There is Good Yordano and Bad Yordano, and the differences are both subtle and explosive. The most promising Royals season in decades could be determined by which they get and when.
Yordano Ventura is the most talented starting pitcher the Royals have had since Zack Greinke. When he is good, he is one of the game's best young pitchers and worthy of a bobblehead giveaway. When he is bad, he is worthy of a demotion to the minor leagues.
And the difference just isn't that big.
“The difference is his lack of ability to get outs with runners on base,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore says. “That's what it is. His strikeout rate, his walk rate, nothing's really changed. His stuff hasn't changed. It's all there.”
Ventura has had a wild week. On Monday, he was good enough in the first inning that Moore wondered about a no-hitter — and then bad enough in the second to give up five hits and four runs.
On Tuesday, he was sent to the minor leagues — the opening-day starter and owner of a $23 million contract extension now viewed as the team's sixth-best starter.
And then, on Wednesday, he was brought back up after Jason Vargas went to the disabled list because of a season-ending elbow injury.
Publicly, the Royals are mostly spinning this, downplaying the significance of the demotion and expressing full confidence in Ventura performing well in his next start that just the day before they had decided he was not good enough to make.
But what Moore is saying is not spin. It's the truth.
Last year, Good Yordano struck out 7.8 batters per nine innings and walked 3.4. A shade more than 21 percent of the balls hit against him were line drives. A metric aimed at eliminating factors outside a pitcher's control calculated he should have had a 3.60 ERA.
This year, Bad Yordano is striking out 7.7 batters per nine innings and walking 3.0. A shade more than 19 percent of the balls hit against him are line drives. That same metric that attempts to eliminate outside forces calculates he should have a 3.69 ERA.
As we said, in many ways the differences are subtle.
But the Royals would not have demoted Ventura if that was the whole story. Those advanced metrics show you that the talent is still there, but Ventura's season is also a terrific example of how advanced metrics can be fraudulent without context.
Because there is very clearly something wrong here. When Ventura first came to the big leagues, other than that 100-mph fastball, coaches and scouts talked most about his composure.
The story about his big-league debut comes to mind here. He walked the first batter he faced on four pitches but got the second to hit a comebacker and calmly started the double play. When he walked off the mound with an 11-pitch inning, he got his first standing ovation.
“He looks like he belongs,” Ned Yost said at the time.
The difference, now, is stark. Ventura's confidence and demeanor — the same things pitching coach Dave Eiland complimented in the beginning — now blow with the wind.
When things are going well, Ventura is all swagger. He finishes pitches with a leg kick, and holds that steely confidence old-time baseball folks love after outs.
But when things are going poorly, Ventura appears weak. He frowns, his shoulders slump, and he often pounds his glove after giving up hits. His lack of composure has been one of the major stories of this season, helping spark bench-clearings with three different teams and a talk from Eric Hosmer about the importance of body language.
Those struggles with composure are directly reflected in the results. A year ago, in the important moments, he was dominant. This year, in those same moments, he is shrinking.
In 2014, big-league hitters managed just a .213 batting average and a .593 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against Ventura with runners in scoring position. This year, they are hitting .343 with a .945 OPS in the same spots.
In 2014, Ventura gave up a .279 average and .768 OPS in what Baseball-Reference defines as high-leverage situations. This year, he is giving up a .400 average and 1.011 OPS in the same spots.
“I don't know what's going on from here up,” said one talent evaluator, holding his hand at his chin. “But from here down he's still very good.”
The scouting theories vary. His fastball velocity is down a tick but remains among the game's best. Maybe his curveball has lost some shape. Maybe his pitch patterns are too predictable. Maybe he's catching too much of the plate and not enough of the corners. Maybe this is the expected hangover from throwing 58 more innings last year than the year before.
Whatever the cause, for an illustration of Ventura's season, you could do worse than his last start. His first inning was as dominant as you are likely to see. He needed just 10 pitches — seven of which hit the edge of the strike zone, according to MLB's Pitch f/x tool — and stayed confidently in rhythm.
The last out came on late-breaking and perfectly placed curveball that froze Andrew McCutchen and rendered his All-Star bat worthless. Ventura walked off the mound like a boss.
His second inning was as bad as anything you are likely to see from a pitcher of Ventura's ability. He threw 30 pitches — 13 of which hit the edges — and visibly lost his confidence. He slapped his glove after hits, required multiple visits to the mound, and made no effort to hide his frustration.
In the first inning, he took an average of 19 seconds between pitches. In the second inning, even after accounting for an umpires' review and the mound visits, it was closer to 26. Baseball people notice these things.
The Royals know they need to get Ventura right. His next start will be Sunday, against the Astros. The Royals saw enough problems and felt enough pressure to hoard bullpen protection that they hoped Ventura could get right in the minor leagues, away from expectations.
The Royals have had good luck with this. Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Kelvin Herrera and Mike Moustakas have each been demoted to the minors and come back to make All-Star teams.
The Royals had reasons to send Ventura down. Now, they're trying to find reasons to believe he can work through his problems in the big leagues. The talent is there. Nobody questions that. It's the rest of it that everyone is talking about.