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.


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.