfectly:
This was a fantastic inning for Ramirez and there was still more room for improvement as he could focus more on his Fastball. Well located heaters would set up his breaking ball and get quicker outs jamming batters. I was hoping to see another step in the right direction for the fourth…
Fourth Inning – 10 Pitches, 9 Strikes, 0 Hits, 0 Runs
…And I got it. If you’re looking for Ramirez’s upside, this is the inning. First up was Rougned Odor who was served strike one on a good Curveball, then a quick out on a low 0-1 heater:
Next was Elvis Andrus, where Ramirez got ahead quickly with his Fastball and Slider, closing it out with a great Curveball that Andrus wasn’t looking for. Three pitches all executed well in one at-bat for a well deserved strikeout:
But Ramirez saved his best for last against Joey Gallo, which was such a great at-bat that it hurts. First was a perfect Fastball that zoomed from Gallo’s hip to the inside corner for strike one, followed by a low Slider (a miss, but a good miss) that Gallo couldn’t help himself from chasing. Now 0-2, Ramirez unveils the pitch I want him so badly to feature constantly against left-handers – A riding heater in under the hands that starts off the plate and surprises them for strike three on the inside corner:
Needless to say, I was pumped and really hoping it would carry into the fifth. Maybe Ramirez just needed to ramp up first?
Fifth Inning – 20 Pitches, 10 Strikes, 1 Hit, 1 Run
Coming back from his excellent fourth inning, I was hoping to see more of the same with his Fastball. Unfortunately, we were met with the three worst heaters of the day, all coming in around 90/91mph despite flexing 95mph through the game. All three missed their spots, with the first two up-and-away and then this meatball for Shin-Soo Choo to lace for a HR:
At first I thought they were Changeups, but they are definitely Two-Seamers that just didn’t have the same kick as the others. It’s a terrible sign after looking so great with his Fastball just an inning ago. I wonder if Ramirez will ever be able to have that consistency through the year.
The next pair of at-bats for Ramirez mimicked each other: plenty of Sliders with a poorly executed 3-2 slide piece that’s swung through for a charity strikeout. Delino DeShields‘ at-bat was a little better, but still ended on a questionable pitch despite earning the punchout. While they are still strikeouts in the book, it’s far from the strong rebound we’re looking for after the poor Choo at-bat and dominant fourth inning:
Ramirez struck out the side in this inning – all with the Slider – and while that seems excellent, it does make me concerned against better talent as his Slider carried him through the entire inning, each strikeout ending on slide pieces that were far from his best.
Sixth Inning – 15 Pitches, 8 Strikes, 0 Hits, 1 Walk, 0 Runs
Mazara led off the sixth and found himself looking at a 3-2 Fastball for strike three. The pitch wasn’t where Ramirez wanted it – he wanted it down and away – but it ended up being just like the one to Joey Gallo as it ran back over the inside corner to freeze the lefty. The end result is good, but knowing Ramirez didn’t try to make this happen has to dock him a point:
The final at-bat of the game was against Carlos Gomez, which concluded with a terrible 3-2 Fastball up-and-in and perfectly summed up the struggles Ramirez has had with his heater:
Final Line – 5.1 IP, 2 ER, 4 Hits, 2 BBs, 9 Ks. 56-91 Strikes, 11/21 First Pitch Strikes
If you read through the entire article, the answer is pretty clear: JC Ramirez has a lot of polish left to add if he’s going to be a major impact arm this year. His Slider sets a great foundation to build upon and will help him continue striking batters out, but there is a lot of work left to do with his Two-Seamer that he just doesn’t have the command for at the moment. He flashed brilliance in the fourth inning, especially with his at-bat against Joey Gallo, but it’s hard to believe that he’s close to being that pitcher consistently through any given outing. His Curveball is a good third offering that doesn’t need to be more than it currently is and he could rely on it more when he lays a better foundation with his heater. There’s also a question of longevity as Ramirez hasn’t been a starter since 2011 in Double-A, and hasn’t eclipsed 100 frames since.
I put Ramirez at #57 on The List this week due to his obvious strikeout ability. There is clear upside with a lively Fastball that makes for an excellent 1-2 combination when executed properly. However, it’s tough to believe Ramirez will be able to command this approach consistently in the near future and he is inside the Top 60 as a major upside play with a good strikeout upside. Hold a short leash and don’t expect Ramirez to be the arm that carries you through the season.