Pat Venditte Arrives

The A’s and Red Sox are both last-place teams so perhaps you weren’t riveted to your screen Friday night when the two met for the first of a three-game set in Boston. If not, you missed the major-league debut of a 29-year-old relief pitcher. Your life is undoubtedly sadder now. But have no fear because you’ve stumbled upon this here article which will fill you in on said 29-year-old relief pitcher. Settle in for some fun!

We’re not in the habit here at FanGraphs (or, really, anywhere else) of cataloguing the debuts of old relievers, but this one is odd enough to be special. Pat Venditte threw his first major-league pitch Friday night left-handed. It was to Brock Holt the first batter he faced. Then, after Holt grounded out to first base, he threw the first pitch to Hanley Ramirez, the second batter he faced, right-handed. That’s because Pat Venditte is a switch pitcher.

We can start off with this:

That’s the last switch-pitcher, Greg Harris. So, you know, this stuff isn’t easy. Unlike Harris, Venditte has been switch-pitching his whole life so he can actually throw it to the catcher with both arms! But actually, he’s even better than that.

Switch-pitching is a unique skill, but not so much that Venditte was rushed to the majors. The Yankees picked him in the 45th round of the 2007 draft. He didn’t sign, so they picked him again next year, this time in the 20th round. He started his career with the Brooklyn Cyclones Staten Island Yankees and, internet famously, faced a hitter named Nick Giarraputo. Giarraputo was a right-handed hitter so Venditte faced him right-handed. Giarraputo singled and that brought up Ralph Henriquez. Henriquez is, of course, of course, of course, a switch-hitter. So the next seven minutes of the game were basically this:

Eventually either Henriquez got bored of walking back and forth or the umpires made the decision for him, but eventually he batted right-handed and Venditte pitched right-handed. This episode, and many future episodes like it, led to the Pat Venditte Rule which says the pitcher must visually indicate with which arm he is going to throw and then the batter may pick from which side to hit. It should be called the Anti-Venditte Rule.

Still, early on in his career Venditte had his own rule, which is kinda neat. He didn’t have much more than that, though. You might think, with the kind of conviction it takes to draft a guy twice, that the Yankees would be excited about him. If so, they barely showed it. New York made him really earn each minor-league promotion, and despite his minor-league success (a career 10.0 K/9 and 4.00 K/BB) it’s not hard to guess why. It’s because Venditte doesn’t throw hard from either side. He’s an upper-80s guy if he rears back, but mostly he’s in the mid-to-upper 80s, 86, 87 mph, and guys like that need to prove it at every level. If Venditte could throw 95 but walked the park from both sides he’d likely have been taken far more seriously as a prospect. But he didn’t, so it took three years for Venditte to stick at Double-A and two more after that to reach Triple-A. He was, at that point, 27. Along the way he suffered a right shoulder injury but rather than become a full-time southpaw he rehabbed and returned as, well, Pat Venditte. He did pitch through the injury as a lefty though.

Last off-season he became a free agent and signed with the A’s. Because of course. I hope someone is writing a script for this. Brad Pitt can reprise his role as Billy Beane and Paul Rudd can play Venditte in Ambidextrousball. Someone figure out a role for Chris Pratt, quick!

After 33 innings with Triple-A Nashville to start 2015, Venditte got called up. He pitched two innings in Friday’s 4-2 loss in Boston and then faced Dustin Pedroia to close out the Boston eighth after the Oakland bullpen had set Sunday’s game afire. Watching Venditte during those outings you can see why scouts would be reticent to believe in his stuff. First of all, he’s the same pitcher as… himself. He throws the same speed, roughly, from both sides. He might have an extra mph or two from the right side but mostly he’s not going to be called a hard thrower from either side. He has strong control with both arms, which you’d expect from someone with his velocity at the major-league level, but even so his margin of error isn’t much. Aroldis Chapman can miss his spots with regularity and still get batters out because he throws 103 mph. Pat Venditte can’t miss his spots with any regularity or he’ll be back in Nashville.

Here’s what he looks like from both sides.

In addition to having the platoon advantage whenever he isn’t facing a switch-hitter, Venditte throws sidearm, with arm action almost parallel to the ground. It’s easy to see how this would be difficult to face for a same-sided batter. Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy indicated he thought Venditte dropped down further from the left side than he does from the right but despite repeated viewing I wasn’t able to discern whether that’s true or not. Either way, Venditte is like a LOOGY and a ROOGY in one package. In fact, that’s exactly what he his.

His out pitch is a slurvey curveball. I’ve seen it referred to as a slider but he generally throws the pitch in the low 70s which is usually curveball territory (sliders are thrown harder). What’s more, he throws it the same from both sides. It’s from about the same arm angle as his fastball though the snap alters the arm action during the release, but both the fastball and curve are thrown from the side. This gives the curve a wide break across the plate, with more horizontal movement than vertical.

Venditte had some success against Boston hitters, retiring seven of the eight he faced. He did give up some hard contact — a fly ball to right field off the bat of Mookie Betts springs to mind — but nothing crushed or lined too hard. Also he got a bunch of ground balls, which came in handy after a Hanley Ramirez ground-ball single during his first inning of work. He then induced Mike Napoli to ground to second base. It began a double play that got Venditte out of the inning. In addition to strikeouts at the minor-league level, Venditte was quite adept at getting grounders, a skill that will serve him well in the majors, especially if his strikeouts don’t fully translate.

Venditte is a novelty, and is fun to watch, but he’s unlikely to be a force in pen. He can get outs as he has showed in his two appearances, and it won’t get old watching him switch his glove to the opposite hand to face a new batter, but his margin for error will always be extremely low, even with the platoon advantage 90 percent of the time. Still, there are guys who carve out good major-league careers with similar stuff, and Venditte has twice their similar stuff so maybe he can stick around. We should be so lucky.

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8 years ago

I’m not positive, but I believe he was originally throwing from a higher arm slot on his right side prior to his shoulder injury, but then dropped down to the same slot he has on his left to simplify things somewhat.

8 years ago
Reply to  Dan

He also threw significantly harder from the right side before his injury. He was at 90-93 regularly with a high-3/4 slot. Now, as Kory correctly states, he’s at about the same 85-88 with both arms.