I have been a big apologist for Yordano Ventura. I mean, how could you not, if you're a Royals fan? The kid threw bullets from the day he reached the big leagues, showed emotion on the mound, and how could you not love his singing?
Even through his on-field confrontations last year, I defended him. The confrontation with Mike Trout was just a bizarre misunderstanding. The plunking of Brett Lawrie was retaliation for his rough slide the night before - any Royals pitcher on the mound that night would have done the same. His jawing with Adam Eaton that led to a bench-clearing brawl came after Eaton jawed at him for quick pitching, and after Jeff Samardzija had been asking for a fight all night. His tweet criticizing Jose Bautista was just a signal of how social media has crept into baseball conflicts, a voice without a filter.
I gave Yordano Ventura the benefit of the doubt. He was plucked from the Dominican Republic at such a young age, thrust into a wholly unfamiliar country. By age 23 he was in the big leagues, with everyone marveling at his triple digit fastball. By that fall, he was pitching the biggest game of his life, and excelling, tossing seven shutout innings in a must-win, do-or-die Game Six of the World Series, just days after his fellow countryman Oscar Taveras died in car accident.
The confrontations were the product of cultural miscommunication. Or youthful immaturity. Or other teams were picking on the Royals because they resented their success.
Or maybe, just maybe, Yordano Ventura is kind of a jerk.
Is Yordano Ventura completely to blame in this latest incident in Baltimore? No, just like he isn't the only party at fault in all his other incidents. Yordano Ventura is not throwing at hitters for absolutely no reason. Manny Machado is a jerk as well, who was inciting a confrontation. But he's Baltimore's problem. Yordano Ventura is our problem. And he has a pretty disturbing pattern of behavior here.
I loathe the macho unwritten rules of the game, but at least understand, a guy who gets into dust-ups for beaning hitters, in an effort to protect his teammates. I don't condone it, but I get it is part of the "unwritten rules" of the game and the code of conduct, and all that macho stuff.
What is totally bush league, is getting upset because the opposition is running their gums while beating your brains in. Ventura apparently took issue with Machado admiring his fly ball and jawing with Ventura. You want to shut him up? DO BETTER.
Now look, you can win with jerks. Reggie Jackson is a two-time World Series MVP. Dennis Rodman has multiple NBA rings. Heck, the Royals won two pennants with Yordano Ventura. So while Yordano Ventura is a huge embarrassment publicly to the Royals organization and fans everywhere, it frankly would not matter so much if he were not such an embarrassment on the mound right now.
You can sense the frustration with him from the team. The image of the Royals dugout following the altercation spoke a thousand words.
This probably isn't what you want. pic.twitter.com/vboYXfvDn6— Jared Speckman (@Speck60) June 8, 2016
As Jeff Passan at Yahoo! Sports writes,
Recently, inside the Kansas City Royals’ clubhouse, Yordano Ventura was talking about how he planned on hitting Jose Bautista with a pitch the next time he faced him. The people around Ventura rolled their eyes, tired of the bluster, done with the immaturity, hopeful he was playing fugazi instead of the on-field arsonist they’d seen too many times for their liking. Among his teammates and in the Royals’ front office alike, they’ve long waited for Ventura to grow up, only to end up amazed at how he manages to plumb beneath even his own low standards.
The question now is, what to do with Yordano? He is still just 25, with an arm that can reach the high 90s on the radar gun. In his three seasons of pitching there have been 104 qualified starting pitchers, and Yordano is 47th in fWAR, 64th in ERA, and 50th in FIP, not great, but not bad enough that the Royals can really afford to dump him from their pitching-starved organization.
The Royals have at least broached the issue of trading him, but trading him while his value is the lowest would seem to be the most foolish path unless the Royals were absolutely convinced his career has little value at this point. The Royals could send him to the minors, which could possibly be justified by his performance alone, however the team's starting pitching depth is so thin right now, that any alternative option (Dillon Gee? Brian Flynn?) is almost certainly going to give a worse performance, albeit fight-free. Would it send a message to Yordano? Hard to say from the vantage point of armchair psychologist.
The psychoanalysis from fans who have never had a conversation with the guy. Leave it at he needs to pitch better cause that's all you know— Clint Scoles BP (@ClintScoles) June 8, 2016
Most likely, Yordano needs to just pitch through this (after a 7-10 game suspension) and get the message from his manager, his teammates, and his organization, that his behavior is destructive both for the team and himself. What the Royals want is a Yordano Ventura who is throwing bullets and staying out of trouble on the field. Last year, Ventura was perfectly well-behaved down the stretch, with some crediting Edinson Volquez with mentoring him. But this year, the same issue has come up again.
People have praised the Royals clubhouse for years, but what makes a clubhouse is not how well they get along when times are good, it is how they handle problems when things go bad. This is not a young team. There are veterans on this team who have been in this league five, ten years. If Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Edinson Volquez are the leaders they are supposed to be, they will handle Yordano Ventura and get his career pointed in the right direction.
Because the Royals need him. And they need him to stop embarrassing them.