clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Passing Through Pinstripes: Edwar Ramírez

In his brief time in pinstripes, Edwar Ramírez displayed perseverance, a wicked changeup, and the reason why we need to be careful about spring training stats.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Pitchers and catchers report — today is the day baseball fans circle on their calendar. The reality is that most players are already working out at the spring facilities, but today is the day that pitchers and catchers are officially there and under team control. The romanticism of baseball is difficult to quell as we know that warmer days and nights are ahead and that the game we’ve been waiting for is back.

Spring training can be a dangerous time to judge a player. For a game built on data and large sample sizes, much is put on the performance of 30 games played against all levels of players. We are quick to write off the veteran who performs poorly in the spring and we easily fall in love with the young player or journeyman who tears up the Grapefruit League to unexpectedly win a job.

Edwar Ramírez was one of those pitchers who dazzled during spring training in 2009, only to be released by the Yankees to bring in Chan Ho Park just a year later. Yet, it wasn’t as simple as that. Ramírez had one of the most interesting stories in his short time in pinstripes. His story is one of perseverance and tantalizing potential that was never fully realized.

Ramírez was signed out of the Dominican Republic as an International Free Agent by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2001. After 29 appearances (16 starts) over the next three seasons throughout the Rookie League and A-Ball, Ramírez was released by the Angels after posting a 5-10 record with 91.2 innings pitched, 73 strikeouts, and a 5.51 ERA. With a mediocre fastball, Ramírez sat out the entire 2004 season before catching on in the Independent League in 2005 and part of the 2006 season.

The folklore of Edwar Ramírez is that he taught himself a changeup during his time in the Independent League. And, that may very well be true. It also makes for a much better story about what was to happen next. However he learned the pitch, he found success by developing it — in a few years, Yankees fans would hear all about his “Bugs Bunny” changeup.

After dominating the United League, the Yankees signed him in 2006. In 2007, starting in Double-A, he made nine appearances and allowed just six hits in 16.1 innings while striking out an incredible 33 batters to earn the promotion to Triple-A. Overall, he’d appear in 25 games for Scranton and pitch 40 innings, allow just 20 hits, and strikeout 69 batters. For his efforts, he was named the 2007 Minor League Reliever of the Year.

Some outlets even began to speculate that Ramírez would ascend up the ladder for the major league bullpen, even being more important than Joe Torre’s favorite reliever, Scott Proctor, or setup man Kyle Farnsworth. That never happened — nobody surpassed Proctor’s importance to Torre — but the devastating changeup along with good control of his fastball and slider allowed for a 21 game audition in 2007 as well.

His MLB debut gave hope that the romanticism of baseball was still alive as Ramírez was called upon in the ninth inning of an 8-0 win to face the Minnesota Twins’ three-four-five hitters. He’d strike them all out with changeups. Ramirez featured excellent stuff when the control was on point, but he’d give up runs in 11 of his next 20 appearances. A league-average fastball without pinpoint control will not cut it in the major leagues. In 21 games, he pitched to an 8.14 ERA (6.43 FIP) over 21 innings. He did, however, have a 30.1 percent strikeout rate.

There were high hopes for the 27-year-old right-hander as the 2008 season began. Ramírez did his best to tantalize everyone during spring training as he appeared in nine spring training games, spanning 8.1 innings, while allowing four runs. Although not spectacular, he showed excellent control by walking just two and striking out 13. He became a solid part of the 2008 bullpen, appearing in 55 games and pitching to a 3.90 ERA (3.96 FIP) in 55.1 innings. His 27 percent strikeout rate was far above the league average of 17.5 percent. His 10.3 walk percentage, however, was two percent above league average, a sign of problems to come.

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

While Ramírez pitched well, there was this sense that if he could just put it all together, he would make for a high-end reliever. It never got quite there. The story book ending wouldn’t be.

He entered the 2009 season with a leg up for a bullpen job, but the competition forced him to choose against pitching in the WBC for the Dominican Republic team. He cemented the job with a spring training that saw him pitch in 10 games (10 innings) and allow just one earned run and strikeout 11. More importantly, he walked just one batter. He did this despite being diagnosed with bursitis and having an MRI on his pitching shoulder. While considered mild, it didn’t seem to stop him in the spring. Perhaps this was the Cinderella story we were looking for two years prior.

But, remember the part about putting too much value on the small sample size that is spring training?

Well, the regular season began. After a scoreless debut in the second game of the season, he would give up five runs over the next three appearances, all in the middle innings. Control was the issue as he walked eight batters in eight April innings. With a hittable fastball (11 hits allowed), Ramírez was gradually being buried in the bullpen. From May 1st through May 18th, Ramírez pitched nine innings, allowed seven hits, four runs, seven walks, and struck out eight. He was sent back to the minor leagues on May 18th and would not return until September 4th, after rosters expanded.

He pitched well, once again, at Triple-A (62 strikeouts in 51 innings), but didn’t quite regain that dominance. Only a special few pitchers can keep fooling hitters over the long term. Unfortunately, the hope of finding that perfect form was over.

He’d pitch just five games that September (7.71 ERA, 2.45 FIP, three walks and seven hits in 4.2 innings) and would be claimed off release waivers by the Texas Rangers the following March. He’d then be traded two weeks later to the Oakland A’s. Ramírez appeared in just seven games at the major league level and spent 2011 in the Mexican League. Just like that, the fairy tale was truly over.

Despite a great comeback story and some incredible spring training performances, Edwar Ramírez never had that extended run of success in the majors that he did in the minor leagues.

What he did was special, though.

He was released at 23. He taught himself a pitch, played in the Independent League and was then signed by the New York Yankees. He not only struck out the side in his debut, he carved out a role for one solid season. All of that is extraordinary, even if it was ephemeral. Most of us would give anything for that type of career and we could all use a dose of Edwar Ramírez’s perseverance.

And, man that Bugs Bunny changeup was so fun to watch.