How Yordano Ventura throws 100 ... for now, anyway
MAY 27, 2014 5:00p ET
Boy, talk about your unfortunately timed headlines:
How can you explain Yordano Ventura’s 100 mph pitches?
That was atop an Associated Press story, which I believe first appeared on the Internet just before Ventura’s Monday start against the Astros. Alas, Ventura didn’t throw any hundred-miles-an-hour pitches against the Astros. More on that sad news in a moment, though. First, the explanations ...
It doesn’t seem natural what Yordano Ventura does. Only the biggest, burliest pitchers are supposed throw triple-digit heat. Certainly not a 6-foot, 180-pound-dripping-wet rookie who signed for $25,000 out of the Dominican Republic and not long ago was playing shortstop.
“More than anything it has to do with the timing of the different motions,” Fleisig says.
“You watch it by the naked eye,” he continues, “and it looks like the guy steps, his body moves forward and he throws. But if you do it in slow motion, it’s really a sequence of events. When a pitcher’s stride foot lands, his arm, totally not connected to his leg, has to be at a certain position, and his hips and trunk has to be at a certain position. And if we break these things down to a very small fraction of a second, the best pitchers are sequencing right.”
In science, that sequencing is called a kinetic chain. Ventura’s is nearly perfect.
“What a pitcher has to do to maximize his ball velocity is maximize his timing of different body parts,” Fleisig explains. “That’s not the only thing but it is the most important thing.”
Glenn Fleisig probably knows as much about efficient pitching mechanics as anyone, but I trust his thoughts about Ventura aren’t revelatory for you. Ventura might be the skinniest pitcher who’s ever thrown 100 miles an hour, but he’s hardly the first skinny pitcher who’s thrown really, really hard. Satchel Paige was taller than Ventura, but even skinnier, and he threw really hard. Pedro Martínez was maybe a mite shorter than Ventura, and just as skinny (when he was young), and he threw really hard. In fact, that’s one of the wonderful things about baseball: While it’s certainly become a power game, you don’t have to be big to be powerful.*
* And this goes for hitters, too. Or at least it used to. Ted Williams was skinny, Joe Morgan was small, and Willie Mays was just downright average. At least until he took his shirt off.
Then again, we know Pedro Martínez never threw 100, and I’m fairly certain the same is true of Satchel Paige and Billy Wagner and Tim Linceum. So maybe there really is something truly extraordinary about Yordano Ventura ... or maybe he’s just been willing to test his limits more than most pitchers before him. Unfortunately, testing the limits can lead to things like this:
That happened Monday during the third inning. Ventura never did throw a hundred-miles-an-hour fastball; he topped out at 98, and averaged just 94. Essentially, his fastballs were down by a couple of miles an hour, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but was. Apparently.
The good news is that Ventura’s MRI came back fairly clean, and he’s expected to miss just a start or two -- for now, anyway. Because essentially we’ve never seen anybody like Ventura, it’s difficult to make any predictions with confidence.
Meanwhile, there are other theories about Ventura’s talents:
While there may be a scientific explanation for the way Ventura brings the heat, Royals general manager Dayton Moore offers another suggestion: “I think it’s God-given,” he says.
In truth, the reason Ventura throws hard may be a mixture of science and dogma.
“He was throwing hard at 18, 19 years old,” Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland says. “That’s not something where you can go, ‘Deliver the baseball this way and you’ll throw 100.’ It’s genetics. It must be God-given, you know?”
I know I’m biased, but I would prefer the people in charge to focus a little more on science and a little less on dogma. Yes, there are some genetics involved, but there’s nothing the Royals can do about Ventura’s genetics ... Let alone God. They can do something about the science. It seems to me that if you understand the science of how Ventura throws 100, you might better understand the science of how he hurts himself while throwing 100.
But like I said, I’m biased.
If you want to see some real bias, follow Rob Neyer on Twitter.