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Why demoting Yordano Ventura was the wrong move

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The Royals made the wrong move, sending Yordano Ventura down to the minors to "mature"

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Yesterday afternoon it was announced that the Royals had optioned "struggling" pitcher Yordano Ventura to AAA. Of course you noticed that I put quotations around the word "struggling" (hey I just did it again!) as a lot of what Yordano is doing is what Yordano did last year, but we'll get more to that here in a second.

Truthfully I think it was a poor decision by the Royals (as the header may describe) for multiple reasons, and I want to start with this first.

Everything I'm going to talk about is quantitative basically. Not that there's no room for qualitative examination, but I'll leave that to Rex Hudler. The best way to judge a players performance is based on things we can measure, track, and validate, not the fire in his eyes, the will to win, or whether or not he's a gamer.

I don't care about this

This

This

And allllllll of this

Want audio proof of things that don't necessarily make sense?

Here are the links to Jeff Passan on Jeff Passan on 610 Sports and 810 Between the Lines coverage of the demotion

This is not how championship teams act, Andy. Championship teams don't send down their projected best pitcher in July during a playoff race.

I know ERA has its fans and that some only care about the bottom line of how many runs were earned (I will add that it completely whiffs on other performance aspects), but it's just simply not a good estimation of a pitchers performance. We know this already. We've known this for a while. Fielding Independent Pitching has been written about 100+ times in some capacity.

And it's not just about FIP with Ventura, but a litany of other stats that are basically near identical levels as his performance last year. The same Ventura that brought fans out to the ballpark in droves and earned him nickname after nickname.

Let's let the very well knowledged Neil Weinberg of Fangraphs (and noted Detroit Tigers fan) tell us something:

This isn't to say we should ignore ERA or RA9, but rather that we should understand that a pitcher cannot be judged solely by that number and that the difference between ERA and FIP can often provide you with some insight about what has happened around that pitcher. The key is that ERA isn't telling you what you think it is at first glance and replacing it in your analysis with something that more appropriately answers your question is a big step forward.

So here's our question: Has Ventura actually been bad this year, and if so, how? The answer: no... not really.

Let's do this point by point.

FIP/xFIP/SIERA (DIPS)

Year ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
2014 3.20 3.60 3.74 3.87
2015 5.19 3.69 3.68 3.71
Career 3.77 3.72 3.76 3.86
2015 vs career difference 1.42 -0.03 -0.08 -0.15

We know how poor an evaluator of talent ERA can be, and all the other ERA estimators are basically identical to his career average and last year. By every single performance estimator, Ventura is nearly 2 full runs better.

ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-

Year ERA- FIP- xFIP-
2014 83 96 99
2015 133 96 95
Career 97 98 98
2015 vs career difference 36 -2 -3

These tell a similar story as above, but adjust for league, park, and run environment. By these measurements (except ERA-) Ventura has been basically an average pitcher, on par with what he's done for his career.

BABIP

If I haven't shoved Defensive Independent Pitching down your throat enough yet, here's a bit more.

Ventura's BABIP this year is .321. His career BABIP is .294 (which of course includes this years BABIP).  That's good for 15th worst in the major leagues (min. 70 IP). We know that pitchers have basically no control over what happens after the ball leaves their hand, and Ventura has been the subject of some bad luck here.

Here are the pitchers with a similar BABIP to Ventura this year

Name BABIP ERA FIP
Tyson Ross 0.332 3.38 2.86
Clay Buchholz 0.329 3.26 2.60
Corey Kluber 0.325 3.38 2.47
Rick Porcello 0.324 5.79 4.62
Yordano Ventura 0.321 5.19 3.69
Mike Pelfrey 0.321 4.00 4.04
Jeremy Guthrie 0.320 5.36 4.70
A.J. Burnett 0.319 2.44 3.01
J.A. Happ 0.318 4.12 3.64
Brett Anderson 0.318 3.17 3.55
Alfredo Simon 0.318 4.63 4.02
Bartolo Colon 0.317 4.86 3.55

I mean... that's a pretty good variance of talent there. Ventura's BABIP and FIP are nearly equal to JA Happ and Brett Anderson but Happ's ERA is 4.12 (1.7 runs lower) and 3.17 (2.2 runs lower). Would we be having this discussion if Ventura's ERA was 4.12? How about if it was 3.17?

Sure those are what ifs, but we should all be well aware of the volatility of batted balls in play.

Let's just assume Ventura's BABIP this year is his current career norm. How would he then look?

Name BABIP ERA FIP
David Price 0.299 2.32 2.78
Chad Bettis 0.299 4.88 4.16
Jesse Chavez 0.298 3.21 3.11
Wade Miley 0.298 4.49 3.82
Josh Collmenter 0.297 4.71 5.05
Jimmy Nelson 0.296 4.29 4.14
Madison Bumgarner 0.295 3.27 3.25
Noah Syndergaard 0.295 3.05 2.69
Kendall Graveman 0.295 3.37 4.21
Chase Anderson 0.294 4.37 4.21
Yordano Ventura 0.294 5.19 3.69
John Lackey 0.293 2.9 3.49
Anthony DeSclafani 0.293 3.99 3.91
Matt Shoemaker 0.293 4.85 4.62
Rubby de la Rosa 0.293 4.83 4.71
Phil Hughes 0.292 4.15 4.63
Kyle Hendricks 0.291 3.44 3.23
Nick Martinez 0.291 3.92 4.76

Only a few of the 17 above names have an ERA over 4.5. Then there's David Price, Noah Syndergaard,John Lackey and Madison Bumgarner. Don't take this as Ventura should be as good as those guys this year of course.

