Yordano Ventura Profiles as a Reliever, Will Be a Starter

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is the old adage — things that appear one way may, in fact, be another way. We are taught this as children in an effort to curb prejudice and stereotypes. We should get to know people before creating an opinion of them. But, in reality, we pre-judge all the time. We make hasty decisions using a less-than-optimal set of data dozens of times a day. If we didn’t nothing would get done.

I hate grocery shopping. This strikes me as odd since I love food so much, but buying it is something I loathe. The crowds, the lists, the doubling back to grab something you passed — it’s all terrible. So when I’m done shopping, I want to get out of there as soon as I can. And when I make my way to the checkout, I’m scanning to find the line that will get me out of the store the fastest. The length of the line has something to do with it, but there are other factors I’ve come to discover. If I line has an elderly woman in it, I try to avoid it since they are most likely to search for coupons and write a check. Solo parents attempting to herd multiple children while checking out tend to take some time. I look at the baggers — do they seem to be working at a normal pace, or are they lagging? Would it be quicker to do self-checkout and bag everything myself? All these thoughts and more flood my brain when I make it to the front of the store.

This is just one example of my weird neurosis, but everyone does some version of this every day in order to decrease time spent, increase enjoyment, or save money in some sort of task. It’s how we’re wired. It’s how we decide whether to take the highway or surface streets, what toothpaste to buy, and what movie to watch when perusing Netflix. We make assumptions based on appearances — plain and simple.

Yodrano Ventura has been making his way around the news cycle as of late. He’s just been named as a member of the Royals rotation to start the season. He’s 22 years old, has been considered one the Kansas City’s more promising prospects, and the dude throws gas. In fact, he threw the hardest pitch by a starter in 2013. As Sullivan points out in that piece, other pitchers can throw that hard, but none of them had done it as a starter. And this is where Ventura becomes a little bit of an enigma. He may be a starter, but he sure looks like a reliever.

The top three starters, as far as fastball velocity is concerned, in 2013 were Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, and Jose Fernandez. They are listed at 6’4”, 6’4”, and 6’2”, respectively. Yordano Ventura comes in at 5’11”. In a random crowd of men, he’d be tall. On a pitchers mound, perhaps not as much. Teams like tall starting pitchers due to the downward angle they can create on pitches, and the extra distance to the plate their long arms and torsos provide. In 2013, the average height of any starting pitcher who started five games or more was 6’2.5”. That’s 3.5” taller than Ventura.

Yet Ventura can throw with gas like the big boys. He averages 97 and has reached 101 last season. The thing of it is, even though he’s small and throws fast pitches, it doesn’t look like he’s trying all that hard — he has “easy” velocity, like you’d expect from a taller pitcher.

The median height for any pitcher that averaged 97 MPH or more on his fastball was also 6’2.5”. Kelvin Herrera, Ventura’s teammate, was the only one in 2013 who was 5’11” or shorter and had the same fastball velocity. If you broaden the scope just 1 MPH to a 96 MPH range, Fernando Rodney, Craig Kimbrel, and Greg Holland get added to the mix. And that’s it. Short dudes who throw that kind of heat are in small supply. Short starters who throw that hard are even rarer, in that Ventura is the only one.

The reliever profile also extends to the fact that Ventura really only throws three pitches, and barely that. He relies heavily on the fastball – using it 75% of the time. He’ll mix in a curve here and there, but used his changeup very sparingly in 2013 — only 6.6% of the time. Certainly three starts is not a great sample size from which to profile pitch usage, but Marc Hulet has mentioned a below-average changeup in regards to Ventura, which would explain a lack of usage this past season. Here’s the heatmap of Ventura’s changeups to right-handers in 2013.

venturachtorightyheatmap

This is to say, he didn’t throw one. His change has a bit of a tail to it, as does his fastball, and it seems as if he prefered testing his changeup as an away pitch to lefties rather than an in pitch to righties. Over the course of 2014, as the book on Ventura grows, it seems fairly obvious that this will change.

Yordano Ventura is a starter. He has been for almost his entire pro career, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. While tall and lean are the trends for starters, there have certainly been some short ones. Pedro Martinez was short (by baseball standards), so was Greg Maddux, and I’m sure there have been non-Hall-of-Famers in that mix, too. But he’s still bucking the trend, at least by a handful of inches. He may look like a reliever, he may have the repertoire of a reliever, and the Royals are hoping his electric fastball can carry him as a starter, height be damned.



