KC Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura struggled in through the first four months of 2016 season while giving up a 4.88 ERA. In August, he’s posted a 2.03 ERA in five starts.
So, why has 25-year-old Yordano Ventura been so much more effective in August than he was earlier in the season?
Checking Ventura’s pitch data on Brooks Baseball shows that Ventura’s sinker usage jumped from 17.55 percent in July to 29.70 percent in August. That 12% increase came at the expense of a 6% drop in his fourseam fastball usage (35.57% to 29.31%) and his change-up (22.63% to 17.03%).
Comparing Ventura’s August heat map to July shows a big jump in the number of pitches in the strike zone. In particular, he’s decreased the number of pitches in the dirt and increased the number of pitches in the bottom of the strike zone. He’s also pitching low and inside a lot more in August than in July.
In short, Yordano Ventura has both changed his pitch mix to include more pitches with downward action as well as improved his command.
Not surprisingly, Ventura’s K/9 has increased to 8.12 as compared to his season average of 7.1. But, Ventura’s walk rate has remained steady at 3.48 BB/9 as compared to his 3.6 BB/9 season average.
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These changes have led to an impressive improvement in his overall effectiveness. At the end of July, Ventura had a 6-9 record with a 4.88 ERA. In August, he’s 3-0 with a 2.03 ERA.
That’s the difference between a barely playable no. 5 pitcher and an ace.
Yordano Ventura is one of the hardest throwing pitchers in major-league baseball with an average fourseam fastball velocity of 96.27 mph in 2016. Analysts have considered him a potential ace ever since his outstanding rookie season in 2014 when he went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA.
However, he’s largely failed to live up to those lofty expectations in the nearly two seasons since he pitched the KC Royals past the San Francisco Giants in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series. Instead, he’s developed a reputation around baseball as a hothead that lacks maturity and self-control.
Ventura’s incredible August raises hopes that he’s finally turned the corner as a no. 1 starter. The only fly in this ointment is that Ventura enjoyed a similarly strong finish to the 2015 season before crashing in the playoffs.
KC Royals fans can only hope that Yordano Ventura has found his groove in professional baseball instead of just enjoying a hot streak.