Yordano Ventura’s Not-So-Secret Weapon


Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

After last night’s loss to the Orioles, I noticed two things. Both of these things are already well-known, but they stood out to me anyway. First, this Royals offense is still quite ungood. This topic has been covered thoroughly, and while I could present more information, it doesn’t interest me as much as the other thing I noticed: Yordano Ventura is really, really good at this whole baseball pitching thing.

For much of the season, Ventura’s mixed his pitches very well, and has gotten a lot of swings and misses with his offspeed and breaking pitches, while continuing to flash his eye-popping fastball when needed. As hard as it may be to believe, the development of his secondary offerings may have caused a few people to forget how good Ventura’s fastball was and is. Last night, Ventura wanted to give those people a reminder.

Facing the Orioles for a second time, Ventura didn’t appear to have his secondary pitches working early on, so he relied on his fastball. The Orioles looked like they were ready for his fastball. The Orioles were not, in fact, ready for his fastball. In the first inning, Ventura generated 4 whiffs with his heater, plus a foul tip strikeout of Chris Davis. And that was only the beginning. By the time his night was over, Ventura recorded 13 whiffs with his fastball. That’s 13 whiffs on 57 fastballs, which calculates out to a whiff rate of 22.8%.

He was getting swinging strikes on over 1 out of every 5 fastballs he threw. That’s good.

Missing bats is nothing new for Ventura, who now has struck out 26.5% of the batters he’s faced this season. His swinging strike rate is currently at 12.8%, which is the 2nd highest rate in the league, behind only Masahiro Tanaka. And as I mentioned last month, he’s allowing a ridiculously low amount of contact in the strike zone, showing once again how dominant his stuff is.

Last night, Ventura was even more aggressive than usual, throwing balls in the strike zone nearly 60% of the time, and yet, he allowed a Z-Contact% of 76.7%, well below his already-absurd average. It’s usually easier to miss bats when your fastball is touching 101 MPH, but the amount of movement Ventura has at that velocity gives him another advantage over hitters, even when they know a fastball is coming.

Even when batters do make contact, they’re generally not squaring him up (Nelson Cruz notwithstanding). He’s allowed a line drive rate of just 15.4%, which is the 6th lowest figure in the league. He’s also generating infield fly balls above the league average rate, and getting ground balls at a 52.3% clip (8th highest in the AL). That batted ball profile, combined with his elite strikeout ability, is what makes Ventura so incredibly effective.

I mentioned that Ventura’s offspeed stuff wasn’t particularly sharp in the early going, but it did get better as the night wore on. At one point, he struck out 6 consecutive batters, including Manny Machado, who would probably like to have this swing back. It’s really not fair that Ventura can do that.

Only a small handful of starters in baseball have a swinging strike rate on their fastball that’s higher than Ventura’s. He’s been able to succeed early on by mixing his pitches well and keeping hitters off balance, but last night showed that if his secondary stuff is a lacking a little bit, he still has that incendiary fastball in his arsenal.