If there’s one thing the Yankees still seem to do right consistently, it’s finding absolute diamonds in the rough for their bullpen. Nick Ramirez would have been a smashing success story for most franchises, but for a bullpen that was already getting excellent production out of minor league signing and high-profile deals alike, he was relegated to up-and-down status, being optioned to Triple-A Scranton and subsequently recalled four separate times during the season. With one option year remaining, it’s possible that he’ll occupy the same role next season, but his B- performance in 2023 — as well as his status as the only left-handed reliever on the 40-man roster with any history of big league success — has almost certainly afforded him the opportunity to make the roster out of camp next spring.
2023 Statistics: 32 games, 40.2 IP, 2.66 ERA (164 ERA+), 2.94 FIP, 4.45 xFIP, 15.4 percent K%, 7.7 percent BB%, 0.7 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration (arbitration eligible in 2025)
A classic journeyman fringe reliever, the Yankees signed Ramirez to a minor league deal last December after the left-hander spent the entire 2022 season pitching for Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate, where he had posted a 2.93 ERA with 16 saves in 53 appearances. It was clearly enough to get Brian Cashman’s attention, but you couldn’t blame anybody for not registering the signing in the slightest at the time. After all, he came into the year with just 64 appearances of 4.55 ERA pitching to his name, with most of that coming with Detroit in 2019. He hung around for 13 appearances with the Tigers in 2020 and five more with San Diego the subsequent year, giving Yankees fans virtually no reason to give much acknowledge his addition to the roster.
Nonetheless, Ramirez was one of the first to have his name called when injuries struck the Yankees bullpen, replacing Greg Weissert — who himself had taken Colten Brewer’s place on the roster — on April 25. He made one appearance on the 25th, throwing two scoreless innings, followed by 2.1 innings of two-run ball on April 30. He made one more scoreless appearance on May 8 before receiving his ticket back to Triple-A, once again trading places with Weissert in the Yankees’ perpetual back of the bullpen shuffle. But two weeks later, Ian Hamilton was hurt, and Ramirez was back. He appeared in two games, recording a total of five outs with no runs over two consecutive days before the Yankees needed Randy Vásquez to make a spot start, necessitating yet another trip to Scranton.
A couple weeks later, Ramirez finally got an extended shot with the big club. He was recalled yet again on June 3 and was on the roster until August 5, though he stayed with the team and was recalled two days later before finally being optioned for the last time on August 10. Along the way, he played an important role in keeping the team’s bullpen competitive as they struggled to stay afloat. His 24.2 innings during that extended period was second in the bullpen only to Michael King, and he did it with a 2.82 ERA that was fully supported by a 2.77 FIP. In classic contemporary Yankees fashion, he did it with a sinker-sweeper combination that moved enough to keep hitters from making solid contact, despite topping out in the 90-91 mph range. All in all, it’s hard to say he did anything but what was asked of him when called upon over the summer.
He was finally recalled one more time after September roster expansion, at which point he provided six more appearances of the exact same steady relief he had given all year, allowing two earned runs over seven innings as the Yankees wound down their season. He didn’t see much high leverage work, as his gmLI of 0.84, representing a reliever’s average leverage upon entering the game, was 12th out of 15 Yankee relievers with at least 10 innings. And that’s okay — a reliever doesn’t have to exclusively navigate tight games to be useful.
A B- grade for 2023 — and more importantly, another option year on top of his pre-arbitration status — means that we’re almost certain to see Ramirez at some point in 2024. Whether he’ll join the team from the outset or once again be the first (or second, maybe) man up from Triple-A in the event of injury or the need for a fresh arm remains to be seen. Either way, I’m looking forward to finding out whether his junkballer stuff can hold its results for another year, because when it’s good, it’s fun pitching to watch.