May 29, 2012
Jonny Venters and What a High BABIP Looks Like
A few days ago, I got an email from someone who wanted to know why Jonny Venters isn’t dominating people like he did last year. He speculated that there’s something wrong with his stuff, or that his mechanics might be off.
I started formulating an answer even before I looked at the numbers. Well, it’s too small a sample to draw conclusions. Well, Venters was so good in 2011 that it’s unfair to expect a repeat performance. Well, he led the league in appearances last year, so maybe he’s feeling some fatigue.
Then I looked at the numbers, and my answer quickly became, “Jonny Venters is dominating like he did last year.”
Well, not quite like he did last year—he’s recording his outs a little differently in 2012. Venters is getting more strikeouts and fewer ground balls, though it’s early enough that he’s only a few Ks and grounders off his respective rates from last season. He’s given up three homers, the same number he allowed in the last two seasons combined. The home runs, additional strikeouts, and reduced grounder rate paint a picture of a pitcher who’s throwing higher in the zone, and the stats say that Venters has thrown both up and inside a little more frequently. Fredi Gonzalez recently remarked, “The sinker is coming out sideways instead of going down, and for me, that’s just tinkering a little bit with the hand position.” Data from Brooks Baseball supports him, sort of—the sinker has had about an inch less of vertical movement and a half inch more movement horizontally in 2012.
If we squint, we might be able to make out a pitcher who’s been marginally less effective. But we’d have to squint hard. And even then, we might just be doing this:
Venters has struck out over 12 batters per nine innings. Nearly 60 percent of his batted balls allowed have been on the ground. His sinker has averaged 94.0 miles per hour (compared to 94.3 through the same point last season). Pitchers who can claim one of those things are generally very good. Pitchers who can claim all three are almost uniformly elite. So what stat was it that led my enterprising emailer to fear for Venters’ season? Take a look at the table below.