On Monday, I published a post about Addison Reed, and his Andrew Miller-like transformation with the New York Mets. Within that post, I talked about the Mets’ abundant, high-leverage usage of Reed, and to support that claim, I drew from some numbers hosted on Baseball-Reference — a combination of multi-inning relief outings (meaning three outs or more) and average leverage index upon entering the game — and found that only three relievers with more multi-inning outings also had a higher average leverage index.
And honestly, I’d never really thought to combine those two figures before. Each is capturing, at the upper limits, a very different type of pitcher. At the top of the multi-inning outing leaderboard, one finds a group of swingmen, long relievers, and mop-up pitchers. At the top of the leverage index leaderboard, one finds the game’s most elite closers and set-up men. Very little overlap exists between the two.
But to overlap the two would be to get the absolute most out of a reliever. To get both plenty of outs, but plenty of outs that matter. Think Dellin Betances in 2014 and 2015. It’s essentially the fireman role from yesteryear, or the way many sabermetricians wish more managers would leverage their best relievers.
And quietly, down in Florida, the wacky Tampa Bay Rays have brought back the fireman. Erasmo Ramirez has been used unlike any pitcher in the past decade. He leads all pitchers with 33 multi-inning relief outings, four away from Anthony Swarzak’s 37 such outings in 2013 which represent the highest figure in the last 10 years. But Swarzak’s average leverage index that year was .703; he was a mop-up man and nothing else. Ramirez’s average leverage index is 1.41, meaning the importance of his outings rival that of high-pressure set-up men like Kelvin Herrera (1.45) and Sean Doolittle (1.32).
Such a combination is essentially unprecedented in recent history. The image below plots multi-inning relief outings vs. leverage index for every reliever season of 10 innings or more over the last decade, a sample of 4,797 player-seasons:
Only Betances’ usage in 2014-15 rivals what the Rays have done with Ramirez this season, but even in 2014, his average leverage wasn’t quite as high, and last year, he wasn’t used in quite as many multi-inning outings.
Take Ramirez’ April 23 outing against the Yankees. Rays manager Kevin Cash called upon Ramirez in the bottom of the seventh inning with the bases loaded and two outs in a 2-2 game; that situation’s leverage index of 4.64 is the highest Ramirez has been thrown into this season. Ramirez got Carlos Beltran to ground out to third to end the inning, and then stayed on to pitch the final two innings.
And, sure, that game ended with Ramirez giving up a walkoff homer to Brett Gardner and, sure, Ramirez himself isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire — his 3.74 ERA since joining Tampa Bay last year is certainly respectable, but also unlikely to make managers across the league re-think their entire bullpen usage — but the fact that the three upper-most dots on that graph have occurred in the last three years suggest perhaps baseball is becoming more progressive in the way they’re willing to leverage their relievers. Erasmo Ramirez just happens to be the face of the movement.
August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.