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The Yordano Ventura contract is a huge win for the Royals

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A look at Ventura's comparable reveals a future that is bright.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Back in February I looked at what a possible Danny Duffy extension could look like. In that article I discussed Chris Archer's contract as a possibility. Maybe Archer's contract is a more universal pitcher parable than a direct comparison or application to Duffy. That contract again will come into play, but instead for Yordano Ventura.

On Saturday, Yordano Ventura and the Royals agreed to a contract extension that could keep him in Kansas City through 2021. Finally, that term (extension) is used properly. Agreeing to a guaranteed contract during a players arbitration years only isn't an extension. Saturday though, the Royals extended Ventura.

Ventura and the Royals agreed to a five year, $23 million contract with two club options covering 2020 and 2021 that go for $12 million a piece with escalators that could drive them to $16 million with a $1 million buyout. The deal covers Ventura's remaining two pre-arbitration years, his three arbitration seasons and also his first two free agent years. All told the Royals stand to have Ventura from age 24-30 (basically peak seasons). Without going too far into the details at this point, this seems like a win for the Royals, and a possibly big one at that.

First let's recap who/what Ventura is. In 2008 the Royals saw an undersized, 17 year old kid from Samana, Dominican Republic. Ventura at the time weighed less than 150 pounds and his fastball topped out at 89 MPH. They took a "gamble" on the kid and signed him for $28,000. It wasn't really much of a gamble though as $28,000 isn't a lot for an international player (in relative terms because that is a lot of money for them). Two summers later Ventura would come to camp with an additional 20 pounds on his body and a heater that touched 96 MPH. Soon after Ventura grew more into his velocity and began topping out at 102 MPH at times. Needless to say Ventura went from a pure lottery ticket to one that may have had the right five numbers (hey his signing bonus is five numbers!)

Ventura has been labelled with the moniker "ace" but he's more so just a good, average pitcher than an "ace", and that's an extreme ROI for a $28K signee. The future projection on Ventura is a complicated one perhaps. Ventura is well-liked by ERA based wins metrics as last season he was worth nearly 4 wins by RA9-WAR. By FIP wins he was a little more average than All-Star, being worth 2.4 wins by fWAR.

I think we basically have an idea who Ventura is going to be, even with his small track record. He's a high velocity pitcher with command issues who generates league average-ish flyball, groundball, and line-drive rates. His fastball is good enough to generate weaker contact but the secondary stuff is lacking impact to make him a strong strikeout pitcher. He was able to beat bats at a better rate in the low minors due to poor bat speed and mechanics of AAA/AA hitters, being able to blow hitters away with pure stuff.

Projection systems project him to strike out a little better than the league average rate while struggling with command, all adding up to a league average FIP. It's not an explosive profile, but one that literally every rotation can use, and sometimes at a greater cost than what the Royals are paying.

In the future, we can likely expect more of the same (that is if Ventura doesn't get hurt). Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system projects him basically as a 1.5-2 WARP player from 2016-2022. You'll have to remember that their WARP is different from say Fangraphs fWAR (not only in their calculation of replacement level, but also that they use earned runs rather than FIP to calculate their wins). There's no direct translator of WARP to fWAR, but we have a baseline to work worth.

Note that using a baseline is measured against a stagnant FIP/K-9/BB-9 etc... which most likely won't be true for the next six years.

Age Year K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA
23 2014 7.82 3.39 0.69 3.20
24 2015 7.97 3.3 0.84 3.65
25 2016 8.2 2.6 0.7 3.36
26 2017 8.4 2.6 0.8 3.31
27 2018 8.2 2.5 0.8 3.47
28 2019 8.4 2.6 0.8 3.52
29 2020 8.1 2.5 0.8 3.76
30 2021 8.2 2.3 0.8 3.39
Average ---- 8.16 2.72 0.78 3.46

PECOTA is a little more optimistic than Ventura can get his walk rate down compared to the Steamer/ZiPS combination in the 2015 row, cutting his walk rate by almost a full walk per nine.

Similar players to PECOTA's 2016 projection:

Season Name Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP WAR
2000 Javier Vazquez Expos 217.2 8.1 2.52 0.99 4.05 3.68 5.2
2012 Ryan Dempster - - - 173 7.96 2.71 0.99 3.38 3.69 2.9
2011 Josh Beckett Red Sox 193 8.16 2.42 0.98 2.89 3.57 3.4
2008 Zack Greinke Royals 202.1 8.14 2.49 0.93 3.47 3.56 4.2
2008 Johan Santana Mets 234.1 7.91 2.42 0.88 2.53 3.51 5.2

Oh. Those are some cool names to see in a spreadsheet. Now that's just by strikeout, walks, and home run rates. Let's throw ERA into the filter too.

