Kansas City Royals Need Yordano Ventura to Become True Ace
By Caleb Woody
It is time for Yordano Ventura to become an ace.
Heading into the 2016 season, the Kansas City Royals starting rotation seems to be (besides possibly losing Alex Gordon) the area of greatest concern. Yes, this team won a world series with a bad rotation, but if Kansas City wishes to repeat, it would surely help to have reliable starting pitching.
Obviously, the bullpen is incredible on this team and makes up for the lack of quality innings from the starters, but frankly, last season’s rotation was bad, really bad. In fact, they were arguably the worst in the American League, accumulating just 900 innings and finishing 14th in the American League in total starting pitcher WAR. The need for improvement is abundantly clear. There are many concerns regarding the rotation, yet no real upgrades have been made.
There are several free agents available that could boost the rotation, but the Royals probably won’t be able to land one on a cost-effective deal. The returning starters must top least year’s production. The departure of Johnny Cueto and Jeremy Guthrie combined with the loss of Jason Vargas (TJ surgery) minimizes rotation depth. In 2016, we are likely going to see a rotation made up of Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Chris Young, and some combination of Kris Medlen, Danny Duffy, and Dillon Gee. This is scary.
Kris Medlen was solid last season in his return from his second Tommy John surgery, however, it is doubtful his arm will be able to handle the stress of a full season as a starter. He could start the season as a full-timer and move to the pen later on if there arises an urgent need to add a starter.
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Danny Duffy has shown signs of dominance in the past, but too often it seems, just doesn’t feel comfortable on the mound. Issues of wildness and inconsistency sent Duffy to the bullpen for a good chunk of the season where he did actually look more comfortable. Duffy is certainly not a lock to pitch as a starter all season.
I think for the most part we know what to expect from veterans Edinson Volquez and Chris Young. In terms of consistency, they were the best on the staff in 2015 (unless you count how consistently terrible Jeremy Guthrie was). Things could change, but I think we can expect more of the same.
We have no idea what Dillon Gee will be able to do, if anything at all. The former Met is injury prone, and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since June of 2015. His contract includes an opt-out date for mid-March should he not make the big league club by that time. I imagine if Kansas City does not acquire another starter, Gee will begin the season in the bullpen until/unless a rotation spot opens up.
A lot of things have to go right for this staff to be successful but the real key is Yordano Ventura. His early season struggles and emotional flare ups have not gone without noticing. I am NOT suggesting he has been bad. I’m suggesting he is young and inexperienced. We all know he has the tools to be a top-tier starting pitcher in the big leagues. Ventura has what it takes to be an Ace, how soon he can put it all together is the question.
I am a Ventura fan. I love his pitching style and his competitive swagger. I don’t have any problem with his “issues” with other players. To me, it just shows that he cares and he is extremely competitive. I totally get it. I am thrilled with how well he has pitched in his first 2 years as a full-time starter in the big leagues.
Ventura was expected by most to be at least as good in 2015 as he was in 2014. Although many would argue he took a step back in 2015, the numbers are actually very similar to what he posted his rookie year. Despite a brief demotion to Omaha, and various struggles throughout the season, he still managed to increase his strikeout rate while slightly decreasing the walk rate.
The obvious knock is the fact that Ventura’s ERA climbed from 3.20 in 2014, to 4.08 in 2015, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. His xFIP and FIP were nearly identical to 2014’s figures, lower by just a bit, and most of the peripherals were actually improved. Sure, there were times last season where he was just plain bad, but when he was on, he was dominant.
Ventura’s first half was pretty rough. He was wild and couldn’t seem to get beyond 4 or 5 innings per start for quite some time. The second half of the season was much better for Yordano however. Ventura improved his strikeout rate, ground ball rate, and got weaker contact.
Instead of relying on fastballs for swings and misses, the curveball became the ultimate compliment to the upper 90’s heat. The first half of the season the curveball was utilized 17.9% of the time. In the second half that percentage went up to 28.8%. No doubt the adjustments made provided significant improvements in the second half. As we witnessed last season, Ventura is still in a “trial and error” period of his young career, but has shown he is willing to make adjustments. His first half of 2015 was disappointing; he made up for it in the second half.
I hope that Ventura can take a huge step forward and become a legitimate ace.
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I believe that the majority of Royals fans actually EXPECT Yordano Ventura to become the Ace this team has been missing. This kid has pitched some huge games and shown he has the ability to be a very good starter. I’m hoping, Yordano can make a bold statement in 2016 by putting the team on his shoulders and truly achieving ace status.