24. Los Angeles Angels (16–17, minus-20, LT: 27)
J.C. Ramirez has had quite the baseball journey. Since signing with the Mariners as an international free agent at age 16, the Nicaraguan right-hander now find himself with his sixth different organization. His affiliation with the Mariners alone is fascinating. Four years after signing with the M’s, he was part of the Cliff Lee blockbuster with the Phillies. Six years after that, Seattle snagged him back (from the Diamondbacks), on a waiver claim. Three months after that, the Mariners let him go again.
So how did a pitcher with such a circuitous path end up starting games for the first time in the big leagues the same year he turns 29? And how he become one of the most pleasant surprises for the Angels, or any other AL team?
Nick Pollack, pitching analyst for ThePitcherList.com, offers some insight. Definitely read the whole article, but here’s the abridged version: Ramirez throws one of the most devastating sliders in all of baseball. He’s throwing that pitch a career-high 43% of the time this season (Ramirez also pitched in the majors in 2013, 2015, and 2016, with all of that time coming as a reliever) and opponents have done very little with it, batting .226 and slugging just .302. Problem is, no pitcher can get by with a breaking pitch and nothing else. Ramirez’s second-most frequent offering is a sinking fastball, and opponents are clobbering it, batting .326 and slugging .544. Here’s an even more abridged version: Ramirez commands his slider brilliantly but commands his fastball terribly, and it leads to uneven results.
Even with some of that inconsistently, the slider’s so good, it’s enabled some impressive overall numbers. In eight appearances this season (five of them starts), Ramirez has punched out 33 batters in 33 ⅔ innings. He’s firing first-pitch strikes a solid 61.3% of the time, and netting swings and misses a career-best 10.3% of the time. Add it all up and you have the 16th-best starting pitcher in the American League, by park-adjusted, fielding-independent pitching.
For a starting rotation decimated by injuries, a journeyman suddenly pitching like a borderline ace is a welcome ray of sunshine.