During the Royals’ game against the Rays last night, I noticed there were quite a few national media members following the pitching matchup very closely. And for good reason, as Chris Archer and Yordano Ventura both put on very entertaining performances. I could go on for a couple thousand words talking about both pitcher’s evenings, but I’ll just focus on Ventura instead, since he’s a Royal and everything. To go in depth, I looked at information from Brooks Baseball’s Pitchf/x database.
In Ventura’s 6 innings, he threw 95 pitches, 62 of which were strikes. One concern some have had about Ventura is his pitch efficiency and how that could impact his ability to go deep into games, so last night was great to see, particularly against a patient lineup like Tampa Bay’s. He allowed just 2 hits, 0 runs, and 0 walks, combined with 6 strikeouts. Opposing batters lucky enough to put the ball in play against Ventura hit 7 ground balls, 7 fly balls (2 of which were pop ups), and just 1 line drive. In other words, the contact he allowed wasn’t all that solid, largely because everything Ventura throws has movement.
Of those 95 pitches, 45 were fourseam fastballs, and they averaged 99.5 MPH. Go ahead and read that again. They didn’t top out at 99.5 MPH, they averaged 99.5 MPH. His top velocity was 102.9 MPH. That’s just not fair. Rays’ batters whiffed on 5 of his fastballs, although both of their hits also came against that pitch. Ventura has typically relied more on his curveball in recent years, but last night he threw as many changeups as he did curveballs (19). His changeup averaged 89.5 MPH (again, not fair), and it generated 4 swings and misses. Ventura showed quite a bit of confidence in that pitch, throwing 12 of them to right-handed batters. Wil Myers saw 6 of those in his 3 at-bats against Ventura. The curveball didn’t appear as sharp as usual, but he still had a few very good ones, including a called third strike to Evan Longoria that froze him on a 1-2 count. Ventura also threw ten cutters and a pair of sinkers, but mostly he stuck to his main three pitches.
Much like in his spring training start against the Rangers, Ventura started out the game throwing a lot of first pitch fastballs. In fact, the first 11 batters he faced all saw a fastball on the first pitch. But of the final 9 hitters against Ventura, 5 saw a curveball on the first offering. This appears to be part of Dave Eiland‘s game plan, and it seems to be a good strategy. Typically, hitters will sit on the fastball, because if they’re thinking offspeed, it can be kind of difficult to catch up to 100 MPH fire. If those batters think they’ve got him figured out, though, they’re going to look pretty silly flailing away at an 83 MPH curveball.
As I mentioned, Ventura threw a lot of strikes last night. He fought his command a bit in the first inning, throwing 12 of his 21 pitches for strikes, but he settled down right away. The only other inning in which he had less than a 68% strike rate was the 5th, and he threw 7 of those 12 pitches for strikes.
One other thing that bears mentioning is that while Ventura’s velocity started to dip a little bit in the later innings (all the way down to around 98 MPH), he still had enough gas in the tank to dial it up to 102.9 against the last batter he faced, who just so happened to be Myers. Oh yeah, and if you check out the graph at that link, you can see he touched 101 in the penultimate at-bat. The heat was hot.
All in all, it was a very successful debut for Ventura. Obviously it would’ve been nice to give him some run support, but Ventura did his job, and he did it quite well. He threw fire, mixed his pitches well, and showed off some very impressive secondary pitches. It’s still early, of course, but for the rest of the season, I’m guessing Ventura’s starts are going to continue to be must-watch television.