The Atlanta Braves entered the 2017 season with the expectation that their bullpen would be an area of strength after a solid performance over the final few months of the 2016 season. That never materialized and what was thought to be a strength quickly turned into a weakness.
What were the expectations?
After a strong finish to the 2016 season (3.44 FIP in the second half of 2016), Ramirez figured to be a big part of the back end of the Braves’ bullpen in 2017. While he made a career-high in appearances and posted a career-best ERA, his peripheral numbers suggest that he wasn’t quite as effective as it seemed.
Jose Ramirez 2017 Projections/Stats
|Jose Ramirez (ZiPs)||3||4||4.23||52||61.7||9.63||4.82||4.54||-0.2|
|Jose Ramirez (Steamer)||2||2||4.13||45||45.0||9.44||4.65||4.17||0.0|
|Jose Ramirez (Actual)||2||3||3.19||68||62.0||8.13||4.21||4.88||-0.4|
Ramirez appeared in 68 games and posted a 3.19 ERA. However a FIP of 4.88 and an xFIP of 5.00 tell a bit different story. Additionally, Ramirez posted a minus-0.4 fWAR. Most of that can be traced to an elevated home run rate. In 2016 he allowed 0.55 home runs per nine innings. That number jumped all the way to 1.31 this season. Notably, his xFIP was pretty much the same between 2016 and 2017 (5.03 versus 5.00), and it was his FIP that climbed upward as his HR/FB rate was pretty average in 2017. However, you’d never tell from his ERA, which actually diverged from his FIP mightily, thanks to a high strand rate and a very low BABIP-against of just .226. That sort of run prevention, sustainable or not, led to Ramirez being used as one of the higher-leverage arms out of the bullpen in 2017, and that goes a long way in illustrating the team’s struggles.
Among “heavy-use” relievers (60 or more innings in 2017), Ramirez had the 13th-highest walk rate (bottom 15 percent) and the 24th-lowest strikeout rate (bottom 29 percent). That’s not a profile that’ll sustain a reliever long unless he’s suppressing homers (Ramirez in 2016) or getting great results on balls in play (Ramirez in 2017).
Barring wholesale changes, Ramirez figures to go to spring training with a pretty firm grip on a bullpen spot in 2018, but would likely benefit by pitching in lower leverage situations, as his strikeout and walk rates don’t portend a particularly successful future if he’s giving up homers at an average rate.