Comping Yordano Ventura


Happy Yordano Ventura day everyone!  Can’t wait to watch our phenom pitch tonight, and in that spirit I went and looked at other rookies who could “throw fire” in the recent past.  PITCHf/x data doesn’t go back very far, and velocities like Ventura have only recently started to show up more frequently so it is not a very big list.  I focused on only rookie starters who put up 95 MPH or higher average fastballs, and dropped a few who had only a handful of innings pitched (less than 10).  This was the resultant list of pitchers:

  1. Stephen Strasburg
  2. Ubaldo Jimenez
  3. Danny Salazar
  4. Gerrit Cole
  5. Kevin Gausman
  6. Felipe Paulino
  7. Rubby De La Rosa
  8. Joba Chamberlain
  9. Alexi Ogando

Only nine other pitchers to compare Ventura to, so I might be trying to comp the incomparable.  When we are talking about any sort of track record, we also need to notice that Salazar, Cole, and Gausman are a lot like Ventura because of their short times in the big leagues so I am really only looking at six pitchers.  Still, once I looked at them, I think there are some interesting things to note.

The most obvious thing to note from this group is the injury history.  Only one pitcher here has a long track record of health, Ubaldo.  Strasburg, Paulino, De La Rosa, Chanberlain, and Ogando have all had Tommy John surgery among other injury issues, so when people bring up injury concern for Ventura it is with good reason.  Ventura’s free and easy delivery keeps me from freaking out, but he is also nowhere near as big as a guy

Apr 20, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura (30) delivers a warm up pitch against the Minnesota Twins before the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

like Jimenez so it will be a major concern pretty much always.  All pitchers are injury concerns though, so I will move on.

Velocity is great, but another thing to note is how quickly it goes away.  None of the pitchers have maintained their early career velocity.  With the exception of Rubby, all have lost at least 2 to 3 MPH within a couple of year including the not injury prone Ubaldo.  Rubby so far this year is back within a 1.5 MPH of his rookie year which is a good sign that he is returning to form, but it is not enough to know much yet.  Just expect that Ventura will lose some of his fastball over the next couple of seasons.

Control is another important factor here.  The reason Strasburg has been dominant when healthy is the ability to spot his overwhelming stuff.  On the other side of the spectrum, the demise of Ubaldo after a solid fist couple of years has been the loss of velocity coupled with loss of the strike zone which has lead to a propensity to walk the park.  Only Strasburg and Ogando have been below the 3BB/9IP mark, with the others starting at 3.5 and some being above 4 by quite a bit.  Joba is a good example of what happens.  His lack of control was okay in year one of being a starter at 10.5K/9, but the next year that dropped to 7.6 while still walking a lot and he has mostly been relegated to the bullpen since.

So far Ventrura has been between in the control arena.  This year has been a little better so far at 3.24 walks per 9 while striking out 9.7 and a lot of it I think is first pitch strikes.  The bad control guys tend to only hit 55% or so on first strikes, while the others get nearer or even above 60%.  In the first four starts this year, Yordano is at 64.1%, along with a great 12.2% swingning strike rate.  That leads to dominance and is something to keep an eye on as the sample size for the year grows.

The reason I am really optimistic about Ventura is secondary stuff.  Last year Ventura had a fastball with some mediocre off-speed offerings.  This year he has two plus pitches as secondary offerings in his curve and change up.  By pitch values so far both of these pitches are above average so he does not need to survive on velocity alone.  Comparing this to the group is hard.  Strasburg has the same makeup of plus fastball, curve, and change, but there are guys like Paulino who at max velocity had bad fastballs because they were too straight and had to live on sliders.  There is no one right answer here, but more plus pitches is always better.  Also, if velocity drops a couple of miles and hour it should help a transition to a slightly less power approach.  It has lead to a better swing and miss rate for Ventura with rates of 19% on the change and 14% on the curve versus 9.5% on the fastball.  His cutter is at 22% but he has only thrown 18 of them.  He now strikes out batters with every pitch and at higher rates on his secondary pitches rather than depending on the fastball.

Ventura toes the mound again tonight, and I could not be more excited.  Yordano day is quickly becoming my favorite of the week, and I think that could continue for a long time.