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2016 Season in Review: Yordano Ventura

Fire was thrown with less smoke this year.

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Yordano Ventura is, in a lot of ways, the pitching equivalent of Eric Hosmer. Both are tremendously talented players who have put up very inconsistent seasons, filled with hot and cold streaks. However the perception from many Royals fans seems to be that Eric Hosmer is one of the better players on the team, while Yordano Ventura should be traded out of town. The reality is that both have been just slightly better than average.

2014-2016 AVG OBA SLG
Eric Hosmer .278 .338 .432
AL 1B .252 .328 .433

2014-2016 ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Yordano Ventura 3.91 7.8 3.5 0.9
AL SP 4.16 7.4 2.8 1.1

Like Hosmer, Ventura is prone to long streaks of excellence followed up by long streaks of crumminess. Here is are some selected stretches in his career so far.

ERA IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
First 34 games 3.22 198.1 7.7 3.4 0.8
Next 17 games 5.29 95.1 7.1 2.8 1.0
Next 11 games 2.38 68.0 10.7 3.7 0.4
Next 16 games 5.26 87.1 6.6 4.0 1.3
Next 16 games 3.74 98.2 7.3 3.6 0.9

These are pretty selective endpoints so I'm not sure this means much. The last two sets of games represent his 2016 season and although he improved in the second half, he still wasn't great. Perhaps most troubling was his decling in strikeout rate this year. Despite being armed with the second-fastest fastball in baseball among starting pitchers, his strikeout rate of 6.97 per-nine-innings was 60th among qualified starters, behind guys like Mike Fiers and Jeremy Hellickson, who struggle to hit 90 on the radar gun.

2016 W-L ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 rWAR fWAR
Yordano Ventura 11-12 4.45 4.59 186 6.97 3.77 1.11 1.9 1.5

As Matthew LaMar pointed out during the season, Ventura's fastball may be his biggest problem. The velocity is great, but if hitters know its coming and it is straight as an arrow, the pitch is going to get hammered. According to Fangraphs, Ventura had the tenth-least effective fastball in baseball last year. "Barrels" is a new metric to track high value batted balls, in other words, when hitters have mashed the ball. Ventura gave up the second-most "barrels" in baseball, according to Statcast data from Baseball Savant.

So the fastball was what was wrong, what went right? Well Ventura's curveball has been fantastic. Last year, only Corey Kluber got better results from the bender. Ventura has increased his curveball use dramatically since his rookie season, throwing it just 14% of the time his rookie season, but up to a quarter of the time last year. Perhaps he needs to up that usage even more.

Or perhaps it is a sequencing issue with Ventura throwing fastballs in the wrong situations. Ventura was far below the league average when he was ahead of the count. Opponents hit .242 but slugged .402 with 10 of the 23 home runs Ventura gave up coming when he was ahead of the count. In contrast, American League pitchers as as whole allowed opponents to hit just .207 with a .318 slugging percentage when ahead of the count. Ventura is finding it difficult to put hitters away.

Then there is the matter of his maturity. Ventura did get involved in another confrontation with an opponent this year, this time leading to a brawl between him and Orioles infielder Manny Machado. That was his only big dust-up however, perhaps showing some progress. Frankly, while I think Ventura may be a bit of a jerk, it doesn't seem to be of much concern. After all, they did win two pennants and a championship with him.

There have been some trade rumors surrounding Ventura this winter, and even calls by some fans to deal him because of his failure to reach his potential and his hothead issues. But Ventura is signed to a very club friendly deal that could keep him in Kansas City through 2021, and the lack of starting pitching in the organization makes it very unlikely or wise for the Royals to trade a useful starting pitcher like Ventura. Even at his worst, Ventura seems to be a solid mid-rotation pitcher, and with his electric arm he will always have the potential to put together an All-Star caliber season. If Eric Hosmer could become All-Star Game MVP, why not Yordano Ventura?