Mostly MLB Notes: Talking Yordano Ventura, Johnny Cueto and a look around the league

Yordano Ventura is 22 years old, pitches in the American League and has a 2.00 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP over 36.0 innings. Before the season, scouts had me convinced that despite his impressive velocity (his average fastball of 96.7 mph leads MLB by a wide margin), his lack of refinement and secondary pitches would result in some early struggles (the same was also said when it comes to Jose Fernandez last season). But Ventura has utilized his changeup a lot more than expected, and it’s actually been an even more effective pitch than his devastating heater. Ventura has a silly 13.3 SwStr% and looks like the real deal, and I’m kicking myself for being skeptical entering the year. This is someone with ridiculously good stuff who’s going to record a bunch of strikeouts as a right-hander calling Kauffman Stadium home, a park that’s decreased home runs for LHB by 25 percent over the past three seasons, which ranks only behind Oakland (by one percent) in the American League over that span. Ventura also has more hits than the Mets’ pitchers combined (the Mets’ hitless streak by their pitchers is the worst to start a season since 1900). Ventura also combines a 28.1 K% with a 1.50 GB/FB ratio and a 15.6 IFFB%. In other words, this is a rookie with filthy stuff producing a ton of swing and misses, and if the batter is lucky enough to put the ball in play, there’s a real good chance the result is a groundball or popup. If you own him, how can your team name not be “Ace Ventura?”

Here’s a pretty solid prank involving Robinson Cano.

I have no words for this swing by Pablo Sandoval. The huge loss in weight has apparently really affected his bat speed.

Speaking of weight change, here’s Tim Lincecum looking a bit different than usual.

This might be the most aggressive base running you’ll ever see.

Johnny Cueto has been ridiculously good of late, tossing a whopping 36.0 innings with a 37:7 K:BB ratio over his past four starts. It’s pretty crazy Cueto has a 1.31 ERA despite a 14.6 HR/FB% that’s well above his career norm, but then again, a .153 BABIP combined with a 100.0 LOB% helps. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you those latter two are unsustainable; after all, any pitcher with such a low ERA simply has to have outliers in their peripherals, but his 10.4 SwStr% and 51.2 GB% suggest he’s entering elite territory. In fact, since 2011, only Clayton Kershaw has a lower ERA than Cueto’s 2.47. And don’t worry too much about his FIP, because he’s really good at the little things that can often get lost in translation there (he’s arguably the toughest pitcher to steal a base off). However, whether Cueto can avoid the nagging oblique injuries he’s often dealt with moving forward is another question entirely.

Having praised Cueto, including some of his good fortune, it’s still hard not to call the Reds the most snake bitten team so far in 2014, as Mat Latos, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce, Devin Mesoraco and Tony Cingrani are some pretty important players all spending time on the disabled list. (A quick aside on Bruce, who was off to a weird start before suffering a partially torn meniscus that will sideline him at least four weeks. He sported a career best BB% (17.6) that helped put him on pace to score 108 runs (he’s never scored 90 runs in his career) despite a .216 batting average and .363 slugging percentage. He was also on pace to steal 27 bases - he’s never swiped 10 bags in his career). Moreover, Billy Hamilton has somehow posted a 68.8% SB success rate (he’s also currently sidelined with an injury) during a season in which there’s been a return of the thief, and Homer Bailey’s xFip (3.45) is nearly two full runs lower than his ERA (5.36). The team is also batting just .234 with runners in scoring position, so it’s safe to say the Reds have been unlucky in 2014.

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Quick Hits: Troy Tulowitzki’s numbers at home this season are out of control (.608/.677/1.098). That’s a 1.775 OPS with six homers over 51 at-bats. He has 11 walks with just four strikeouts. He’s yet to attempt a steal, but given he plays shortstop, Tulo has about as much upside as any fantasy player. Now let’s see if he can stay healthy. At least he understands not to risk getting hurt in a rundownJose Fernandez has allowed just three runs with 45 punchouts over 34.2 innings at home, giving him a 0.78 ERA and 0.78 WHIP. Interestingly, the Marlins’ offense has been equally as impressive in Miami. After scoring the second fewest runs at home in 2013, they’ve scored the second most this year (behind only the Rockies at Coors Field). In fact, the Marlins have scored 124 runs at home, and the next highest is Boston with a distant 89 in Fenway. Players generally perform better at home throughout sports (by 10% is the rough estimate), but Miami is taking this to the extreme so far in 2014…I’m the last person to criticize anyone getting overly worked up over sports, but Joe Girardi takes it next level here arguing the count being 2-0 instead of 1-1…Apparently there are a lot of S.F. backers complaining about their loss Tuesday, which was (I think) the first ever loss based on a walk-off replay. Their claim was that the review was “inconclusive.” I’m a Giants fan and find this fairly ridiculous. Replays are replays because the play was close! This one sure looked obvious to me – the Pirates were safe and deserved to win.

This round of fast money on “Family Feud” is truly shocking. A must watch.

