Yordano Ventura’s Second-Half Secret

Yordano Ventura wanted more movement on his pitches, so he changed his arm slot. He got more movement in some ways, and less in others. He also pitched much better after he dropped his arm slot. It’s tempting to draw a direct line from one fact to the other, but it’s not that simple. There’s at least another huge factor here, and it comes from Ventura’s (secretly) nastiest pitch.

First, let’s look at Ventura’s average vertical release point by game this year. You can clearly see that he dropped his arm slot in July.

VenturaReleasePoint

Here’s what it looks like in images, with an April start on the left and a September start on the right. His arm speed makes his forearm a blur, but you can see the angle is different in these pictures of him throwing four-seamers for strike one.

YordanoEarlyYordanoLate

That arm slot change has cost him some rise on the fastball, which is traditionally linked with infield flies. But Ventura’s career pop-up rate (2.4%) is well below the league average (3.5%), so he wasn’t using that rise to the full extent, anyway. He doesn’t really have the command to take advantage of that high-and-tight spot that creates pop-ups. In return for some rise, Ventura has added about an inch of horizontal movement to his fastballs and changeup.

Brooksbaseball-Chart-34

That movement seems minor, but the results on the pitch have improved after he dropped his arm slot. Here are his four-seam horizontal movement and whiff numbers, indexed to league average.

Ventura Four-Seam Horizontal Movement and Outcomes
Time Period X-Mov+ Whiff+ GB+
2014 124 166 84
Pre-August 2015 135 90 86
August-October 165 114 123
SOURCE: BrooksBaseball.net
X-Mov+ = Horizontal movement indexed to league average (100=average)
Whiff+ = Whiff rate (whiffs/pitches) indexed to league average
GB+ = Ground-ball rate (GB/balls in play) indexed to league average

It seems premature to credit this change as the source of all of Ventura’s better second half, especially since the four-seam was better last year than it has been in the second half this year. And while he’s added horizontal movement on his changeup — from 11% worse than league average to exactly league average over the last month — the results on that pitch have gotten worse over the same time period (from 21% more whiffs and 17% more grounders than average last year to 5% fewer whiffs and 10% more grounders than average).

Let’s look at the sinker through the same lens. Ventura improved the whiff rate on that pitch more than any other pitch in the second half.

Ventura Two-Seam Horizontal Movement and Outcomes
Time Period X-Mov+ Whiff+ GB+
2014 108 124 125
Pre-August 2015 106 71 134
August-October 108 161 115
SOURCE: BrooksBaseball.net
X-Mov+ = Horizontal movement indexed to league average (100=average)
Whiff+ = Whiff rate (whiffs/pitches) indexed to league average
GB+ = Ground-ball rate (GB/balls in play) indexed to league average

If you look back at the movement chart above and ignore October’s single start, you’ll see that the sinker merely re-found its old horizontal movement. But somehow it found many many more whiffs. But this can’t be all of it either — Ventura is throwing the sinker less often in the second half.

Ventura got 16 whiffs on the sinker after August 1. He got 13 whiffs on the sinker up to that date. Yes, it’s in a smaller time frame, but is that leap enough to change a 19% strikeout rate into a 27% strikeout rate after August 1?

Let’s instead look at his curveball, which got 63 whiffs after August 1, almost twice the total of any other pitch. The whiff rate on that curveball actually went down, from 21% to 18%, and he lost some drop on the pitch with the arm slot change (about an inch) as the velocity increased (one tick), but something else changed about the curve: he started throwing it more.

Before August, Ventura used his curve 19% of the time. After August 1, he went to it 29% of the time. It’s his best pitch for whiffs, and he started throwing it more. And his strikeout rate went up.

In fact, that curve is Ventura’s best pitch for his career, if you compare it to league averages in a few important categories. Given the fact that other players stand in awe of Ventura’s “easy cheese” on the fastball, this might be surprising to some.

Yordano Ventura Pitch Peripherals
Pitch Velocity+ Whiff+ GB+
Four-Seam 105 140 94
Two-Seam 105 119 126
Curve 107 161 114
Change 104 118 114
SOURCE: BrooksBaseball.net
Velocity+ = Average velocity indexed to league average (100=average)
Whiff+ = Whiff rate (whiffs/pitches) indexed to league average
GB+ = Ground-ball rate (GB/balls in play) indexed to league average

Yordano Ventura’s four-seamer got a little movement and recovered some of its better outcomes, perhaps as a result of the added movement. Just as important, however, was that he started using his best pitch 50% more often in the late season. Sometimes, the explanation is that simple.





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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free-range turducken
7 years ago

AL hitters HATE him!

Alex Rodriguez's Other Cousin
7 years ago

Send your social security number to ohmygodicantbelievethisactuallyworked@sucker.sucker and I’ll send you 11 pills to boost your muscle growth and back acne. Your doctor doesn’t want you to know about this! *Insert photo of incredibly hot doctor with shocked look on face*