Monday, March 1, 2010

An Ode To Edwar

At 6' 3" and 150 lbs, sporting Rec Specs and a change-up that's really more like a screwball, Edwar Ramirez always seemed as if he were created by a video game. His lanky frame and his signature pitch are similarly farfetched. Joe Torre compared his physique to that of a thermometer when he first came up and his change has been referred to as a "Bugs Bunny" pitch because it looked like batters could swing at it and miss a few times before it got to the plate.

That change-up really is a thing of beauty, rolling out of his hand a little under 80mph, just about 10mph slower than his riding 2-seam fastball and floating down and in to right handed hitters. It's all but unhittable if the batter has to protect against a legitimate fastball, but the problem is that if they are paying attention, they really don't have to. He threw the change so much that it caused a bench-clearing brawl in Double-A. He had to pare that down to 37% when he got to the Majors, but it doesn't take much game theory to figure out that 1/3 of the time is too often to throw a sweeping, 79mph pitch whose real value is in it's deception.

Mistakes on off-speed pitches are particularly deadly. Unfortunately for Edwar and the Yanks, Major League scouts and players keyed in on his reliance on that pitch, which led to the inflated home run rates that ultimately made him expendable to the Yankees, hence the ejection from the 40 man to make room for Chan Ho Park.

Rob Neyer doesn't expect Edwar to pass through waivers and end up back in Scranton and even if he does, Joe From River Ave. Blues doesn't think that he'll make it back to the Bronx again. It would be great if no team claims him in the next 8 days and he finds a way to improve his fastball and/or slider and defies the odds. But if not, he'll still be one of those interesting and memorable minor characters in recent Yankee history.

The Angels signed Ramirez in 2001 and he racked up a 4.66 ERA in 56 innings of Rookie Ball. Granted, that was in the run-friendly Pioneer League, but it wasn't a very good start to his professional career. He made it to High-A next season but struggled once he got there and was released by the Halos. Out of a job and unwilling to give up on baseball, he kept working on his craft with a friend at a field near his home in Miami. That's where he first experimented with the grip for his signature change up.

It took him a while to harness it - the Angels cut him again after Spring Training in 2006 - but he eventually caught on with Pensacola Pelicans of the Central Independent League. After striking out 93 batters in 56 innings and compiling an ERA of 1.12, he moved up to the Edinburgh Coyotes of the United League in 2007. He struck out 46 more in 25 frames as their closer before the Yankees finally scooped him up.

His ascent through the Yanks system was similarly meteoric. He pitched only 86 1/3 innings and just 40 in AAA before getting called up to the Big Leagues. He stuck out over 15 batters per 9 innings during that time, had an ERA under 1.00 and won the MiLB Minor League Reliever of the Award in '07. He struck out the side in his Major League debut and whiffed 13 per 9 IP for the remainder of the season but was saddled with a 8.14 ERA primarily because he allowed 6 home runs in 31 innings.

He was actually pretty effective in 2008, throwing 55 innings of 3.90 ERA and cutting his HR and walk rates in half from the previous season. However, in 2009, he returned to '07 form, walking too many, giving up too many hits and too many long balls.

Edwar was essentially the inverse of Shelly Duncan. Edwar was the quiet, skinny guy with glasses while Shelley was the outgoing, powerfully-built ox. Both made their Major League debuts in '07 and were let go this offseason. Both were more or less one trick ponies, Edwar with the devastating change up and the gaudy strike out totals and Shelly with the huge, looping swing and home run power. While those are the best tricks you can perform as a pitcher and hitter respectively, when they were exposed to Major League competition, Edwar's tragic flaw was his HR rate and Duncan was victimized by the K. But both guys were the sort of indelible characters that will be remembered more vividly than their contributions on the field would warrant. Best of luck to you, Edwar.

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