Last night, Yordano Ventura once again lived down to his reputation. The video at MLB.com shows not just the 99 mph fastball that drilled Manny Machado in the back in the 5th inning, but the 2nd inning pitches that led Ventura to decide to throw at the Orioles best player. If you haven’t seen the context that precipitated the brawl, this is worth watching.
As referenced by the announcers, this is nothing new for Ventura. Last April, he was unhappy with Mike Trout, and caused the benches to clear by mouthing off after pitching poorly. He was then ejected from his next start for hitting Brett Lawrie with a fastball, and in the start after that, he got the benches to clear by yelling at Adam Eaton after a groundball back to the mound.
As Jeff Passan — who lives in Kansas City and knows more about the Royals than most national writers — noted this morning, Ventura’s act has worn thin, not just with everyone else in baseball, but his own organization as well.
Recently, inside the Kansas City Royals’ clubhouse, Yordano Ventura was talking about how he planned on hitting Jose Bautista with a pitch the next time he faced him. The people around Ventura rolled their eyes, tired of the bluster, done with the immaturity, hopeful he was playing fugazi instead of the on-field arsonist they’d seen too many times for their liking. Among his teammates and in the Royals’ front office alike, they’ve long waited for Ventura to grow up, only to end up amazed at how he manages to plumb beneath even his own low standards.
After the game, Orioles manager Buck Showalter summed up the situation perfectly.
“I’m not happy about it at all,” Showalter said. “I thought he was trying to hit him the at-bat before. That’s why I talked to him before he took his last at-bat. I think he signaled breaking ball and shook to fastball. No, I don’t like when any of my guys are put in harm’s way, especially a guy throwing that hard and having some problems with his command tonight.
“But [its] not the first time. Obviously, it must be something that’s OK because he continues to do it. It must be condoned. I don’t know.”
He continues to do it, so it must be condoned. That’s the message the “police yourselves” suspensions have taught Ventura, who has no problem sticking one of the hardest fastballs in baseball into the backs and arms of baseball’s best players. It’s dumb, it’s petulant, and it’s time for MLB to show Ventura that he either needs to change or he can go find something else to do with his life.
Last year, following the bench clearing incident with the White Sox, MLB suspended Ventura for seven games, which caused him to miss one start. After this latest incident, MLB needs to throw the book at him. The punishments escalate significantly for repeat offenders of other behaviors MLB is trying to curb — a second failed PED test brings a suspension twice as long as a first failed test, for instance — and it’s clear that Ventura won’t be deterred from starting fights by simply missing a start and a week’s paycheck. It’s time for a real suspension that sends a real message.
My suggestion? Suspend him for a month. A 30 game suspension will cause him to miss six starts and will take roughly $150,000 out of his paycheck, and would send the message that the penalties are only going to get more harsh if he continues to believe it appropriate to use his fastball as a weapon. Ventura is a habitual offender at this point, and should be treated accordingly. The only way he’s going to stop starting fights is if baseball convinces him they’re serious about stopping him.
The fact that Passan notes that Ventura’s own teammates are even fed up with his actions — Salvador Perez conveniently runs just slow enough to not catch Machado on his way to the mound, even though Machado took a hop stop and made it clear where he was going — and attitude show how out of hand this has all gotten. I understand that the players want the ability to self-police, and the MLBPA will fight any attempt at a long suspension on Ventura’s behalf, but at some point the adults have to step in and put a stop to the childish behavior. Another one-start suspension will simply reinforce the idea that this is all totally fine, and the next time Ventura decides to act like an idiot, he’ll remember that there’s no real cost to doing so.
Machado, of course, isn’t blameless in this either, and should get a longer suspension than other mound-chargers. Machado got into it with Josh Donaldson back in 2014 after he thought he got tagged too hard, and then threw his bat at (or near, at least) the third baseman a few days later when Fernando Abad came inside with a few pitches; that incident drew a five game suspension for Machado, and earned him a bit of a reputation as well. Maybe 10-15 games for Machado would be a significant enough punishment for him to think twice before starting another fight in the future.
But this time, Machado wasn’t the one putting another player in danger. That was Ventura, again, and it’s time for MLB to step in and tell him that enough is enough. This should be the last time Yordano Ventura gets to decide that throwing at people is part of the game. If he wants to be a fighter, he can go join the MMA. If he’s going to pitch in Major League Baseball, he should have to figure out how to do it without turning baseball into a combat sport. And if he can’t do that, well, then MLB doesn’t need Yordano Ventura.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.