The Rays have always liked lefty Cesar Ramos. Looking at his repertoire of pitches, it’s pretty clear why. Ramos throws a low-90’s fastball with nice sink along with a couple of good breaking balls, a big curveball and a late-breaking slider, and also a changeup with nice downward action. Ramos was considerably less polished coming out of El Rancho High School in California, but the Rays saw enough promise in him to select him in the 6th round of the 2002 MLB Draft. Ramos did not sign, instead heading to Long Beach State University. After three successful years at LBSU, Ramos was a supplemental first round by the San Diego Padres in the 2005 draft, 35th overall. (He was actually the second “Cesar” in a row selected by the Padres, following the forgettable Cesar Carrillo.)
The Padres started off Ramos at Short Season-A Eugene to begin his career in 2005 and it did not go well as he posted a 6.53 ERA, just a 5.7 K/9, a 3.0 BB/9, and a 1.3 HR/9 in 4 starts and 2 relief appearances. His FIP was just 5.28. But the Padres had the crazy idea to call up Ramos to Low-A Fort Wayne in an attempt to get him on track, and it worked as he went 3-2 with a 4.19 ERA, a 7.4 K/9, just a 1.6 BB/9, and not a single homer allowed in 7 starts, including a complete game, and 38.2 IP. His lack of homers allowed was a fluke, but still his 2.17 FIP was awfully shiny.
In 2006, Ramos spent the season at High-A Lake Elsinore and went 7-8 with a 3.70 ERA in 24 starts, 2 relief appearances, and 141 IP. Ramos’ homer rate returned to normal at 0.6 and his walk rate went up a bit to 2.8, but the major problem was that his strikeout rate came in at just 4.5, third lowest in the California League minimum 100 innings pitched. Ramos then went to Double-A San Antonio for 2007 and went 13-9 with a 3.41 ERA, a 2.4 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 27 starts, including two complete games, and 163.2 IP. But his K/9 remained extremely low at 4.9, fourth lowest in the Texas League minimum 100 IP. Ramos was pitching well overall, but his lack of strikeouts was a serious concern. Ramos actually struck out more batters at Triple-A Portland in 2008, but his overall results were much worse as he went 9-11 with a 5.29 ERA in 27 starts, 1 relief appearance, and 149.2 IP. He did strike out 6.3 batters per 9 innings, but he walked 3.4 per 9 and posted a 1.0 HR/9, amounting to a 4.52 FIP.
2009 would be a crazy season for Ramos. Ramos made just 15 starts at Portland, missing quite a bit of time with a shoulder strain. He also made six rehab appearances at Rookie Ball and Lake Elsinore. Overall, he went 6-7 with a 3.56 ERA, a 5.9 K/9, a 4.0 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9, amounting to a 4.00 FIP. His shoulder injury apparently threw off his control. Yet at the end of the season, Ramos was brought up to San Diego and he pitched well, making 2 starts and 3 relief appearances spanning 14.2 IP and posted a 3.07 ERA a with 10 strikeouts, 4 walks, and no homers allowed.
In 2010, Ramos was back in Portland and split time between starting and relieving with the Padres worried somewhat about his shoulder and possibly more so about his lack of command. On the year he went 6-7 with a 3.28 ERA in 15 starts and 15 relief appearances spanning 96 innings, but he still posted just a 5.9 K/9, a 4.0 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9, which goes down as a 4.24 FIP. He also made 14 big league relief appearances and got absolutely rocked, posting an 11.88 ERA in 8.1 innings, although he did strike out 9 compared to 4 walks while allowing a home run. Following the season, Ramos was included in the Jason Bartlett trade, going from San Diego to the Rays along with Brandon Gomes and infielder Cole Figueroa. The Rays had finally gotten their guy.
The Rays gave Ramos his first real chance in the big leagues in 2011. He did not impress. He made 59 appearances spanning 43.2 IP, posting a 3.92 ERA, a 6.4 K/9, a 5.2 BB/9 (although 8 walks were intentional- taking those out it was 3.5), and a 0.8 HR/9. His FIP was 4.35. Ramos did hold lefties to a .221 batting average and .639 OPS, but he was just about unusable verus righties, allowing a .705 OPS and walking 16 compared to 11 strikeouts. 7 of those walks were intentional, but that tells you how little confidence the Rays had in Ramos against righty batters. And this was all despite the fact that Joe Maddon made sure to use Ramos in low leverage situations a considerable majority of the time, leading to Ramos’ .6 aLI on the season (meaning he faced 60% of the pressure of the league average). It made sense that Ramos did not make the Rays out of spring training in 2012.
In 2012 at Triple-A Durham, Ramos posted a 1.69 ERA, managing an 8.4 K/9 and a 2.2 BB/9 although his HR/9 was just 1.7. He also recorded his first professional save. He’s now back in the big leagues- not simply for his merits, but also because the Rays desperately needed a fresh arm. A worked a scoreless 9th inning in his first big league appearance of the year, although he needed a ridiculous play by Sean Rodriguez to do so.
Look at Ramos’ pitches, courtesy of Pitch F/X from Brooks Baseball displayed on one of my graphs. It’s a wonder how he has never managed to strike many guys out.
(For a general explanation of the topic of Pitch F/X and specifically how to read this type of graph, please click here.)
Ramos features four pitches that looks great on the graph. He works off his fastball, which looks like a nice pitch with it’s movement away from lefty hitters and nice sink. He has used it as an excellent groundball pitch, forcing a 56.3% groundball rate. But as Ramos has thrown it more, it has missed less and less bats. Ramos managed just a 7.7% whiff rate on his fastball compared to the 7.9% MLB average for relievers in 2011. And that in turn made all his pitches more hittable. His only pitch with an above-average swing-and-miss rate compared to the league average for that pitch was his slider, and it was at just 12.73% compared to the 12.45% league average. Other than his fastball, all of Ramos’ pitches have not really forced groundballs either. If they look so dynamic on the graph, why haven’t Ramos’ pitches been more effective? The first reason is what we mentioned before, that the lack of dominance on his fastball allows hitters to sit on his off-speed pitches, rendering them worse that they would have been otherwise. And then there’s the fact that while Ramos has commanded his fastball relatively well, the same can’t be said for his other pitches. Those are not a good combination.
Cesar Ramos still has the stuff to be a good lefty specialist and overall middle reliever. He has a good fastball that can hit the mid-90’s along with an assortment of breaking pitches. He can go multiple innings and has the repertoire to be more than a low-leverage guy. All the reasons the Rays have always liked Ramos are still there. Can he execute his pitches and live up to the potential he has left unfulfilled?