Yordano Ventura had a chance at career greatness.
In three full seasons with the Royals, he owned a 3.89 ERA, struck out 7.7 batters over nine innings and went 38-31. He surpassed 180 innings pitched in two of those seasons.
The numbers didn’t get Ventura an All-Star invitation, but they were solid. And at age 25 there was every reason to believe Ventura’s best seasons were ahead of him, and in a Royals uniform. He was signed through the 2021 season, a contract that included two club-option years.
Ventura died on Saturday in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic.
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As the Royals looked toward the 2017 season, Ventura was considered a stalwart of the starting rotation, returning along with Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy and Jason Vargas.
Among the club’s returning starting pitchers, only Duffy had started more games or pitched more innings for the Royals than Ventura.
“He was the best pitcher on that staff,” said ESPN baseball analyst Pedro Gomez said Sunday on MLB Network Radio. “He had the most promise.”
In style and stature, Ventura was often compared to fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez. Statistically, his career was shaping up similarly to some other stellar pitchers.
According to baseball-reference.com, Ventura’s statistics are comparable to players such as Jack Morris and Roy Halladay, among others, at the same stage of their careers. Morris and Halladay were multiple-time All-Stars and surpassed 200 victories in their careers.
It’s difficult to project a pitcher’s career course, but Ventura hadn’t experienced serious arm trouble. He averaged 30 starts over his three seasons.
It’s not far-fetched to guess Ventura could have become one of the Royals’ greatest of all-time. Only six pitchers in the organization’s history have 100 career victories — none since Kevin Appier, who last pitched for the Royals in 2004.
Ventura would have approached that number if he averaged 12 victories per season through the end of his contract.
Ventura averaged 153 strikeouts in his three seasons. If Ventura had maintained that average over the next five years, he’d have 1,224, and that would’ve ranked him fourth on the Royals’ all-time list.
“He was so young and so talented, full of youthful exuberance,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “He had a freshness, a fearlessness about the game.”
Ventura was the postseason workhorse, and was the only Royals pitcher to start games in both the 2014 and 2015 postseasons. His nine postseason starts match the club record (with Dennis Leonard). His 46 1/3 innings pitched in the postseason ranks second only to Leonard.
Ventura will always be remembered for the Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, perhaps his best baseball moment, when he pitched seven scoreless innings to help the Royals stave off elimination versus the San Francisco Giants.
But Ventura stepped up in other playoff games, too. He surrendered one run over seven innings in the second game of the 2014 ALDS, a 4-1 extra-innings victory over the Angels.
In the clinching sixth game of the 2015 ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura didn’t get the decision but surrendered just one run over 5.1 innings in the Royals’ 4-3 victory.
Ventura’s career postseason statistics don’t look like much: a 1-2 record and 4.66 ERA. And the part of his career got off to a rocky start. In his only relief appearance, in the 2014 wild-card game against the A’s, Ventura surrendered a three-run homer to the first batter he faced, Brandon Moss.
But the Royals rallied for an unforgettable victory, starting the club’s run of two straight American League pennants and the 2015 World Series championship. The Royals’ record in postseason games in which Ventura appeared was a solid 8-2.