Season Name Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP WAR
2012 A.J. Burnett Pirates 202.1 8.01 2.76 0.8 3.51 3.52 3.1
2012 Mat Latos Reds 209.1 7.95 2.75 1.07 3.48 3.85 3
2008 Zack Greinke Royals 202.1 8.14 2.49 0.93 3.47 3.56 4.2
2013 Derek Holland Rangers 213 7.99 2.7 0.85 3.42 3.44 4.2
2012 Ryan Dempster - - - 173 7.96 2.71 0.99 3.38 3.69 2.9
Average --- 8.01 2.68 0.93 3.45 3.61 3.48

Still fun! A ~3.5 win average there, something that would work out well for the Royals.

There's another name that keeps coming up when digging through the numbers.

Name K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WAR
Felix Hernandez 8.19 2.75 0.75 3.24 29.4
Yordano Ventura 8.16 2.72 0.78 3.46

Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves here. The above table takes some squinting to get to. First Hernandez's numbers are what he did up until he was 25. Ventura's numbers are what he's projected to do up until age 30. So where dealing with what has actually happened, and what could happen, but the point being is that Hernandez was very good up until age 25 (and past that too) putting up nearly 30 wins. The point here is that PECOTA thinks that Ventura could put up young Hernandez-esque numbers (remember though, fWAR is based on FIP, not ERA). This is Royals Review though and we have to put the best spin on everything.

So what value could Ventura possibly bring? Depends on what you think Ventura will eventually be. Personally I fall more into the ZiPS/Steamer combo camp of an ~8 K/9 - ~3 BB/9. If Ventura can hold off little pings and injuries he may get up to 200 innings for some seasons and max out at ~2.5-3 wins. So maybe something like this (using $8.4M per win with 5% inflation each year)

Age Year fWAR $/WAR Value Salary Surplus
24 2015 2 $   8,400,000.00 $   16,800,000.00 $      950,000.00 $    15,850,000.00
25 2016 2.3 $   8,820,000.00 $   20,286,000.00 $   1,200,000.00 $    19,086,000.00
26 2017 2.5 $   9,261,000.00 $   23,152,500.00 $   3,450,000.00 $    19,702,500.00
27 2018 2.7 $   9,724,050.00 $   26,254,935.00 $   6,450,000.00 $    19,804,935.00
28 2019 3 $ 10,210,252.50 $   30,630,757.50 $   9,950,000.00 $    20,680,757.50
29 2020 3 $ 10,720,765.13 $   32,162,295.38 $ 12,000,000.00 $    20,162,295.38
30 2021 2.7 $ 11,256,803.38 $   30,393,369.13 $ 12,000,000.00 $    18,393,369.13
Total $ 179,679,857.00 $ 46,000,000.00 $  133,679,857.00

Maybe that's too high. Perhaps the cost of a win won't rise ~3M over the next 7 years (roughly 38% increase), but from 2005-2011 the cost rose from $3.9M to $7.1M (54%) so perhaps it's not inconceivable.

How does the Ventura contract compare to some other recent signees?

I mentioned Chris Archer at the beginning. He received a similar deal worth $25.5 million over 6 years with two club options at $9 million and $10 million (Archer's deal had one more guaranteed year).

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Chris Archer 194.2 8 3.33 0.55 3.33 3.39 3.7 3.3
Yordano Ventura 183 7.82 3.39 0.69 3.2 3.6 3.74 2.4

Archer and Ventura were very similar players in 2014. Chris Archer signed his deal at age 25. Julio Teheran signed for 6 years, $32.4 million at age 23 with an $11 million final guaranteed year and a $12 million option.

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Julio Teheran 221 7.57 2.08 0.90 2.89 3.49 3.72 3.5
Yordano Ventura 183 7.82 3.39 0.69 3.20 3.60 3.74 2.4

Some similarities, but Teheran has the better walk rate and ERA/FIP.

Finally, Jose Quintana: 5-years, $26.5 million with two club option years at $10.5 million and $11.5 million.

Name Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Jose Quintana White Sox 200.1 8 2.34 0.45 3.32 2.81 3.37 5
Yordano Ventura Royals 183 7.82 3.39 0.69 3.2 3.6 3.74 2.4

Okay, the buck has been stopped. Quintana is quietly one of the better pitchers in all of baseball the past few years and was a borderline elite player in 2014 (but didn't get a single Cy Young vote).

We can probably look past the White Sox agreement with Quintana because that's just an extraordinary team-friendly deal they are getting. Meanwhile I think Ventura looks a little more like Chris Archer than Julio Teheran and the deals are a little closer too.

How did Chris Archer do the season after signing his deal?

Name Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Chris Archer Rays 194.2 8 3.33 0.55 3.33 3.39 3.7 3.3

Nice. The Royals would certainly take that from Ventura in 2015, and every other season he's under team control.

One final thought that ran through my head when I saw he signed an extension - Ventura won't be a reliever now. While the Royals were certainly going to give him every shot to stay in the rotation regardless of him signing an extension, there was always a thought in the back of some minds that he could one day find maximum impact out of the bullpen. This contract completely assures that he'll stay in the rotation for the foreseeable future. However, if he were to find himself coming out of the pen some time down the road, his contract won't be a crippling one, especially if the cost of a win rises ~5% each year (he'd be making what Greg Holland is making now and next year but in 2018, 2019, 2020).