Yordano Ventura & A Perfectly-Timed, Unhittable Changeup

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Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Yordano Ventura continued his incredible rookie season by throwing 7 innings of shutout ball against the Indians, while allowing just 4 hits and striking out 6. For much of the evening, Ventura was cruising, at one point retiring 12 batters in a row. He allowed a single and a walk in the first inning, but didn’t really face any kind of stress until the seventh.

By that time, the Royals had a 7-0 lead, and even if the back of the bullpen was unavailable, they should have had no problem locking up the victory. Ventura had finished the sixth easily enough, and even retired the first two batters in that seventh inning before walking Lonnie Chisenhall. Mike Aviles followed that up with a bloop single to right just over the head of Omar Infante, and Michael Bourn then singled off of Infante’s glove on a ground ball.

A walk and a pair of BABIP singles had the rookie on the ropes.

Granted, that 7-run cushion meant this wasn’t a terribly high leverage situation, but a mistake could considerably close the gap. Ventura had some wiggle room, but he certainly didn’t want to fool around too much.

I should also point out that at this moment, Ventura had thrown 112 pitches. For a guy who has thrown a career-high in innings pitched, it would have made perfect sense for Ned Yost to take the young righty out of the game at that moment. Scott Downs was the only Royal warming up in the pen, so that may not have been the perfect choice, but looking at the big picture, Ventura normally doesn’t need to be throwing that many pitches in a blowout.

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  • However, not all high pitch counts are created equal. Ventura was nearing a career-high in pitches for a single game, but as I mentioned, he was never in any kind of dangerous moment, until that 7th inning. I fully understand the concern with pushing Ventura too hard, and I would have removed him in favor of a reliever not named Scott Downs. But Ventura had hit 100 MPH just a few pitches earlier, and he didn’t appear to be tiring that much.

    Yost stuck with Ventura, gesturing to Salvador Perez that this would be the last batter Ventura faced.

    Switch-hitting Jose Ramirez stepped into the left-handed batters box, and watched a first-pitch fastball miss the zone, before fouling off three consecutive fastballs. The fourth pitch was at 99 MPH, and was up and in on Ramirez, so you would expect him to be a bit uncomfortable at that moment. That discomfort was only made worse on the next pitch, when Ventura unleashed an 88 MPH changeup that completely fooled Ramirez, who swung through it for strike three. You can watch video of that pitch around the 1:36 mark of this linked video. I recommend watching it. Several times, if possible.

    That changeup was no ordinary changeup. I mean, it came in around the same velocity as most of Ventura’s changeups, and presumably, Ventura threw it with a similar grip. It was even thrown from basically the same arm slot.

    The reason that this particular changeup was so effective in getting that final out is twofold. First, Ventura had just thrown 4 straight fastballs in the upper 90s, so any deviation from that velocity would likely throw off Ramirez’s timing. Ventura’s changeup comes from a release point that is very close to that of his fastball, so right away it’s difficult to pick up.

    The second reason Ramirez looked so silly on this particular changeup was that the pitch moved, and it moved a lot. On the season, Ventura’s changeup averages just under 6 inches of horizontal movement. That’s difficult to deal with, especially considering it’s normally coming in at more than 88 MPH. In last night’s game, Ventura’s changeup had closer to 6.8 inches of horizontal movement, so not a huge difference. That final changeup to Ramirez, though, moved more than 9 inches away from it’s regular trajectory.

    Felix Hernandez has arguably the best changeup in baseball, and even he doesn’t get that kind of movement on the pitch. Nine inches is a long way for a ball to move from its expected destination, especially when most pitches at that speed rarely move that much.

    This plot, courtesy of Brooks Baseball, doesn’t make it look quite as drastic, but it does give you an idea of how much more movement that particular pitch had.

    And remember, this kind of movement is coming to the plate at 88.5 MPH, after the batter has seen 4 pitches around 98 MPH. Combine all those factors together, and it’s easy to see how Ramirez looked so foolish flailing at the pitch. That changeup had more horizontal movement than any other pitch Ventura threw last night, and it was the last pitch he threw. The previous pitch was at 99.9 MPH, and he followed it up with a ridiculous changeup that was basically unhittable.

    I know there will be those who cringe when they see Ventura’s pitch count, but I think the evidence suggests he wasn’t wearing down at all. His command had started to waver, sure, but the velocity was still there, and his secondary pitches were still very effective. Had the Royals’ lead been just 2 or 3 runs, I think Yost would have given Ventura the hook a bit earlier, but it’s not like he was getting knocked around in the inning.

    Ventura had yet another terrific start last night, and even though he worked himself into a bit of trouble (relatively speaking) in his final inning, his high pitch count didn’t involve many high-stress pitches. His last pitch of the night may have been his best, and it came at the perfect time. Despite the large lead, the Royals certainly didn’t need to be giving their opponent any extra life, and that changeup may have been the final nail in the Indians’ coffin.

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