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David G. Temple is the Managing Editor of TechGraphs and a contributor to FanGraphs, NotGraphs and The Hardball Times. He hosts the award-eligible podcast Stealing Home. Dayn Perry once called him a "Bible Made of Lasers." Follow him on Twitter @davidgtemple.


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Eric Cioe
Guest
Eric Cioe
2 years 5 months ago

So three of the five guys in baseball who are 5’11″ish and average 96 or better with their fastball pitch for KC. Is their gun still a few ticks hot?

Bill
Guest
Bill
2 years 5 months ago

interestingly enough, I believe Shields had a bump up in velocity when he left Tampa last year, so probably ‘yes’.

carl
Guest
carl
2 years 5 months ago

Shields average FB velo in 2012, his last year in Tampa: 92.3.

Shields average FB velo in 2013, his first year in KC: 92.2.

Doesn’t look like an increase to me.

JBizzy
Guest
JBizzy
2 years 5 months ago

I believe the gun in KC in notoriously “hot”.

Steven
Guest
Steven
2 years 5 months ago

Only the stadium gun, not the pitch f/x gun.

SabathiaWouldBeGoodAtTheEighthToo
Guest
SabathiaWouldBeGoodAtTheEighthToo
2 years 5 months ago

“Short” is the new market inefficiency, and Dayton Moore is ahead of the curve.

I wonder if there is a psychological effect on the batters when they hear about how hard certain pitchers throw, or if they are all just ready for gas anyway.

Steven
Guest
Steven
2 years 5 months ago

Only the stadium gun, not the pitch f/x gun.

Tony the Pony
Guest
Tony the Pony
2 years 5 months ago

The Royals will be hoping he becomes an Ace Ventura

John Elway
Member
2 years 5 months ago

If they can trot him out there every fifth day.

Garrett's Mom
Guest
Garrett's Mom
2 years 5 months ago

I think he’ll fit in that rotation ‘like a glove’.

Tom Ace
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

That’s none of your damn business Tony and I thank you to stay out of my personal affairs.

Marcus
Guest
Marcus
2 years 5 months ago

No mention of Nate Eovaldi? Thought he had the fastest fastball of qualified starters in 2013.

Art Vandelay
Member
Member
Art Vandelay
2 years 5 months ago

He only pitched 106 innings, even though he didn’t state a threshold, I imagine that’s why he wasn’t brought up.

Bill
Guest
Bill
2 years 5 months ago

Comps here would be Lincecum, and going back aways, Bob Feller and Robin Roberts were pretty short. Juan Marichal and Vida Blue are the only shorter guy I can think of who had a longer career as a starter, I am sure there are many more though. Of course, losing velocity is key for all pitchers as they age, height or not, but that downward plane also helps with creating movement which is key for longer term success imo.

Art Vandelay
Member
Member
Art Vandelay
2 years 5 months ago

Lincecum’s highest average fastball velocity was 94. Feller seems like a good comp though. He definitely threw hard and was 6′ or under.

Yordano's shoulder
Guest
Yordano's shoulder
2 years 5 months ago

If they only pitched in KC, then yes that could be plausible. But they have road games too so it’s not.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
2 years 5 months ago

I honestly don’t know about this guy.

You hear things about his stuff like filthy, nasty and throws serious heat. Then you hear that he is going to pitch 180-200 innings this year and these spell STUD, get him now before he blows up.

Then the voices in my head and hair on the back of my neck reminds me that he is 5’11” and makes me want to sell high thinking that a UCL is in his future. The same alarm is going off on Salazar.

Billy Wagner
Guest
Billy Wagner
2 years 5 months ago

But there are always exceptions.

Garrett's Mom
Guest
Garrett's Mom
2 years 5 months ago

This guy’s fastball is pretty straight. I think once the book gets out on him, he’ll start to get hard, since he doesn’t have an array of pitches to throw, but he’d be an excellent guy to trade early.

Garrett's Mom
Guest
Garrett's Mom
2 years 5 months ago

start to get hit* hard

oh my

cs3
Member
cs3
2 years 5 months ago

“This guy’s fastball is pretty straight. I think once the book gets out on him, he’ll start to get hard”

he’s not pitching to Kate Upton is he?

specs
Guest
specs
2 years 5 months ago

Harvey and Strasburg are both 6’4″. Height really has very little to do with a pitcher’s risk of injury, at least as far as elbow injuries are concerned. Concerns about “innings” are also fairly ludicrous, because an inning is a completely arbitrary measure. It’s a construct of the game, it tells us virtually NOTHING about actual workload, and it’s stunning people haven’t realized this. An inning could take 3 pitches, or it could take 30. Efficiency is key, and no one is running guys out there like Dusty Baker until their arm falls off anymore. You look at his numbers from last year, and he made 30 starts across 3 different levels. He can almost certainly handle pitching over an entire season.

