I have a well-known bias for a certain type of pitcher. I am a sucker for a pitcher for a great changeup. I enjoy watching them in games and I target them in drafts. Changeups are excellent swing-and-miss generators. It isn't thrown for strikes; it is thrown to get swings and misses because most changeups that are located in the strike zone tend to get punished. The pitch works well because not only does it generate swings and misses, but it also generates a lot of weak contact in the form of infield popups that have an incredibly low rate of becoming base hits. A quick look at the Fangraphs leaderboards shows a lot of pitchers that feature changeups when sorting by infield flyball rates.
While he isn't necessarily known for his changeup, Stephen Strasburg had the highest swing-and-miss rate on his changeup for all pitchers with at least 150 pitches thrown in 2012. When hitters swung at his changeup, 54% of the time they came up empty. Overall, hitters hit just .168 off Strasburg's changeup and slugged just .248, which is close to what the Yankees hit as a team in the postseason.
As impressive as those numbers are, there is another lesser known name out there that had even better numbers on the same pitch.
Erasmo Ramirez spent time in the bullpen as well as the rotation for the Mariners in 2012. He only threw 59 innings last season and was a fantasy non-factor in most leagues. In 59 innings, he gave up just 48 hits, and had a 4.0 K/BB as he struck out 48 hitters and walked just 12. He is a three-pitch guy that throws a lot of fastballs along the lines of Henderson Alvarez, but also has a breaking ball as well as the changeup with an average velocity separation of 11 mph (92.6 to 81.1). All three pitches were on display in his final outing of the season in which he neutralized a rather hot-hitting Oakland lineup on September 30:
That changeup is as nasty as it looks. Hitters hit just .122 off the changeups from Ramirez and slugged a measly .195 while swinging and missing 49% of the time. Here are the batted ball results for Ramirez when he throws his changeup against some of the better known off-speed artists:
The Mariners have handled his workload well as he has not pitched more than 150 innings in a season yet and is just 22 years old. He has three pitches that he can throw for strikes and does not have a noticeable splits issue – two things that keep guys in the bullpen and lessen their fantasy futures.
Stats via BaseballProspectus
There are two things that concern me with him. He is a bit of a flyball pitcher, so the changes of the fences in Safeco is a bit concerning and something to watch moving forward. He is also a tad under six-feet tall, making it difficult for him to be the true type of downhill type pitcher.
Last season, I was on Henderson Alvarez as a guy to target for 2012 and paid dearly for it. I have the same kind of vibe for Ramirez, but feel more confident in the recommendation because he has more stuff and can miss bats – something that Alvarez struggles to do given the fact he throws so many sinkers.
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