You had to feel sorry for Cesar Ramos. There was just no one else left and Ramos, despite having thrown 45 pitches the day before, was going to be out on the mound until his arm fell off. He tossed 2 shutout innings running on fumes, but in his third frame he allowed RBI singles to Daniel Nava and Jarrod Saltalamacchia that proved to be the difference in the Red Sox’ 10-8 win over the Rays in 14 innings. But even though he took the loss in the game, Ramos’ heroic effort should not be forgotten.
By following his 45 pitches on Sunday with 44 on Monday Ramos became the 28th pitcher since 1990 and the first since D.J. Carrasco in 2009 to throw 40 or more pitches in two straight games. It was an uncommon feat but still one found relatively often in recent baseball history, although it has been happening much less the past few years. What’s very interesting, though, is how Ramos’ appearances came in almost a completely different context than most of the rest. In Ramos’ appearances he had an aLI (average leverage index) of 1.17, or 17% higher than average. That’s not a particularly notable mark–89 qualifying MLB relief pitchers have an aLI on the season greater than that. But despite that being the case, each of the previous 10 pitchers to throw 40 pitches in consecutive games had an aLI less than, with the average being just .32. When we look at the whole data set, the average is just .72. That begs a question: if these pitchers had thrown 40 or more pitches the previous day, why would bring them into a low-leverage situation the next day? Your knee-jerk reaction has to be that we’re dealing with a lot of extra-inning games here. But looking at the data set, just 7 of the 28 pitchers pitched in a single extra-inning contest among their two straight 40-pitch game. So why did their manager use them like that? Honestly, because they manager could not care less about them.
Of the 28 pitchers to throw 40 pitches on consecutive days, nine of them were out of baseball the year after their feat. Three more were done within two years. Others lasted longer and a few were even just beginning their careers, but the story is the same for nearly everyone: they were inconsistent pitchers whose managers didn’t care about them very much. They were the whipping boys, the pitchers that the managers went to in blowouts almost every time. Them throwing 40 pitches two games in a row wasn’t some incredible accomplishment but instead an instance manager abuse, the manager throwing them out there with no regard for whether they were tired and whether it might put them at risk of injury. These pitchers might as well be the definition of taking one for the team, and some of them sacrificed their careers in the process. This is not a list that any pitcher wants to be on. With that in mind, what does it mean that Cesar Ramos has become its latest member?
On Sunday, Cesar Ramos did exactly what he’s supposed to do as the Rays’ long man, tossing 3 solid innings to save the rest of the bullpen in the Rays’ 10-7 loss. Then on Monday, Ramos was the last man in the bullpen and gave the Rays everything he had until the bitter end. If we look at what happened out of context, it looks like Joe Maddon threw his left-hander out to the mound with no regard for what was best for Ramos’ health. But that wasn’t what happened. Maddon had no other options after Kyle Farnsworth left the game with an injury–after Ramos, Maddon would have to jeopardize future games by throwing one of the next two days’ starting pitchers, Roberto Hernandez and Chris Archer, to the hill. Infielder Ryan Roberts was going to be the next pitcher Joe Maddon brought in, and in all probability, the Rays were going to lose the game. So instead, Joe Maddon gave Cesar Ramos a blank check and told him to just do what he could. Whenever he couldn’t throw any longer, whenever the zip came off his fastball and his shoulder started to ache, he was coming out of the game even if he had been throwing perfect ball. It was a big game, a game the Rays were going to do everything in their power to win, and Joe Maddon put all his trust in Cesar Ramos.
Ramos finally came apart in his third inning of work and the Rays lost. But the latest image from the game should not be Ramos blowing it, or Ramos getting overworked, but Joe Maddon and every member of the Tampa Bay Rays standing right behind Ramos and putting their faith in him that he would give them the best chance to win. The other pitchers who threw 40 pitches in consecutive games were forced to do that because their manager couldn’t care less about them–Joe Maddon only let him do it because he couldn’t care any more. And instead of these two games being the end of something, with his manager’s words of confidence reverberating through his ears and the exhilaration of the biggest game of his life still flowing through his veins, Ramos could be primed for his best baseball yet.