Yordano Ventura: Buy or Sell?
Fireballing Royals rookie Yordano Ventura was one of the main reasons Kansas City finished 2nd in their division, earned a Wild Card, won the Wild Card game (although he nearly blew that one), and won two playoff series versus the Angels and Orioles before eventually falling to the Giants in the World Series. Ventura finished the regular season with 14 wins, a 3.20 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP, 159 strikeouts and 69 walks in 183 innings. He added another 25.1 innings of that same 3.20 ERA in the post-season to cap off an excellent rookie year. His owners in dynasty leagues are thrilled not only with his 2014 production but also with his high trade value and the limitless possibilities for the youngster to become even better as he learns his craft and matures into a savvy veteran.
“Ace” Ventura is neither big nor tall, but he can really bring the heat with a fastball that averaged 98.3 mph on the season, which was the fastest of all starting pitchers in baseball this season and maybe ever. He reached 100 mph dozens of times. This is a bit worrisome because pitchers who throw that hard often carry a high risk of injury, especially slightly built pitchers like Ventura. Just how long can a 6’0″ 180 lb pitcher throw the ball that hard? Unfortunately not very long if history has anything to say about it. That makes Ventura a risky bet to own for the long term in dynasty leagues.
You may have noticed one of the stats in his line does not look like all the rest. His WHIP of 1.30 ranks only 63rd out of the 88 qualifying starting pitchers. His 3.20 ERA ranks much better at 27th. Why was Ventura’s WHIP so far inferior to his ERA? He wasn’t unlucky in terms of BABIP. In fact his .288 mark was slightly lower than the .295 league average so we can’t blame the high WHIP on bad luck. The biggest reason is the base on balls. He allowed 3.39 free passes per 9 innings, which ranked him an unpleasant 78th out of the 88 qualifiers. League average is 2.79, so his 3.39 mark is quite a bit worse than average and that is not a good thing.
Considering Ventura’s uber-elite velocity it is a bit strange that he doesn’t strike out more batters. His strikeout rate of 7.82 K/9 ranked him 34th out of 88 qualifiers. That’s not bad but it is not all that good either. That might not be a problem in real baseball, but in fantasy it is because Ks are a key scoring category. Ventura’s strikeout rate is not enough to overcome his poor walk rate, leaving him with a 2.30 K/BB ratio that is decidedly subpar, ranking 68th out of the 88 qualifying pitchers. Frequent readers of my columns will remember that my favorite tool for predicting the future performance of pitchers is K%-BB%, and Ventura’s 11.5% is less than the 12.7% league average. So we can see some clear warning signs that Ventura’s 2015 season may not be as good as his excellent 2014 season was.
Ventura did benefit from a fortunate strand rate of 77.3%, which is higher than the league average of 73.0%. Some of that can be explained by the Royals’ solid team defense, which should be expected to take a few hits away from the batters Ventura faces with men on base. Barring a lot of personnel changes in Kansas City the good defense should continue, so the elevated strand rate should not be construed as a sign of impending regression for Ventura next year. His 0.69 HR/9 was also fortunate, but Kaufman Stadium is a tough place to hit home runs, so once again we can expect Ventura to continue to allow fewer home runs than his fly ball rate would otherwise predict in a neutral ballpark.
Given what we have learned about Ventura’s peripheral stats thus far, it will come as no surprise that his 3.20 ERA was much better than his 3.74 xFIP and 3.87 SIERA. This is a problem because xFIP and SIERA are much better at predicting the future. We should expect Ventura’s ERA to go up by at least half a run next year unless we can find a reason why Ventura should continue to outperform his peripherals. The good news is the Royals play in a ballpark that suppresses home runs and they have a good defense. But the defense may not be quite as good as advertised during the playoffs — the Royals had the 12th best team Defensive Efficiency Ratio in the majors, which is above average but not by all that much. Secondly, Kaufman Stadium does suppress home runs quite harshly, but it doesn’t actually suppress runs. Despite its reputation to the contrary, over the last three seasons the ballpark has been very slightly hitter-friendly, ranking 11th among the 30 parks with a 1.019 Run Factor. This means we should not expect Ventura to pitch much better than his xFIP and SIERA indicate he will.
Ventura throws a fastball 70% of the time, which is a very high percentage. That is a bit misleading however because he utilizes three variations on the heater — a standard 4-seamer, a sinking 2-seamer and a cutter. He also uses a changeup and a curveball. That is a deep, varied mix of pitches for a a 23 year old youngster. The sinker is the least effective of the bunch, while the curve is the most effective. When you throw a 98 mph fastball 70% of the time, hitters are going to be taken by surprise when you sneak in a good curveball.
Let’s take a look at where Ventura ended up being ranked according to the various fantasy scoring systems:
Yahoo 5×5 leagues: 46th among all starting pitchers
CBS 5×5 leagues: 41st
CBS Points leagues: 45th
ESPN Player Rater: 48th
That is actually pretty unusual for a player to be ranked so closely on all the different scoring systems, as you may remember from some of the Smackdown articles I have been writing here on TDG. What it means is that Yordano Ventura was a top 50 pitcher in fantasy leagues in 2014. What about next year? I mean, that is what we really want to know isn’t it? How good is he going to be for my team in 2015? Let’s find out in the verdict…
Looking forward to the 2015 season I would expect a stat line similar to this year but with a slightly higher ERA. Something along the lines of 13 Wins, 3.65 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and about 180 strikeouts in 200 innings. I think he will improve his strikeout rate as he learns to harness his repertoire. He will be allowed to pitch deeper into games and accrue additional innings. Walks will continue to be a problem. He will lose at least half a mph each season. He carries a higher than normal risk of injury. If he stays healthy I would expect him to be a top 65 starting pitcher. He is a #4 or #5 fantasy starter in 12 team leagues. The bottom line is that his value right now is likely higher than it will be next offseason. I recommend trading him now while his role in the Royals’ dream playoff run is fresh in everyone’s mind. If you can advertise Ventura as a fireballing young stud destined for greatness you should be able to get a legit top 40 starting pitcher for him if not better.If you can swap him for a similarly ranked pitcher like Jake Arrietta, Collin McHugh, Matt Shoemaker or Tyson Ross then I would do it. There is certainly a possibility that Ventura will continue to improve to the point where he develops into a legitimate Top of Rotation elite starter. By trading him you would be missing out on that upside, but I am not a gambling man. I will sacrifice that upside to obtain a pitcher who has already proven his ability to provide better peripherals and stellar fantasy production. Cash in that high trade value based on his name recognition, elite velocity and youth to sell high on Ventura this offseason.
Am I full of crap or do you agree with me? What are your thoughts on Ventura? Are you buying or selling? Are there any other players you are wondering about? Let me know in the comments below!
I have been spending this offseason focusing on starting pitchers. To crush your competition, improve your pitching staff by reading these recent columns as well: