January 22nd marks the anniversary of the tragic passing of Yordano Ventura. He was electric, dazzling, passionate, and plenty of other adjectives that would fail to truly encapsulate what he meant not only to the Kansas City Royals but baseball as a whole. It’s a day to reflect and to honor his legacy, and as tribute I’ve dug through the internet archives to find the GIF Breakdown article I wrote way back in 2015 that displays so much of what made Ventura a future star in our eyes.
Let’s celebrate what he gave us before he left too soon.
2015 has been unusual for Royals ace Yordano Ventura. He’s left four games prematurely due to ejections and injury scares while featuring a monstrous 5.36 ERA and a 30/15 K per BB as he entered Tuesday’s game. Additionally, three of his first seven outings resulted in at least five earned runs, plus three starts where he struck out two or fewer batters. After seeing the promise of the young flamethrower last season, I felt the urge to give Yordano the eye test this week and determine if he was in line for a rebound or was destined for a tailspin. Here is Yordano Ventura‘s GIF Breakdown with 11 HD GIFs from his Tuesday performance against the Cincinnati Reds.
As always, let’s first look at his strikezone plot for the evening:
At first glance, this doesn’t look great, as he stayed relatively close to the middle of the plate and didn’t hit the corners frequently. However, Ventura has previously struggled to throw strikes, and it’s clear that he made a mental adjustment to “trust his stuff,” concentrating on getting pitches over the plate rather than placing them perfectly around the zone. However, he did focus more in the bottom half than the top of the strikezone, while also nailing the low and away corner consistently against left-handed batters, which helped him earn a fantastic 52.2% groundball rate for the evening. The pitches below the zone are mostly Curveballs, which is actually beneficial as he constantly threw his hook deeper into counts, hoping to get batters to chase unhittable pitches. Overall, this is one of the better plots from Ventura this season and he should have continued success if he can repeat this command.
Now let’s go through each of Ventura’s pitches and see how they looked in his outing against the Reds:
Fastball: 69.7% thrown, 96.7 MPH, -1.1 Runs Above Average
I went over Ventura’s MLB debut last year, where the biggest concern was his Fastball command. Often the pitch would sail high and away to lefties, or get pulled into the dirt against righties. Ventura seems to have made a major adjustment as he was pounding the zone early with his Fastball, with two-thirds of his batters getting fed first-pitch strikes, like this one to Brayan Pena:
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You may have noticed a bit of ride on that Fastball, which is where I admit I’m cheating a little here. Technically, Yordano splits between Four-Seamers and Sinkers, but I’ve combined them into one for the sake of simplicity in this article. Anyway, Ventura has increased his usage of his Sinker in 2015, from 21.58% to 29.66%, which could explain his incredible jump in grounders from 47.6% in 2014 to an elite 54.7% this season. Here he uses the pitch to get an easy strike against Zack Cosart in the first inning:
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Then later in the game he dials the pitch up to 100 MPH to get a quick out from Brandon Phillips:
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Ventura is generating an average of -8.71 inches of horizontal break from his Sinker this year, and when paired with his elite velocity Ventura can throw some unreal pitches:
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I think we have an early contender for “Pitch of the Year” with this Fastball on the black. Where the announcers only saw strike one, I saw a pitch that started in the opposite batter’s box before driving back to the plate and sniping the outside corner, all at an incredible 99 MPH. Marcus Stroman must be proud, and Aaron Sanchez should be taking notes.
All in all, Ventura’s success Tuesday night – 7.0 IP, 0 ER, 4 Hits, 0 BBs, 6 Ks – came down to his ability to throw his Fastball with movement inside the strikezone, and not giving up when he entered hitters’ counts. In the past, Ventura would fall behind 3-1 and simply lose the batter. On Tuesday, Ventura had multiple three-ball counts, and each time he made excellent pitches with his Fastball to earn outs. Next time out could be a different story, but this is the upside we’ve been dying to see from Ventura, and it could easily stick.
Curveball: 17.23% thrown, 83.6 MPH, -2.8 Runs Above Average
Ventura’s first option after his heater is a big hook with a lot of late bite. Just watch it dive into the dirt as Marlin Byrd struggles to recognize the pitch quick enough:
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This yacker is easily Ventura’s biggest weapon to earn punchouts, and he often favors his Curveball deeper into counts, baiting hitters to whiff at hooks out of the zone. Brandon Phillips also fell for the classic trap in the seventh inning:
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This is why there are a bunch of pitches in the aforementioned strikezone plot appear well below the strikezone – Ventura specializes in throwing his Curveball in the dirt. However, he doesn’t excel at throwing the pitch for a strike. When he did, one of two things happened: He either elevated it too much, resulting in a base hit or got it low just enough to induce a grounder:
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Here is one of the biggest areas where Yordano can improve. Developing consistency to throw his bender for strikes while also having the ability to steer the pitch into the dirt will go a long way to tackling the number one priority for Ventura: limiting free passes. It’s nasty enough that it should be highly effective when he develops the confidence to throw it above the knees constantly.
Changeup: 13.4% thrown, 87.8 MPH, -0.5 Runs Above Average
An elite Changeup seems to be the perfect complement to Yordano’s intimidating Fastball, with a rotation that looks identical to his Sinker, but comes out 10 MPH slower and near identical vertical drop (6.16 compared to 6.68 for his Sinker). When it was thrown well in Tuesday’s outing, it was devastating:
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It’s a pitch that Ventura loves to throw against lefties, where he found himself using it over his big hook when he needed the strikeout. Jay Bruce wasn’t the only one to suffer from the surprise Changeup as Billy Hamilton was victimized in the fifth inning:
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And Joey Votto in the fourth:
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That last one wasn’t nearly as filthy as the prior two, as Ventura wasn’t very consistent with the pitch. There were times it would float high in the zone, or ride too far off the plate, while others would dominate batters. Still, he’s throwing the pitch with more confidence as of late – he used that pitch at least 15% of the time in four of his last five starts – which should propel Ventura to future success.
Yordano Ventura was a complete stud in this outing against the Cincinnati Reds. He clearly made a mental note to attack the zone with his Fastball, trusting his movement to induce weak contact and create uncomfortable at-bats. His Sinker is one of the better Fastballs in the game, and if he continues to pound the zone and limit the walks, Ventura could be a Top 20 guy moving forward. Paired with his Fastball is a sharp Curveball that can rack up the strikeouts and create tough at-bats. However, there is work to be done gaining more consistency throwing the pitch for strikes and preventing hitters from locking into his Fastball. Ventura is growing confidence in his third pitch, a Changeup that has similar rotation and vertical movement to his Sinker despite a velocity difference of 10 MPH. He often favored it over his Curveball versus lefties as a strikeout pitch, while mixing it with his Fastball early in counts. Command is key here, but it flashed the upside to be a major tool moving forward. Yordano’s 2015 outlook hinges on building from this outing. If he continues to confidently throw in the zone, Ventura can rise the ranks and become a bonafide fantasy ace.
As always, I’ll leave you with a pitch that perfectly encapsulates what our featured pitcher is all about. Here Ventura spots the corner with a Sinker for a first-pitch strike against Brandon Phillips:
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