The concern, really, is how he’ll handle working deeper into games, if he can endure throwing 90-100 pitches every outing. And because he throws so damn hard, that’s worrying, because it seems like guys that throw really hard are more likely to get injured. His motion looks pretty, sure, but I’m not an expert, I don’t have a clue how much stress he’s putting on his arm, and it’s not like guys always hold their mechanics perfectly. He’s pretty risky, as is pretty much every guy under 25. You look at a list of the best young pitchers from as recent as 5 years ago, as many as 40% of them flamed out/busted, either from injuries or ineffectiveness.

jim fetterolf
Guest
jim fetterolf
2 years 5 months ago

In spring training Ventura has demonstrated a decent change and grip variations on the heater that allow good movement at 98 mph.

I would add that height isn’t a savior from TJS as the 6’5″ Luke Hochevar was just operated on, the 6’3″ Danny Duffy is trying to make the roster, the 6’4″ John Lamb is trying to make it back from TJS, and those just for Royals still with the team this year.

For Yordano Ventura, the ease with which he throws, compared to a max-effort guy like Tim Collins, may allow his body to stay together. Kel Herrera, a similar size and heat pitcher, has added a snappy curve and the suggestions are growing that he may go back to starting as he has physically matured and cleaned up his mechanics.

jonas
Guest
jonas
2 years 5 months ago

nice, Herrera and Ventura would be sick if they stuck.

Mr Punch
Guest
Mr Punch
2 years 5 months ago

The standout number isn’t 5-11, it’s 75% fastballs. No (other) starter does that. The reason to “sell high” is the fastball-curve parlay, which is very limiting for a pitcher as he loses velocity. Ask Josh Beckett.

David
Guest
David
2 years 5 months ago

Yup. “Short” starters can get by and even excel. There are lots of examples of them. It’s a disadvantage, sure, but not an insurmountable one. The bigger flag is the pitch mix. He’s got to expand it or batters will figure him out.

Tony Cingrani
Guest
Tony Cingrani
2 years 5 months ago

Hi.

Art Vandelay
Member
Member
Art Vandelay
2 years 5 months ago

thank you, Justin Masterson does too.

David
Guest
David
2 years 5 months ago

Hi Tony. Let’s have this talk again after more than one season.

Johnnytwotimes
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Johnnytwotimes
2 years 5 months ago

Several starters do this

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
2 years 5 months ago

Beckett was a phenom when he came up with those two pitches and as I recall, had a ton of success with them for about 10 years. I’m sure the Royals and fantasy owners would be plenty pleased if Ventura had a similar career.

Padraic
Guest
Padraic
2 years 5 months ago

It seems the hype is a bit much – an extra few miles on the fastball is way less important than location and secondary pitches.

This is a guy who gave up 80 hits in 77 IP in the PCL last year and a career minor league WHIP of 1.25. Compare his numbers to someone like Fernandez, and it’s not even close. I just don’t buy pitchers at the big league level who can’t dominate the minor leagues, and Ventura had only one stretch at AA last year in his entire minor league career when he dominated.

Colin
Guest
Colin
2 years 5 months ago

Quoting hits given up and WHIP on a fangraphs article?

Also, PCL is a notorious hitters league, so those numbers mean even less than they do in the first place.

Bill
Guest
Bill
2 years 5 months ago

I don’t see any wrong with quoting WHIP. There are better stats, but base runners are bad and WHIP gives you a real nice snapshot of how many base runners he’s permitted. It’s like OPS for pitchers. It’s a stat with issues, but it can tell you where to start looking when analyzing the player. Why did Ventura allow so many base runners? Did he walk too many? Was he a victim of bad defense? How hard were the hits?

Colin
Guest
Colin
2 years 5 months ago

WHIP uses the wrong denominator and can therefore be very misleading.

Just use K% and BB%, they’re much simpler and more effective.

jdbolick
Member
Member
2 years 5 months ago

Someone feel free to correct my geometry if it’s wrong, but from 60’6″ away, a foot difference in release point amounts to less than one degree of angle difference at the plate, correct? The “downward plane” thing is a myth.

