Yordano Ventura was a brighter spot for the Royals last year in a season full of bright spots. The rookie pitched his way to an above average season and some Rookie of the Year votes. This season...well, Ventura hasn't been as good. Prior to last night he has been replacement level and alongside a 4.94 ERA/5.01 FIP. By xFIP he's been better, checking in at 4.17. His main issue so far has been letting the long ball fly (which of course xFIP doesn't really think is his fault).
Last night Ventura had a rough outing, throwing five innings, giving up five earned runs on six hits, four walks, and one strikeout. Ventura was coming off a very good outing against the White Sox on the 23rd as he struck out eight over seven innings of five hit baseball. Prior to that outing though, Ventura had another worrisome start when he lasted only 3.1 innings while giving up five runs to just 2 walks and strikeouts. That makes two poor starts in three outings (albeit the other outing was a pretty good one), but is it just a couple bad games or is something off?
As someone who likely has eyeballs, you should be able to notice that Ventura's velocity is down 5 MPH from a little over a month ago. This maybe wouldn't be as worrisome if it were September, but it's still April. Fastball velocity shouldn't drop off that quick unless there's a problem (ie: an injury).
Here is Ventura's average fastball so far this season:
|Date||Avg FF Velo|
That's uhh..worrisome. April 23rd's 95.37 MPH average represents a 2 MPH difference from just five days earlier and a 3 MPH difference from three weeks ago.
That's the velocities of all the fastballs he threw last night. 97 seems to be what he topped out at for the evening.
Brooks Baseball does some adjustments of their own, and I'm working off the numbers straight from Gameday, but assuming there is no difference in the velocities, last night would be the first time in Ventura's MLB career that he didn't hit at least 98 MPH. Just two weeks ago Ventura touched 100 MPH, but last night he couldn't get it above 97 MPH and didn't do so until the end of the 2nd inning.
Here's speed plot from his April 23rd game:
~93 MPH seems to be the slowest fastball.
Speed plot from April 18th:
Looks like ~95 MPH is the slowest fastball thrown.
And then last nights?
Maybe Pitch F/X classified those slower fastballs incorrectly and they were cutters or two-seamers instead. However Pitch F/X does have cutters/two-seamers listed, so it's stands to reason that unless those slower pitches completely baffled Pitch F/X...those are fastballs.
We don't have very good Pitch F/X or record keeping for minor league velocities, but I'd be willing to bet that Ventura's fastball hasn't fallen to 89 MPH since he was a teenager in the rookie leagues. We can confirm that Ventura hasn't touched 89 MPH with his fastball at any time in his major league career at least, as that graph shows 92.23 MPH as his slowest fastball... a blazing speed compared to 89 MPH.
Our own Jeff Zimmerman has done pretty extensive work on pitchers, hitters, and injuries and he's someone who usually is actively looking at velocities in relation to pitcher injuries.
Last year he asked the question if 100 MPH velocities equal Tommy John?
Since 2007 when PITCHf/x has been available, 56 different pitchers have touched 100 mph. I went through each of their injury histories to see if they had Tommy John or any other major arm surgeries. Here are the results (Note: some pitchers had more than one major injury type - see Joel Zumaya).
Arm Surgery: % of pitchers
Elbow (non TJS): 16%
Arm (other): 4%
The one intriging number is 54% of these hard throwers had at least one major arm surgery. The number seems high, but it is tough to compare it to the general pitcher population. I am able to look at this group of pitchers in a different way.
Bill Petti at Fangraphs has done some extensive work as well.
In 2012 he asked At What Point Should We Worry About Velocity Loss?
So, yes, a pitcher who is throwing softer in April compared to the previous April does have an increased chance of experiencing an arm injury, but the over rate of arm injury is quite low (11%). Compared to how well April decline predicts full season velocity loss (38% and an increased likelihood of over 4), velocity decline this early in the year is certainly no slam dunk indicator.
Now, there was some talk last year I believe that Pitch F/X had some trouble identifying Ventura's change/fastball and confusing the two. My first thought on that notion though is that this is the first time Pitch F/X has confused the two at that speed, since Ventura hasn't had a changeup (that was confused as a fastball) register at anything below 92 MPH. He's thrown over 1000 pitches in his MLB career and Pitch F/X hadn't made that mistake yet.
In the year 2015 though, we have video!
Here is the grips from a few pitches of the Roberto Perez at bat in the 4th that registered the 89 MPH fastball.
91 MPH FB
89 MPH FB
95 MPH FB
94 MPH FB
Now, here are the grips on a 5th inning plate appearance against Jason Kipnis where Ventura threw back-to-back changeups.
88 MPH CH
87 MPH CH
An 87 MPH CH to Michael Brantley
Those certainly look like different pitch grips to me.
Maybe Ventura isn't injured and it just April, but my concern has certainly been raised as we're talking about more than just a mile or two per hour loss...it could be as much as ten