Starting Game 3 of the World Series, the first game in New York, Yordano Ventura will make his ninth playoff start in his young career. Seriously - he is still only 24, and he's signed through as late as 2021 to a very team-friendly deal. Out of those eight starts, he's fashioned two gems, but they were both last year. This year, Ventura has yet to walk off the mound after a completed sixth inning. That could be a function of the consistent quick hook of manager Ned Yost and the anomalous bullpen more than anything else, but Ventura's only decent start was his most recent one in which he gave up only one run in five and a third innings.
As many know, Ventura throws really hard. According to FanGraphs' PITCHf/x data, Ventura ranked 2nd in four-seam fastball velocity just behind Garrett Richards. Ventura ranked first in two-seam fastball velocity just ahead of fellow World Series participant Matt Harvey. Velocity can get a pitcher pretty far in this league - Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Thor of the Kingdom Syndergaard all throw pretty hard, and here the Mets are.
Velocity, however, is not everything. Ventura throws the two-seam fastball (or sinker, if you like, which I do) to get some more run, sink, and ground balls. Small sample size bells, alerts, DEFCON SS37 activated. Below are two charts from Brooks Baseball, the first of which shows Ventura's average sinker velocity by game in the playoffs and the second of which shows Ventura's usage of the sinker by game in the playoffs.
Those are interesting, opposite trends. Ventura used his sinker more and threw it more softly during the game in which he had his best performance of this postseason. The small sample alert should still be tornado-siren-in-your-ear loud still, so let's hit the switch for that alert and move into the realm of larger sample sizes - the regular season.
So that your eardrums remain intact, I went to Baseball Savant for the PITCHf/x data for all of Ventura's 2015 pitches. PITCHf/x's two-seam fastball definition and Brooks Baseball's sinker definition are somewhat similar, but they are not 100% the same. For context, Brooks registered 527 sinkers from Ventura this season, while PITCHf/x has 751. Some of the trends, though, remain the same.
The questions in this analysis are some variants of these: When Ventura takes velocity off his fastball, does he achieve something that helps him get outs easier? Does he get more whiffs (unlikely)? Does he get more horizontal or vertical movement (maybe)? What about batted ball outcomes (maybe)? Will the Coyote ever catch the Roadrunner (nope)? I popped the 2,648 row .csv into Tableau to find the answers (Does anyone have Acme supply chain data? Would love to see the massive blip to the four corners desert area). I bucketed each pitch into 2 mph buckets - 90-92, 92-94, etc.
No, he doesn't get more whiffs (7.6% whiff rate @ 98+, lower whiff rate below 98).
No, he doesn't get more horizontal movement (-9.42 x-mov @ 98+, less movement below 98).
Yes, he gets a little more vertical movement (aka sink) (7.42 y-mov @ 98+, 7.15 y-mov 94-96).
Yes, his batted ball velocity decreases with decreasing velocity, to a point (93 avg mph @ 98+, 88 avg mph @ 94-96). His batted ball velocity allowed increases again in the 92-94 bucket.
I think the reasoning why Ventura induces a bit weaker contact when he takes velocity off the ball is relatively simple: He gets more vertical movement and is able to locate the ball lower. This leads to the relatively weaker contact of ground balls.
Ventura got five grounders and 10 fly balls in that most recent game against Toronto. Whoops. Maybe this will calm the small sample size alerts. Here are Ventura's results in the regular season.
Ventura's sinker has the second-best outcomes in the group. Side note - his curve is straight-up filth, and he throws it more than the sinker and changeup. As far as batted ball outcomes, Brooks Baseball has a 63.7 percent GB rate allowed on the sinker in addition to almost the lowest line drive rate and lowest fly ball rate among his pitches. It's also the hardest pitch to take deep among his four main pitches, and he can throw the pitch for strikes (lowest ball rate according to Brooks Baseball of all his pitches).
The lessons here are these: Ventura needs to remember to throw his sinker, probably take a little off it in terms of velocity, and finish off hitters with the curve. Filthy garbage to go along with his flamethrower four-seam fastball. Dumpster fire. Do it.
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