Coming into the season, much of the hype surrounding young pitchers centered on guys like Danny Salazar, Masahiro Tanaka, Gerrit Cole, Archie Bradley, and Noah Syndergaard. The Kansas City Royals, however, opted to hand over the fifth-starter role to the flame-throwing righty, Yordano Ventura, who had limited hype and never rocketed his way up draft boards.
He burst onto the scene in 2013, consistently hitting triple-digits with his fastball and striking out over a batter per inning in Double-A and Triple-A. The 22-year-old struggled slightly after being promoted to the big leagues, which stifled the hype as we approached the 2014 regular season, but fantasy owners who swiped him late in their drafts are celebrating Ventura’s stellar month of April. He has compiled a 1.50 ERA (2.69 FIP) and has been a quality source of strikeouts.
The goal of this brief article isn’t so much to tout his first five starts of the 2014 season, as it’s rather to isolate a couple factors that lead me to believe Yordano Ventura is poised to find significant success as a major-league starter throughout the remainder of the year.
The focus often revolves around his tremendous fastball — and rightly so — but he’s only throwing his fastball 59.0% of the time this year. That’s a marked decrease from a year ago, and it’s been accompanied by an increase in usage of his changeup. He only threw his changeup in 6.6% of his pitches in 2013. That percentage has increased to 22.8% in 2014. That’s not only significant because it offers another offspeed pitch to keep guys from zeroing in on his fastball, but also because it’s something that should help him neutralize lefties better than he did a year ago in his brief big-league promotion.
In 2013, Ventura held lefties to a slash line of .211/.318/.368, but his 5.06 BB/9 walk rate and 1.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio suggested he may have problems with left-handed batters in a larger sample size. Fast forwarding to this season, his performance against lefties has been helped by a .229 BABIP; however, his 2.80 K/BB ratio versus lefties is almost identical to his 2.83 K/BB ratio versus righties. While those strikeout-to-walk ratios are not otherworldly by any stretch of the imagination, Ventura did almost double his ratio against lefties from a year ago. That’s notable and can likely be traced back to his altered repertoire.
Furthermore, despite the 6.46 K/9 strikeout rate from a year ago in his three big-league starts, the right-hander appears that he will be a terrific source for strikeouts as the season progresses. His 12.3% swinging-strike rate is currently 10th-best among qualified starters, and his 32.6% O-Swing% is in the top-30. However, I believe his strikeout rate will remain high throughout the remainder of the season because his repertoire generates whiffs from top to bottom.
Yordano Ventura owns a higher swinging-strike rate on each one of his individual pitches than the league average. That’s impressive in its own right, but more practically, it seems to suggest he possesses multiple weapons upon which he can rely if one specific pitch happens to not work during a specific start or specific inning.
Two quick clarifications, though: (1) these league-average numbers come from an article written in February by our own benevolent leader, Eno Sarris, and (2) don’t put too much stock in his cutter being a true swing-and-miss pitch because he has only thrown 19 cutters, which means it’s either an extremely minor portion of his arsenal or a random categorical anomaly in the PITCHf/x algorithm.
But in terms of maintaining high strikeout numbers as we move forward in the 2014 campaign, I feel more comfortable projecting a guy with multiple plus-pitches to do so than a guy with one great pitch and two or three average or below-average pitches.
Yordano Ventura possesses a plus-repertoire with an overwhelming fastball, and he pitches in a pitcher-friendly venue in Kauffman Stadium, which should hopefully keep his home-run numbers in check. Fantasy owners obviously shouldn’t be projecting a sub-2.00 ERA over 25-to-30 starts. Ventura, however, appears capable of posting something around a 3.50 ERA on the year. His Steamer projection throughout the remainder of the season sits at a 3.84. As long as the strikeouts remain — and it appears they should — he absolutely remains a solid fantasy starter in all formats and has the potential to be a breakout guy if his home-run numbers don’t go too crazy over the next four or five months.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).