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One adjustment could turn Yordano Ventura into an ace

Yordano Ventura has some of the best pure stuff of any starting pitcher in the major leagues, and his talent suggests that he can be an ace. Despite his struggles this season, Ventura may be just one adjustment away from reaching his lofty ceiling.

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Yordano Ventura is an exceptional talent and one of the few starting pitchers with an 80 grade fastball (per FanGraphs). At his best, Ventura is able to spot 98 on a corner while keeping hitters honest by mixing in two quality offspeed pitches. At his worst, Ventura leaves his heater over the plate and in spite of the velocity, hitters are able to square him up with authority.

Ventura at his best holds opponents to a .211/.289/.326 slash line with a .276 wOBA and a 20.7% strikeout rate in 242 plate appearances. This is top-of-the-rotation production.

Ventura at his worst allows opponents to hit .356/.394/.589 with a .416 wOBA and a 15.5% strikeout rate in 161 plate appearances. These are not suitable numbers for a starting pitcher on a contending team.

The first set of numbers is Ventura from the windup, and the second set of numbers is Ventura from the stretch. While the sample size is not large and the data is coming from a half season of starts, there are reasons to believe that the difference in his effectiveness from the windup and stretch is not a fluke. I believe that Ventura’s mechanical timing and repeatability suffer drastically during the stretch, leading to inconsistencies with his ability to command his pitches and limiting his effectiveness.

When in the windup, Ventura takes a small step forward with his left foot, bringing his feet parallel to the same position from which he begins his motion from the stretch. There is very little momentum generated from this step, but he does use it to help time the rest of his delivery.

Ventura from the windup just before the start of leg lift. The similarities to the stretch are very apparent.

From the stretch, Ventura employs both a modified leg kick and a slidestep. His time when using the modified leg kick to the plate is 1.3 to 1.4, while the slidestep cuts down his time to home as low as 1.1. From the windup, his time to home from the start of leg lift to the ball crossing home plate (i.e. the part of his windup that is the same as his stretch) is 1.5 to 1.6.

This means that Ventura alters his time to the plate from the start of leg lift to the ball crossing home plate up to a massive 0.5 seconds between the windup to the slidestep. Consequently, he must speed up all aspects of his delivery, while maintaining the same timing of the actions within his delivery. This is very difficult for a pitcher to do, especially a young pitcher such as Ventura.

The ripple effects of varying the time from the start of leg lift to the ball crossing home plate are many. While a modified leg kick or slidestep allows the lower body to be quicker, a pitcher must find other ways to cut down on the time for the upper body so it can stay in sync with the quicker lower half. Ideally, a pitcher will simply start his upper body sooner, breaking the hands very shortly after beginning leg lift in the slidestep, so that the arm path is not compromised.

Ventura shows some ability to do this, but there is a clear lack of rhythm and he has trouble repeating it. Instead of having timing mechanisms like in the windup (first step, raising the hands during leg lift), there is nothing to help him repeat the initial timing out of the stretch. Initiating leg lift and breaking the hands from the slidestep/modified leg kick are two independent actions, and there is nothing else in his delivery to help him maintain consistent timing between these actions.

Ventura just after hands break from the slidestep (above) and windup (below). The upper body is similar in both images, but the lower body is vastly different.

If the initial timing of the upper body and lower body is off, other parts of the delivery may be compromised. Common consequences include shortening the natural arm path and delaying trunk rotation (upper body, squaring the shoulders to home plate) to excess. If the timing of the upper body is ahead, pitchers often are forced to enter foot strike prematurely, lose valuable degrees of hip-shoulder separation, and gain unwanted lateral momentum to the glove side. Many of these unwanted compromises to mechanical efficiency are often present in Ventura’s motion from the stretch, which leads to frequent adjustments and counter-adjustments. With the repeatability lacking, command suffers, and instead of hitting the outside corner with 98 MPH heat, Ventura’s fastball will leak over the middle of the plate and become much more hittable.

Sometimes Ventura gets it right out of the stretch, as he still strikes out 15.5% of batters he faces. A pitcher with his arsenal, however, should have better results than that. His average fastball velocity of 96.1 MPH is third among pitchers with at least 90 innings this year, and his 55 curveball and 45 changeup back his 80 fastball well (pitch grades via FanGraphs). Interestingly enough, Ventura has walked just 6.8% of hitters from the stretch compared to 7.9% from the windup. However, lower walk totals do not necessarily imply better command. Any pitcher can throw a pitch in the strike zone to avoid a walk, but commanding the baseball within the zone to throw quality strikes to the corners is another issue measured separately.

To remedy the situation, Ventura would benefit from synchronizing the timing in his delivery (beginning with the start of leg lift) from the windup and stretch. Instead of having to master the muscle memory and timing of three different motions (slidestep, modified lift, and full lift from the windup), Ventura would benefit from consistency of timing in his delivery from stretch and windup. I believe he should abandon the slidestep completely and then use the same leg lift and timing in the stretch that he uses in the windup. Sure, this will make him slower to the plate, but if it means that he can reach the level of effectiveness that he has from the windup it will be well worth the few extra stolen bases. When hitters are slugging .589 against Ventura out of the stretch, this issue ought to be addressed first and prioritized over controlling the running game.

The necessary change should not be a large one. Ventura gets to a stretch position in his windup anyway, and it seems reasonable to expect him to be able to achieve similar mechanical timing and efficiency starting from that position in the stretch. If so, we should then expect his effectiveness and results from the stretch to mirror his results from the windup. Even if he is slow to the plate, any pitcher consistently holding opponents to a .276 wOBA is elite and worth a few added steals. If he can sort out his stretch mechanics to mirror his windup mechanics, I believe Ventura can have the same success out of the stretch as in the windup, and reach his ceiling as a top-of-the-rotation starter.

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Dan Weigel is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow his tweets about pitching and international baseball at @danweigel38.