After high-profile trade deadline acquisition Diego Castillo hit the Injured List on August 21st, the Seattle Mariners have been calling on several different relievers to pitch in high-leverage situations late in ballgames; one of which has been Yohan Ramirez, the Mariners’ 2019 Rule 5 Draft pick from the Houston Astros.
Since August 21st, Ramirez has pitched 4.1 innings for Seattle, only allowing one run while striking out five batters and locking down two saves. Most importantly, all five of his appearances in that span have taken place in the 8th inning or later, and with no more than a 3-run differential.
The key to Yohan Ramirez’s success in high-leverage situations recently has been his ability to consistently throw both his fastball and slider for strikes.
Since Ramirez’s debut with Seattle in 2020, Mariners fans have mostly been exposed to a pitcher who clearly has an exceptional ability to make hitters swing and miss, but hasn’t been able to locate the ball in the strike zone enough to capitalize on that talent. However, now that his filthy pitches are landing in the zone, a familiar scene is beginning to take shape.
In 2017, the Mariners had a young starter-turned-relief pitcher in Edwin Diaz with a devastating fastball-slider combination, whose final step towards becoming a dominant reliever was consistency in throwing strikes. After a back-and-forth 2017 season, which included blowing three different save opportunities by recording three or more walks in less than an inning of work, he finally found his groove the next season. Can you guess what the key was?
In 2018, Diaz’s walk rate dropped to a mere 6%, and his strikeout rate skyrocketed to 44%, while he dominated the 9th inning and pumped out a franchise-record 57 saves. Instead of ramping up his fastball velocity or trying to expand his arsenal, Diaz emphasized pounding the zone, and he didn’t stray from the same two pitches he used the previous season: 62% of his pitches were fastballs (without any lost velocity from the previous year) and the other 38% were sliders.
To compare Yohan Ramirez to Diaz: this season, 60% of Ramirez’s pitches have been fastballs (averaging 95.4 mph, compared to Diaz’s 97.3 mph), with the other 40% being sliders. His walk rate has dropped from a horrid 21.3% in 2020 to a respectable 9.9% this season, and his strikeout rate has jumped from 27.7% to 33.8%; this is clear evidence that he is developing a propensity for throwing strikes, and it is likely the culprit behind his recent success.
Yohan Ramirez won’t be asked to fill the same role that Edwin Diaz filled during his time in Seattle, but similarities between their career arcs are certainly beginning to appear. If Ramirez can continue to dominate the strike zone, we may have another electric arm out of the bullpen that could soon make T-Mobile Park rock like it’s 2018.