Judging the Royals

Yordano Ventura and the importance of the curve

Kansas City Royals starter Yordano Ventura during Sunday’s game.
Kansas City Royals starter Yordano Ventura during Sunday’s game. The Associated Press

Yordano Ventura can throw a baseball 100 mph. That’s a nice, round number and since so few people on the planet can throw a baseball that hard, it gets our attention — but in some ways, Ventura’s most important pitch is his curve.

If all a pitcher does is throw hard, big-league hitters will time it. They’ll start their swings earlier and earlier and when they get that fastball, they’ll hit it. Just look at Jose Abreu’s sixth-inning homer in Sunday’s White Sox game.

In his first at-bat, Abreu saw two fastballs and grounded out to Eric Hosmer. Abreu is right-handed so if he wanted to hit the ball up the middle, he was a touch late.

In his second trip to the plate, Abreu jumped on the first pitch; another fastball. This time Abreu grounded out to second baseman Christian Colon, so he was starting his swing a bit earlier and moving the ball back toward center field.

In his third at-bat, Abreu saw four straight fastballs — that’s seven fastballs in a row — and hit the seventh one over the center-field wall.

So even though Ventura was throwing in the high 90s, when a quality big-league hitter sees seven straight fastballs, there’s a good chance he’s going to time one of those heaters. In the big leagues, you can’t just throw fastballs.

That’s what makes Ventura’s curve so important.

If the only pitch a pitcher can control is a fastball, hitters will look for that pitch any time the pitcher needs to throw a strike. If a pitcher knows the hitter is looking fastball, throwing an off-speed pitch for a strike upsets the hitter’s apple cart; the hitter’s timing will be off.

When a pitcher demonstrates that he can throw his curve for strikes — and Ventura did that in the first inning — it makes it more difficult for a hitter to sit dead red. And starting early on the heater makes a hitter susceptible to the curve.

Here’s an example: in the bottom of the fourth inning Todd Frazier got two 100 mph fastballs, fouled the second one off and then was about a week early on an 87 mph curve.

Understanding Ventura

The last time I wrote about Yordano Ventura, I asked if he was worth the trouble and never really answered the question; that’s better decided by the people with some skin in the game. Everybody knows Ventura has had a history of on-field flare ups and confrontations, but here’s something worth remembering:

Last season after Ventura acted out on the field, a teammate asked me to go easy on him. The teammate reminded me that Ventura grew up in a different culture, a culture that encourages flare in the field. If you’re a kid playing baseball in Latin America and there’s a scout in attendance, you want to do something that gets you noticed. So that explains some of the “bling” in Ventura’s game.

The teammate also said Ventura grew up in circumstances that required you to fight for what was yours. So that explains some of Ventura’s aggression.

But this is Ventura’s fourth year in the big leagues and it’s time for him to figure out where to set his emotional thermostat — and he’s got a great example sitting a couple lockers away.

Imitate Wade Davis; it isn’t personal

On Sunday, Wade Davis came out to pitch the bottom of the ninth and 14 pitches later the Royals had a win and Davis had his 17th save of the season.

Off the field, Davis will sometimes admit to nervousness, on the field he seems to be completely emotionless. Davis has the demeanor of a Mafia hit man; it’s nothing personal, he’s just going to take you out. No first pumps, no stare downs, no emotion.

And right now Wade Davis might be the most feared pitcher in baseball.

On Sunday, it appeared Yordano Ventura was in control of himself and he had one of his best performances of the season. If Ventura can duplicate that approach on a consistent basis, he becomes a very valuable pitcher.

That doesn’t mean Ventura should give up pitching inside or knocking hitters on their backsides when necessary; just don’t make it personal. If Ventura needs the outside corner opened up, throw a fastball inside, but staring down the hitter afterward is unnecessary.

Imitate Wade Davis: it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

And if Yordano Ventura can stay in control of his mechanics and emotions, the most important curve he throws, is the one he’ll throw to his critics.