Matthew Murphy
Member
2 years 5 months ago

That math looks about right. However, your assertion that the downward plane is a myth is based on the idea that a change in angle by one degree doesn’t have a significant effect on the effectiveness of the pitch, and I’m not sure if that’s true.
Based on a couple quick and dirty calculations, it looks like the average pitch comes in at a downward angle of about 3 degrees. Guys like Ventura or Herrera might be closer to 2.7, and the taller guys might be closer to 3.3. Because the angle isn’t that extreme to start with, a subtle difference could make a significant change. (Not saying it does, just that it could.)

frivoflava29
Member
frivoflava29
2 years 5 months ago

Another concern I always kind of feel for these short guys is injury. I used to play acoustic bass but had to quit because of back/shoulder problems – TOS, specifically, which is a really common issues for pitchers (Matt Carpenter being a recent example). I fall into a height range that apparently leaves me pretty predisposed, and having small hands causing me to reach further around the instrument’s neck also put stress on certain groups of nerves, blood vessels, and muscles that led to my injury. My school did yearly checks for scoliosis and my back was always okay until I started playing bass, but now I’ve come to the understanding that I was always bound to get injured.

One of the big obstacles bassists have to overcome is extreme endurance, and I’m talking several consecutive hours of nonstop playing of an instrument that weighs as much of a quarter of your body size. I mean, Cueto’s twisting motion is a very well known issue at this point and that’s probably how he generates his velocity. With bass as well, it’s easier to get big sound with more body mass, whether you’re 5′ or 6′. It’s gotta be tougher for guys in a particular height range, say 5’10” to 6’2 based purely on anecdotal evidence, to compensate.

I know we’ve come a long way with our understanding of how we project frames and also that we’re better at scoping at motion issues earlier in young pitcher’s career what with Mark Prior, but I seriously wonder if there’s ever a doctor who looks at one of these athletes and thinks the kid’s inevitably going to destroy his body no matter what he does. I’m comparing apples and oranges, but I know I never stood a chance physically with my instrument. It’s just not something we pay significant attention to in the music world.

Bri Guy
Guest
Bri Guy
2 years 5 months ago

I like this line of thinking and wonder how hand size relates to failure of the UCL, being that guys with smaller hands have to grip the ball harder for control purposes. A guy like Pedro was short, but had exceptionally long fingers. If you flex your own hand while holding a ball its easy to feel the elbow tense.

frivoflava29
Member
frivoflava29
2 years 5 months ago

Mo put up with a lot as a reliever for a long time and he had some long fingers too, the way his middle and index fingers matched up made his hand perfect for throwing his cutter. I’d be so happy if someone could point me towards some research that might have been done on any of this, particularly Pedro and Mo seeing as they’re most likely to have been well studied. Doing a community post or something would be cool.

Crash37
Member
Member
Crash37
2 years 5 months ago

The obvious comparison should be to Danny Salazar who is listed at 6′ even and 190. He throws gas, has a 3 pitch mix and has somewhat unpolished secondary offerings, albeit more polished than Ventura’s. Using Fangraphs’ Pitch f/x data it shows Salazar throws his FB/SL/CH mix at 96(70%)/87(12%)/85(17%). Ventura throws his FB/CU/CH mix at 97(76%)/82(18%)/86(6%). There’s not a whole lot of difference there, with the exception of Ventura’s lack of confidence in his change, especially given such a small sample size. Ventura is KC’s version of Salazar.

n8
Guest
n8
2 years 5 months ago

How much of the future is “foreseeable”?

Johnston
Guest
Johnston
2 years 5 months ago

Almost none of it.

BranchRickey11937
Guest
BranchRickey11937
2 years 5 months ago

It’s good to see that the FanGraphs audience has moved beyond the height==stamina issue, which has no biometric or sabrmetric evidence behind it at all. Yes, the relevant issue is whether Ventura has a pitch repertoire suitable for starting.

Hawk
Guest
Hawk
2 years 5 months ago

Pitchers can be great with only two pitches as long as they are great pitches. Throwing a 99 MPH fastball and Kerry Wood 20 K game style curve ball should get him by for a while.

Ack
Guest
Ack
2 years 4 months ago

Ventura has more than three pitches, he has five: four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curve, change, and cutter. Fangraphs is not the best place to check for pitch types, Brooks Baseball is the site for that.

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