E-F

Having covered the above topics and using those concepts we can dig a bit deeper with a simple formula. ERA minus FIP, or the difference between a pitchers ERA and FIP.

Here are the top 5 highest E-F this year

Name E-F FIP BABIP
Joe Kelly 1.53 4.13 0.313
Yordano Ventura 1.50 3.69 0.321
Drew Hutchison 1.44 3.75 0.350
Shane Greene 1.44 4.88 0.313
Mat Latos 1.41 3.48 0.305

So Ventura has the second largest difference between his ERA and FIP. Of course all of them have a worse than league average BABIP too, most by ~20 or more basis points.

Something should seem out of whack here if you haven't figured it out that Ventura has pitched (by 4 different metrics/concepts) much better than his ERA would suggest, and maybe he's just getting unlucky with BABIP and sequencing.

LOB%

I don't even have to describe this one to you. Instead, here's the direct quote from Fangraphs entry page on LOB%, a Youtube video, and an excel chart.

Year LOB%
2012 75.1%
2013 75.8%
2014 77.3%
2015 64.8%
Career 74.2%

Most pitchers have LOB%s around league average (which is approximately 70-72%, depending upon the season), and pitchers that deviate from that average tend to see their numbers regress towards average in the future. In other words, if you see a pitcher with a 60 LOB%, they are letting lots of runners score so their ERA will be high, but the odds are that they will strand more runners in the future and lower their ERA.

Batted Ball Profile

One thing I like to check first with a hitter or pitcher when looking at why they are performing better/worse than their career average is their batted ball profile.

Year BABIP LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB
2015 0.321 19.40% 52.00% 28.60% 7.70% 10.80%
2013-2014 0.283 20.80% 47.70% 31.50% 8.10% 9.20%

Ventura has swapped some line drives and fly balls for ground balls, and despite fewer fly balls, more are going over the wall on a rate basis. Usually a decrease in line drives and an increase in ground balls is a good thing (line drives are barely ever outs, ground balls are more so).

Year Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
2013-2014 40.80% 30.70% 28.50% 20.10% 54.90% 25.00%
2015 49.60% 29.80% 20.60% 10.50% 56.10% 33.30%
Career 43.2% 30.5% 26.3% 17.5% 55.2% 27.3%

There's a lot more hard contact this year than the previous years, but what does this mean? Doesn't the 198.1 prior innings weigh much heavier than the 76.1 innings this year, and then the total innings of 274.2 for his career? If we regress to his career average then we could expect a better batted ball profile going forward (in regards to ERA).

Plate Discipline

My other quick glance area is the plate discipline profile.

Year O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2013-2014 29.20% 68.60% 48.00% 66.90% 83.90% 78.50% 47.90% 60.80% 10.10%
2015 29.6% 63.2% 45.2% 58.3% 91.6% 79.9% 46.4% 59.9% 9.4%
Career 29.3% 67.2% 47.3% 64.6% 85.8% 78.9% 47.5% 60.5% 9.9%
2015 vs career 0.3% -4.0% -2.1% -6.3% 5.8% 1.0% -1.1% -0.6% -0.5%

Ventura is getting basically equal results on most of his peripherals, but there are a few that stand out.

Hitters are swinging at less pitches in the zone. In theory this is a good thing as they are taking called strikes.

Hitters are swinging at an identical amount of outside pitches, but they are making much less contact (whiffing more. This as well is a good thing.

Though hitters are swinging at less strikes, they are making more contact on those strikes when they do swing. That isn't a good thing of course.

Batted ball velocity

Ventura has the 3rd highest batted ball velocity. This could potentially be a concern, but could this also be due to his pitch velocity?

Rank Pitcher BB MPH Avg Velo
1 Robbie Ray 92.08 93.2 MPH
2 Matt Andriese 91.77 91.3 MPH
3 Yordano Ventura 91.59 94.7 MPH
4 AJ Burnett 91.39 91.1 MPH
5 Jarred Cosart 91.28 94.0 MPH
6 Chris Tillman 90.76 91.7 MPH

Eh, not necessarily but none of those guys are slow pitch finesse guys really and Ventura/Cosart/Ray are known for their fastballs.

And those same guys and their ERA and FIP?

Rank Pitcher BB MPH FIP ERA
1 Robbie Ray 92.08 2.57 2.29
2 Matt Andriese 91.77 3.11 4.07
3 Yordano Ventura 91.59 5.19 3.69
4 AJ Burnett 91.39 3.01 2.44
5 Jarred Cosart 91.28 5.18 5.36
6 Chris Tillman 90.76 4.13 4.96

Ventura and Cosart have the worst ERA there, but Ventura has been much better by FIP.

