Ramirez' New View Will Be From The Pen

(Photo: Philly Baseball Insider)

J.C. Ramirez had spotty success as a starter and the Phillies have decided to try a different approach. This season, Ramirez will convert to working out of the bullpen.

December 16, 2009 was a strange, but wonderful day in Phillies history. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. pulled off not one, but two blockbuster-type deals all on the same day.

Roy Halladay came over from Toronto for pitcher Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis D'Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor. And to make room for Halladay's salary, Amaro sent Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Tyson Gillies, reliever Phillippe Aumont and starter J.C. Ramirez.

Halladay has been even more amazing than advertised, so the loss of three young prospects isn't impossible to swallow. In fact, it goes down pretty well. The return for Lee has been underachieving, but since he wound up re-signing with the Phillies as a free agent, it's also not too bad.

Gillies is a special player when he's healthy, which hasn't been too often over the past few seasons. In fact, Gillies has played just 31 games in the minors over the past two seasons, while Aumont has been shaping himself into a potential closer-of-the-future reliever.

The true underachiever in the bunch may be Ramirez.

In his two seasons in the Phillies organization, Ramirez has amassed a record of 18-20 and posted an ERA of 4.66, pitching 286 innings as a starter.

The problem with Ramirez has come mainly through his secondary pitches; a slider that has been average at best and a curve that isn't much of anything to talk about. Try as they might, the slider has gotten just marginally better while the curve is basically an engraved invitation for a batter to hit the ball hard.

With that history and the lack of progress on the secondary pitches, the Phillies have made the decision to attempt to reinvent Ramirez as a reliever starting with this season.

The theory is that he can scrap the curveball, continue to work on the slider and possibly gain a couple miles per hour on his fastball, since he won't have to be out there for long hauls anymore. It's a valid theory and it's worked well for many pitchers who don't have that third pitch to survive with.

Ironically, Aumont is one pitcher that moving to the bullpen became a shot-in-the-arm for. When the deal was made, Aumont was a starter, but the Phillies always thought he would likely be converted to pitching in relief. The downfall for Aumont wasn't his pitches or his command; it was his stamina. Making it through five innings was a difficult task for Aumont and the move to the bullpen has taken that issue away and he has gained a couple miles on his already powerful fastball.

Ramirez likely winds up back at Double-A Reading where he has spent most of his time while in the Phillies organization, but with his numbers, Ramirez might very well have been back with the R-Phils anyway.

With the move of Ramirez, the prognosis on him may actually be better than it was coming into the spring. His fastball is good, but tops out in the low 90s with good movement. If he can get a couple more miles on good ole number one and keep the movement, he will instantly be a better pitcher, obviously.

The move may quickly improve on Ramirez' slider as well, since he can also throw that pitch a little harder than in the past and it may become a better pitch for him than it has been.

Too many people will look at this trade and say that it is now an even worse deal, since we got two relievers rather than two promising starters. While starters carry more value, there's no shame in developing - or acquiring - talented relievers. How often are games won or lost by the bullpen and if Aumont and Ramirez can both be quality relievers, there is at least a better return on the deal than it appeared the Phillies might get. It also doesn't hurt that Gillies is impressing a lot of people this spring and will continue to do so if his health issues are behind him.


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