Buying Yordano Ventura & Sonny Gray

Pitchers seemingly undergo true talent level changes far more frequently than hitters do, especially on a game by game basis. The velocity and movement of a pitcher’s pitches, along with his command, on any given day go a long way toward determining his fate. Let’s talk about two pitchers who struggled earlier in the year. One of whom we may never know for sure what the root cause of his issues were, while the other was almost surely injury related.

Yordano Ventura

In my May American League starting pitcher tiers update posted early that month, I dropped Ventura a tier despite running a perfectly respectable 3.67 ERA. The problem was a gruesome 22/20 K/BB ratio in 27 innings, resulting in an ugly 5.83 SIERA. Sure enough, since posting the tiers update, his good fortune has disappeared, as his ERA has predictably risen toward that SIERA, sitting at 4.99 since his May 6th game. I was so sure that Ventura was hiding an injury, most likely to his elbow. Aside from the control issues, his velocity was down as well. Ring the alarm bells!

But now I’m getting encouraged. On May 17th, his fastball velocity jumped from 94.8 mph his previous game to 96.5 mph. He had never sat above 95.5 in a game before that, so this was significant. Since that game, his velocity has not fallen below 95.2. Even better? He has shown the best velocity of the season over his last three games, with marks of at least 96.7 mph and his last game peaking at 97.5 mph. Check out his season velocity trend:

Yordano Ventura 2016 Velocity Trend

Now that’s a trend you like to see! Let’s break his season into three parts, before the velocity spike and then two ranges after the spike:

Yordano Ventura Game Trends
Date Range GS FBv K% BB% GB% Zone% F-Strike% SwStk% SIERA ERA
4/8 to 5/11 7 94.4 15.4% 16.6% 46.9% 45.8% 54.4% 8.4% 6.14 4.62
5/17 to 6/2 4 95.7 13.6% 6.4% 38.4% 53.7% 60.9% 4.0% 5.02 5.11
6/7 to 6/17 3 97.1 25.7% 1.4% 58.0% 48.6% 57.1% 11.2% 2.50 3.57

I initially wanted to break his season into just two ranges, but that middle section above wasn’t as good as I thought, so I elected to separate those games from his last three that really saw his performance spike. You’ll notice that his velocity has continued its upward trajectory, and although that did not actually translate into more swinging strikes and a higher strikeout rate initially for his first four game (the middle row), it certainly has over this last three. More importantly, he is now throwing strikes at a respectable rate and his walk rate isn’t so bloated.

The velocity spike and dramatically improved control has quelled all my concerns about a possible hidden injury. The popular preseason breakout candidate looks to be back into such form and if his owner hasn’t dropped him or noticed his massive recent improvements, now is the time to buy. The only concern now remains with his personality and ability to stay on the field on avoid suspension!

Sonny Gray

Gray entered the season looking like an ace, after having posted an ERA no higher than 3.08 since he debuted in 2013. However, he has accomplished such impressive results with majorly suppressed BABIP marks, so we had to question how sustainable his success was. Did he have some sort of real BABIP suppression skill, was it simply good fortune, or a combination of both?

After his first nine starts of the year, his grotesque 6.19 ERA suggested that Gray had been riding the coattails of good ‘ole lady luck this whole time. His BABIP skyrocketed to .318, which was part of the explanation behind the unsightly ERA. But soon after that ninth start, he landed on the disabled list with a strained right trapezius. Ah hah! Was he hurting this whole time, which had led to the poor results and deterioration in his underlying skills?

Like we did with Ventura above, let’s take a look at Gray’s important metrics from before and after his DL stint:

Sonny Gray Game Trends
Time Period GS FBv K% BB% GB% Zone% F-Strike% SwStk% SIERA ERA
Pre-DL 9 92.4 18.5% 10.8% 52.9% 48.1% 60.4% 8.0% 4.67 6.19
Post-DL 4 93.7 19.2% 4.0% 53.9% 48.4% 70.7% 8.3% 3.56 3.28

Would you look at that. He gets healthy and suddenly his velocity surges 1.3 mph. You know what he averaged all of last year? 92.9 mph. As you can see by the strikeout rate and SwStk%, curiously the velocity spike hasn’t yet translated into more whiffs and strikeouts. But it’s obviously a good sign, and assuming you don’t give up control, you prefer more velocity to less. Really, the biggest improvement, like Ventura, is with his control. Though he’s throwing a similar rate of pitches inside the zone, check out that F-Strike% since returning from his DL stint! That has undoubtedly helped push his walk rate down to just 4.0%.

It surely seems like Gray is back to being Gray. His BABIP hasn’t dropped down to his previous suppressed levels though, likely thanks to a weak Athletics defense that ranks last in baseball in UZR/150. However, the team also ranked second to last in 2015 and yet Gray still posted a .255 BABIP. He should be back to being a pretty good mixed league asset, even if BABIP suppression proves to be missing from his true skill set.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

Would you drop Joe Ross to make the grab on Ventura? (K/ERA/WHIP/K/9/QS)