The bullpen has been excellent for the Mets, one of the main reasons the club has raced out to an 11-2 start. Praise has been handed out liberally to individual members of the pen but one guy who hasn’t seemed to get any at all is AJ Ramos, who after eight games has yet to allow a run and has limited opposing batters to a .283 OPS. But Ramos hasn’t been used anything remotely like what was expected and seems to be at best the fifth option in the pen.
It was a surprise when the Mets acquired Ramos last year. In the middle of selling off impending free agents, the Mets made a deal to acquire the Marlins’ closer, sending two prospects to Miami. Acquiring Ramos would allow the Mets to trade Addison Reed, which they later did, and in 2018 he could be a top setup man for Jeurys Familia.
Ramos struck out a lot of batters in 21 games for the Mets last year but otherwise did not perform particularly well. He had a 4.74 ERA and a 1.632 WHIP, as he allowed 12 BB in 19 IP. Still, the Mets brought him back, signing the arbitration-eligible reliever to a $9.23 million deal. Rumor was that new manager Mickey Callaway was going to spread the Save chances around. With Ramos’ history as a closer and his big salary, he seemed a likely candidate to close out games in the ninth.
Instead, Ramos has only pitched in the ninth two times this season. The first time was in a 5-1 loss to the Cardinals. And the second one was what could have been a Save situation but because Callaway opted to use Jerry Blevins to start the ninth inning and then brought on Ramos for the final two outs, he did not qualify for a Save in the Mets’ 4-1 victory.
That last game is indicative of how Ramos has been used for most of his appearances so far in 2018, as a tag-team partner with Blevins. Each reliever has eight appearances this year and seven times they’ve both been used in the same game. In the last four games, they’ve both been used in the same inning, a stretch where Blevins has notched 1 IP while Ramos has 2.1 IP.
As a critic of the blind fealty to the LOOGY strategy, it’s disappointing to see Blevins used exclusively in this role so far with a new manager. In his eight appearances, he’s yet to throw a complete inning and has recorded two outs just once. Five times he’s faced just one batter and in one appearance he didn’t even do that, as he picked off a runner for his only out.
While it’s disappointing to see Blevins used in a partial-inning role, it’s at least somewhat understandable. But the decision to use Ramos this way is a bit confusing. Historically, he’s handled LHB quite well, holding them to a .621 OPS in 717 PA. Even this year, lefties are just 1-6 against Ramos. However, of his last 12 batters faced, only two have been LHB, both of which he retired.
There’s been no public announcement about why Ramos has been demoted from a potential co-closer to ROOGY. And since the Mets are winning, it hasn’t been questioned. But it seems like a sub-optimal use of a resource and it’s certainly a giant waste of money. Why pay $9 million plus for a role that Paul Sewald or Jacob Rhame could have filled for minimum wage?
Ramos can’t be thrilled with it, either. He’s a free agent following this season and while it hurts not entering the market as an established closer, being a shutdown eighth inning guy with closing experience would have been okay. But it seems likely that a righty reliever with more games than innings is not the profile that would spark a bidding war.
No one rocks the boat when you’re 11-2. But you should always be on the lookout for potential problems and this could be one down the road. It will be interesting to see if this is just an April phenomenon or if this usage pattern holds all year. And it would be illuminating to hear why Callaway went in this direction with a high-paid veteran.