I was pretty distraught over the Warriors’ Game 7 loss when I finally watched the Mayweather fight on DVR later Saturday night, but my take was that was easily Money May’s toughest battle in more than a decade. Marcos Maidana (who entered the ring 17 pounds heavier than Mayweather) is no joke, which was made clearer during Adrien Broner’s earlier performance that night (and holy crap, Broner’s interview afterward!). Pretty crazy that was the first time Mayweather had ever had to fight through a cut, and while I understand he was dealing with some family issues, I’m worried this also might be a sign of him finally entering decline phase. Not sure where he goes next, but a rematch wouldn’t be the worst idea.

Happy mother’s day.

Quick Hits Part Deux: Not owning any shares of Jose Abreu has been a miserable experience. What a monster…I also don’t have Brian Dozier on any of my fantasy teams. Despite batting .232, he’s on pace to finish the year with 42 homers, 162 runs scored and 58 steals. You don’t need me to tell you Dozier is going to regress, but his eight home runs are especially crazy considering he entered Wednesday with just one double on the year…More fun with “paces.” Melky Cabrera is on pace to finish with 236 hits this season, which would be top-25 in the history of baseball. Jeff Samardzija is on pace to finish 0-16 with a 1.62 ERA, while Jean Machi is on pace to finish 25-0 over 83.1 innings. Francisco Rodriguez is on pace to record 67 saves (while allowing zero runs over 81.0 innings), which would beat his MLB record of 62. Joe Mauer has a .393 OBP and has batted second or third over his 115 at bats this season for a team that has scored the seventh most runs in baseball, and he’s somehow on pace to record just 58 RBI. Despite batting .325 playing everyday and hitting predominantly cleanup in a Cardinals offense that scored the most runs in the National League last season, Matt Adams is on pace to finish with only 43 RBI. I guess that’s what happens when you hit .366 with the bases empty and .138 with RISP. After batting an astronomical .330 with RISP as a team last season, the Cardinals are down to .231 in 2014, as regression has hit them hard.

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Quick Hits Part Tres: At this point, I have no idea what to make of Jason Heyward. Most batters capable of posting an .849 OPS at age 20 develop into stars, if not Hall of Famers. Instead, Heyward has recorded a modest .760 OPS over 1,689 plate appearances since his rookie campaign, good for 103rd among qualified hitters over that span. Playing through some injuries can be blamed some, but Heyward is seemingly healthy now and sporting a .216/.303/.320 line. He’s never hit .280 in a season and has reached 20 homers and 20 steals just once each in his career. Heyward is terrific defensively and is obviously still young enough to show big growth moving forward, but it’s surprising he’s been such a disappointment so far…Will Venable hit 22 homers with 22 steals last year in just 481 at bats. Moreover, PETCO Park became much more favorable for left-handed batters with the fences moved in, but given an everyday job in 2014, Venable is off to an ugly start (.195/.248/.257). He’s tough to own in anything but deep NL-only leagues right now…John Axford has taken back-to-back losses over his last two appearances, when he’s allowed four earned runs over 1.1 innings. Axford has now walked 10 batters over 13.0 innings this season, and even during last year’s stint with the Cardinals in which they found a flaw correcting him tipping his pitches, he had a 1.35 WHIP. Axford currently leads the American League with nine saves, but his job is hardly secure…Good news for owners of Clayton Kershaw, who averaged 92.8 mph on his fastball Tuesday after averaging just 88.3 during his season debut before hitting the DL. Over two starts this year, he has just one fewer win than he had on this date last season.

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Longreads of the Week: Love Me Tinder and How A Math Genius Hacked OkCupid To Find True Love.

Quick Hits Part Four: Sergio Romo is a good example of why spring training numbers mostly need to be ignored. He yielded 11 earned runs over 8.0 innings in spring, but Romo was working on developing his changeup and literally never threw a slider (his best pitch by far), which makes perfect sense to save those bullets for when it counts. Of course, sometimes a poor spring can signal an injury, but when it comes to veteran pitchers, it’s usually noise that needs to be disregarded entirely (same with dominant spring performances). Romo currently has a 1.88 ERA and a 0.70 WHIP. The season Zack Greinke won the Cy Young back in 2009, he allowed 29 earned runs over 28.1 innings in spring (29!)...Watch your lips!…After looking so dominant in the playoffs (31:3 K:BB ratio over 23.0 innings), there was hope Justin Verlander would go back to being Justin Verlander in 2014. So far, he’s looked far more like the 2013 regular season version, which featured his highest ERA and WHIP since 2008. Verlander’s current 2.68 ERA is obviously just fine, but it’s come with a big drop in K% (19.1) and rise in BB% (9.6) - again both his worst marks in six years. Verlander’s average fastball velocity (92.2 mph) has dropped for the fifth straight season and is a career low, although to be fair, he still sports a healthy 10.3 SwStr%. But looking at the overall picture and considering just how heavy his workloads have been, Verlander might not be the worst player to try to sell right now. His ERA is going to rise (and possibly in a big way) once more than just 1.6% of his fly balls start clearing the fence.

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