Watching Yordano Ventura and Chris Archer battle last night was pretty spectacular, minus the part where the offense failed to capitalize on opportunities in the 3rd, 6th, and 8th innings. The first thing I wanted to do this morning was go see if any of the data looked different for Ventura last night compared to last year. Hunter already took a look at the within game PITCHf/x data, but I wanted to look at any differences between last September and the first start of 2014. The Brooks data showed higher velocity than what Fangraphs showed for some reason, so my numbers and Hunter’s are slightly different, but either way the kid throws pretty hard.
The chart on the top is a composite of his three major league starts in 2013, and the bottom is the same chart for last night (thank you Fangraphs). I omitted the release point chart since there was not much to say except that it looked about the same and still a little less consistent than I would like but nothing of concern.
It seems pretty clear that the curveball is a better pitch right now than it was at the end of last year. The horizontal movement last year was more spread out, but last night seemed to be more controlled heading more or less where Ventura meant for it to go. More of them were hanging out near zero, and that will help him spot the pitch and let the vertical movement take care of the rest.
The vertical movement was better too. His curve is starting to look more like the strike out pitch it can be. Joakim Soria is the one who I can remember throwing that sort of extreme drop on the curve, and if you look at his 2009 PITCHf/x data, he clustered around -10 and headed down toward -15 at times. Yordano isn’t quite there yet, but closer than last year.
Last night Ventura leaned on his change more than last year too. He threw 11 changeups, the same amount he threw in three September starts combined. He also used it for strike three, which wasn’t something we saw in 2013 at all. With his extreme velocity that could become a very good pitch and is something to watch going forward if he is more confident throwing it in all counts.
Yordano’s bread and butter was of course there as well last night. The fastball averaged 96MPH which is slightly lower than 2013’s 97.1, but he did touch 100.8 last night so he still has that top end we have seen in the past. I would love to see his average fastball come down some as it could point to some adding and subtracting at times which could mean he is already showing a lot of maturity as a pitcher. Zack Greinke was a master at that, and I would love to see Ventura start games in the mid-90s and work up as the game progresses like we have seen Justin Verlander do. He makes 98 MPH look easy, but I still think anything that can reduce arm strain over the course of a long season would be good. Looking at the charts though, I think a lot of it is that he throws so hard that PITCHf/x can’t quite handle it:
What it looks like is there are a cluster of “fastballs” in the 85 to 90 range that were probably actually changeups. Most guys can’t slow things down and still hit 90, so the equipment might be getting confused. If we ignore those, his slowest fastball was 92 or 93, which is more in line with last year. Still, he dropped down below 95 a little more often with it which I think can only be a good thing.
That was quite a performance to start the season, and a great first step if the Ace Ventrura moniker is really to stick. A 6 inning, 2 hit, no walk performance is something I will take any day. Yes, he was inefficient with pitches early and that prevented him from getting deeper into the game like Archer, but a game score of 74 was in the range of an 82% win rate for teams in 2007 according to this SABR piece. Any offense would have done it last night, but they couldn’t find the big his. I can’t wait until Yordano day next week.