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2016 Season Preview: Yordano Ventura

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Is this the year he becomes a true staff ace?

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It was just recently announced that the 24 year-old flame thrower will be relegated to the middle of the rotation to begin the season.  I tabbed Yordano Ventura as the favorite to get the nod for Opening Night, but the consistency of Edinson Volquez in 2015 prevailed.  Expectations remain sky high for Ventura despite the roller coaster range of outcomes that transpired last year. "Ace" failed to replicate the run prevention he exuded in his breakout campaign of the season prior.

Yordano Ventura

ERA

FIP

IP

K/9

BB/9

WAR

2015 season

4.08

3.57

163.1

8.6

3.2

2.7

2016 Steamer projection

3.53

3.66

175.0

8.3

3.2

2.9

2016 PECOTA projection

4.22

3.74

168.0

8.2

3.4

1.6

2016 ZIPS projection

3.70

3.72

175.0

8.4

3.2

2.7

Bouts with consistency were Ventura’s bugaboo last year, but he morphed back into vintage "Ace" after his 24-hour demotion on July 21st. Following the All-Star break, Ventura won nine games with a 3.56 ERA. Despite the strong finish, his ERA overall in 2015 increased nearly a full run from 2014.

His underlying stats tell us a different story, however. Ventura provided similar value to the club in 2015 in twenty less innings, while improving his strikeout-to-walk rate and ground ball rate in the process. The baseball gods certainly did not do him any favors though, which was at least partially responsible for his less than stellar ERA.

Ventura

ERA

FIP

IP

K/BB

BABIP


GB%

WAR

2014 season

3.20

3.60

183

2.3

.288

48%

2.4

2015 season

4.08

3.57

163.1

2.7

.307

52%

2.7


There are also some positive trends when you take a look at his individual pitch type peripherals, as well as some wise pitch usage adjustments. Let’s start with the heater.  You would think his blazing 96+ MPH fastball would generate a lot of whiffs, but his 7.4% swinging strike rate is only a smidgen better than average.  Ventura loses some effective velocity because he has less extension than your typical pitcher, but in return it does give him half an inch higher vertical movement.  Last year he decided to substitute some four-seams for two-seamers, something I have been hoping for due to the fact it generates 57% grounders without sacrificing velocity.

The curveball took a massive leap forward, becoming an elite offering. The pitch generated a 19% whiff-rate, 8% more than an average spinner.  The shape of it is not phenomenal, with no drastic changes from the previous season. It has league average drop with three inches less horizontal movement than average. So what is leading to all the whiffs? Faster curveballs tend to get the highest swinging strike rates, and his bender ranked second in  all of baseball among qualified starters at 84 MPH.

Curveball Velocity Leaderboard

Name

vCU

SwStr%

Carlos Martinez

85.1

13.4

Yordano Ventura

84.0

19.4

Matt Harvey

83.6

13.6

Carlos Carrasco

83.2

25.7

Corey Kluber

82.7

18.5

Jacob Degrom

81.7

15.7

Gerrit Cole

81.6

12.5

Sonny Gray

81.2

8.2

As you can see, Ventura is in great company in terms of his effectiveness of his curve.  Sonny Gray is the only one in that grouping to fall below the average benchmark for whiffs at 11%.  Pitch sequencing will be key for Ventura to avoid regressing closer to the 14% mark from 2014, because he lacks the ridiculous swerve of a Corey Kluber or Gerrit Cole.  Even with a slight dip in the whiff department it’s still an elite pitch since it results in oodles of grounders, 62% last year.

Ventura has a strong foundation with the pitches outlined thus far.  His curveball plays best off his fastball, and his two-seamer is a go-to pitch in unfavorable ballparks or for a much needed double play.  Let’s not forget he has a more than respectable change up as well to add to the mix. Admittedly, I have a strong affinity for his arsenal.

What's working in the change ups favor?  More than four inches of vertical drop in comparison to his fastball, with a 9 MPH velocity gap from his fastball to boot.  His average fade and a slightly above average ground ball rate is just fine as well.  The downside? It gets bombed when it hangs up in the happy zone.  Luckily, it only results in a 20% fly ball rate because over a third of the time it was in the air, it left the yard.

If Ventura can avoid predictable counts as often as possible, he has everything in his tool box to live up to the lofty expectations since the renowned nickname "Ace" took root.  His maturation as a pitcher has been quite impressive, and while it might only be subtle improvements across the board, he should be fully blossomed soon, health permitting.

What do you expect out of Ventura in 2016?