Ok, so, we know that Yordano Ventura has other, non-performance-related issues. Throw out that stuff for a second or two or five and focus just on his performance on the field. Let’s remind ourselves of what our young, supposed ace has done so far.
In year two of his extension signed at the beginning of last season, Ventura has an ERA / FIP / xFIP triple slash of bad / bad / worse (5.32 / 5.29 / 5.62). *Shudders*. He’s not striking many people out, and he is walking a ton of people. The difference between his strikeout rate and walk rate, a better measure than K/BB ratio for whatever you think that measures, ranks second to last, tied with Martin Perez, at 3 percent. That’s all bad.
With Ventura, who throws fire, it all starts with an extinguishment, which I think is a bad way of saying his fastball has been bad. FanGraphs has linear weight values assigned to a pitcher’s pitches, which help say whether or not a pitch has been valuable in terms of the outcomes of each pitch. Negative numbers are bad, and Ventura’s numbers this year are more negative than before.
Adjusted for the number of times he’s thrown it, the pitch has steadily declined from 0.39 (good!) in 2014, his good season, to -0.50 last year to -1.23 this year. The following heat maps should make it fairly clear what’s going on.
2014 Ventura fastballs
2015 Ventura fastballs
2016 Ventura fastballs (excluding his most recent start)
You’ll notice that the heat maps themselves don’t actually look too different from 2014 to 2015. The blobs are kind of in the middle and a little up. However, notice the color legend showing the range represented by the colors. Legends are so important in data visualization. In the 2014 image, the darkest red represents a much higher concentration of fastballs than in the 2015 image. So, while the blob looks somewhat similar, it’s actually quite a bit more spread out in 2015 than 2014.
That trend turned out to be a harbinger of doom for 2015. The darkest blob is smack dab in the middle of the zone, but it represents an even lower concentration than 2015. Ventura’s fastball distribution is completely erratic compared to previous years. More than ever before, Ventura is having trouble throwing his fastball for strikes.
Hitters don’t really care for the pitch anymore because of it. They can lay off the pitch when it’s not middle-middle — the whiff rate on Ventura’s four-seam fastball has gone from 11.2 percent in 2014 to 5.0 percent this year. This decline in fastball effectiveness is reflected in the production allowed on the pitch as well. Ventura allowed a .222 BA and .339 SLG in 2014 on his four seamer. Those figures have risen to .326 and .620, respectively, this year. That’s awful. There have been 24 plate appearances that ended with the four seamer and ended with a walk or strikeout. 19 of those have been walks.
There is a little velocity decline, and there are some changes with movement. However, those things pale in comparison to the fact that Ventura appears to have no clue where the fastball is going when he throws it.
To me, it looks like Ventura’s mechanics are out of whack. In his most recent non-ejected start, his mechanics were wild and unbalanced. There’s a lot of talk about his flourishes after he finishes throwing, but really he’s done that since he came into the league. He’s experimented with how he starts the windup in various ways. I think balance is probably a big thing.
What if it’s simple ... fatigue? I'm aware this is falling back on more "old school" thought processes, but what if his body is just no longer able to sustain the velocity with an MLB workload? He seemingly can’t repeat his mechanics, he’s wild, and his velocity is a little bit down. This could be wrong -- his velocity has ticked up since his May 6th start against Cleveland.
Without a much more in depth video review, I can only speculate in a mostly uninformed manner. What I do know is that Ventura’s bread and butter, the fastball, is completely ineffective.