It doesn't seem like having a high batted ball velocity means poor results necessarily from the top five above.

What about guys with a similar FIP to Ventura?

Pitcher ERA FIP BB MPH
Nate Karns 3.63 3.71 89.09
Hector Santiago 2.30 3.70 88.79
Yordano Ventura 5.19 3.69 91.59
Yovani Gallardo 2.91 3.68 87.85
Jeff Locke 4.01 3.68 87.13

Ventura has by far the fastest batted ball velocity of the guys above, and notice how they are all at least 1+ run better by ERA too.

Now how about guys with a similar ERA to Ventura?

Pitcher ERA FIP BB MPH
CC Sabathia 5.25 4.32 88.17
Drew Hutchinson 5.19 3.75 87.98
Yordano Ventura 5.19 3.69 91.59
Jeremy Hellickson 5.04 4.04 89.24
John Danks 4.98 4.48 86.88

As you expect Ventura stands out on both charts and sheets. It's a small sample of guys, but I'm not sure Ventura's batted ball velocity is the cause of his struggles when others with similar velocity, FIP, and ERA aren't necessarily.

Heatmaps

Ventura has been hit a bit harder on pitches down the middle, but it's pitches down the middle...they're supposed to get him hard usually. He has been better though in almost every section of the strike zone. One zone of concern though is low and in to lefties/down and away to righties, as hitters are hitting .500+ more slugging points better.

In conclusion

The various projection systems have the Royals playing as ~.500 team. That's still a 90 win team. I'll take that, and the Royals are in a pretty good position to win the division. However the one good way to fulfill that ~.500 prophecy is to demote your teams best pitcher.

Is Ventura the teams best pitcher? You tell me. Actually, I'll just show you.

By fWAR you could make the case that Volquez has been the best, but Volquez has also thrown 45 more innings than Ventura has.

How about on a WAR/180IP?

Most importantly though, how does the rotation project going forward using Fangraphs depth chart projections?

I mean...seems pretty easy to me. Ventura has not only been the best pitcher the Royals have this year, but he's projected to continue to be the best by some good measure going forward too.

The demotion was just a poor, poor, poor move in my opinion, and I think I've got some decent data above to back up the claim. Not only did the Royals demote their best pitcher (for again...qualitative reasons) but that now means they will be giving more innings to pitcher not projected to be as good as Yordano Ventura.

Scott McKinney put it perfectly yesterday.

The #HotTakes will be right once Ventura regresses back to his career averages, and Yost, Dayton, et all will be right/redeemed/vindicated/justified for sending Ventura down despite a "butt load" of evidence saying they shouldn't have done so.

I know it may only be fore 10 days, or now that Vargas is injured maybe they'll call him right back up, but there's a good chance Ventura is going to miss at least two major league starts. That doesn't necessarily impact the Royals over the next few months, but it doesn't help them.

Here's my question though: what is Ventura going to learn in AAA? Seriously. Please answer that. What can he do to be more mature? What does he have to learn in AAA that the 200+ innings in the MLB he has and near 100 innings in AAA previously that he can't learn in his next rotation turn?

And for those of you who think it worked for Moustakas?

Pre-demotion: 50 wRC+

Post-demotion: 87 wRC+

Sure, he was better, but it was also months more sample size and he was still a 13% below average hitter. In the 2nd half of 2014 he was as good a hitter as Elvis Andrus.

How about Alex Gordon in 2010?

Pre-demotion: 90 wRC+

Post-demotion: 84 wRC+

Gordon was as equal a hitter in the 2nd half of 2010 as Placido Polanco and Orlando Hudson.

Billy Butler in 2008?

Pre-demotion: 79 wRC+

Post-demotion: 99 wRC+

Hey, there's an improvement from a below average hitter to an average hitter. However, Butler had a total of 360 MLB plate appearances to his name before the demotion.

Gordon had 1400 and Moustakas had 1600. These guys weren't still getting acquainted to major league pitching. There is no magic reset button, at least not one that can be found through a couple weeks in the minors...

Here's one last thing I want to put out there. The Blue Jays, like the Royals, are continually in discussions to attempt to bolster their rotation. Both the Royals and the Blue Jays project to be near the bottom of the league projection wise from their rotation for the rest of the season. The Blue Jays have a young starter in their rotation going through a similar phase as Ventura in Drew Hutchinson. Hutchinson, like Ventura, was the Blue Jays opening day starter.

Name Age K/9 BB/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP xFIP E-F
Yordano Ventura 24 7.66 2.95 0.321 64.80% 5.19 3.69 3.68 1.50
Drew Hutchison 24 8.13 2.77 0.350 66.40% 5.19 3.75 3.87 1.44

Rest of season projection:

Name ERA IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Yordano Ventura 3.70 71 7.93 3.23 3.69 0.9
Drew Hutchison 4.11 69 8.3 2.79 3.92 0.9

Hutchinson is scheduled to start tomorrow, and the Blue Jays have demoted players around him.

So no Andy. This isn't how championship clubs do/should act.