While working on the bullpen piece last week, I was taken aback by Cesar Ramos’ standing. When the Rays added Ramos in the Jason Bartlett trade he was at best my second favorite pick of the group. The top dog for me was Adam Russell, who happens to be the only one of the bunch no longer in the organization. Oops. I still liked Ramos well enough, but I can’t say I saw him taking the step forward he did in 2012.
The difference between Ramos in 2012 and Ramos in the past appears location-based. Tommy made a keen observation earlier in the year, as the Rays shifted Ramos into the Triple-A rotation, when he pointed out an improvement in fastball control. The claim was backed up by PITCHf/x-conjured stats, but I want to go a step further using the fancy new tools at our disposal: The key to Ramos’ increased production stems from better fastball command.
Command is trickier to capture in a statistic than control because it’s not binary in nature. Looking at a pitcher’s strike rate can give you a feel for his control—to whit: Cliff Lee led starting pitchers in strike rate last season, Ubaldo Jimenez finished last—but there’s no magic indicator with command. Instead you have to pay attention to whether a pitcher can work down in the zone, both sides of the plate, and so on. A heat map won’t tell you the entire story either, but these images of his fastball location do tell you a few things:
For one, Ramos pitched lower in the zone with his fastball in 2012 (47 percent versus 39 percent the year before). He was tighter in the zone, too. You don’t see as much red in the middle of the zone or above the belts of the batter silhouettes. But what do you see is an increased emphasis on pitching to his glove side, or in to righties/away from lefties. These seem like minor details but when taken together you can understand why the Rays tinkered with Ramos starting, and why they appear content using him as the club’s second lefty.
Data and visuals courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info