In addition to the rankings by Bret Sayre and the supplemental pieces by Wilson Karaman, the fantasy team has been offering up head-to-head comparisons of two closely ranked up-and-comers as part of the dynasty portion of our positional overview. Today, I take a break from prospect-focused duels to examine two 24-year-old starters with major-league experience, Andrew Heaney and Yordano Ventura.
- Heaney 2015: 3.49
- Ventura 2015: 4.08
Heaney graduated from top prospect to full-time rotation member in late June and cruised through his first seven turns, including an opening string of six consecutive quality starts. His ERA through those first 45 2/3 innings was 1.97, in large due to an 85.1 percent strand rate. For reference, Zack Greinke’s 86.5 percent was easily the best among qualified starters. Heaney continued to pitch well from then on, but he mixed in a few blow-ups, as youngsters are wont to do. One particularly ugly start accounted for nearly 20 percent of his seasonal earned run total. Excluding starts is a dangerous exercise since they all count the same, but it’s worth noting anyhow that his ERA would have been 2.90 if we throw that one out. Either way, it was a positive debut for Heaney.
Ventura’s 2015 was a more extreme tale of two halves. In the first act, Ventura pitched to a 4.68 ERA through 12 starts, got demoted, and came back even worse. Ventura’s ERA sat at 5.29 after an early August start in which he surrendered five or more earned runs for the third time in four tries. He threw six innings of shutout ball the next time out (albeit with six walks) and looked like a different pitcher from then on. Riding a spike in curveball usage, Ventura registered a 2.96 ERA over his final 12 starts. On the whole, Ventura’s 4.08 DRA suggests he earned exactly what he deserved in 2015, but I’m optimistic the adjustments can lead to sustained success, even if not quite at the level we saw last autumn. Couple that with some advanced-metric skepticism on Heaney (3.70 DRA, 3.75 FIP) and I’m giving this one to Ventura. Advantage: Ventura
- Heaney 2015: 1.20
- Ventura 2015: 1.30
True to his reputation and minor-league track record, Heaney managed to walk fewer than two-and-a-half batters per nine innings in 2015. He has a touch more velocity than your stereotypical pitchability southpaw, but with some deception, solid control of a three-pitch mix, and willingness to throw over the plate, he’s always going to be a low-walk, pitch-to-contact type. Heaney benefitted from a below-average BABIP even though batters squared him up plenty often, thanks to a bottom 20 groundball rate among pitchers who threw 100 innings. Expect that to change in 2016 given that he relies heavily on a sinker, which wouldn’t be a bad outcome with newcomer Andrelton Simmons roaming the left side of the infield.
Even as Ventura struggled through the first four months of the season, he did manage to improve his walk rate. He gave some gains back during the last couple months—a tradeoff his fantasy owners will gladly accept given the progress he made elsewhere—and still managed to shave half a point off his walk rate, year-over-year. Ventura is never going to be a control artist and I think the identical 1.30 WHIP he’s finished with each of the past two seasons is roughly what we should expect going forward, with some short-term potential to outperform that given the Royals’ stellar defense behind him. Advantage: Heaney
- Heaney 2015: 6.64 K/9
- Ventura 2015: 8.60 K/9
Heaney’s 2015 strikeout total was underwhelming but there is some upside left to tap into. He struck out more than a quarter of the batters he faced in 2014, a season split between Double-A and Triple-A. That rate regressed in 2015 before his call-up, but a top-15 whiff rate on Heaney’s curve suggests there is some room for moderate growth. Ventura has already accomplished growth at the major-league level, bumping his strikeout number from 7.82 K/9 in 2014 to 8.60 K/9 in 2015. Most of the increase came during the aforementioned late-season surge, which included three 11-strikeout games. Reliance on the deuce as more frequent complement to his premium heater makes another step forward a possibility. This one’s an easy call. Advantage: Ventura
- Heaney 2015: 184
- Ventura 2015: 172 2/3
Heaney pitched 184 frames between Triple-A and the major leagues, following a season in which he tallied 166 2/3 across three levels. The Angels have plenty of rotation options but Heaney is their best future asset and he should be given as many innings as he can handle. If he can pitch deeper into games, as he did when he first arrived in Anaheim, the 200-inning plateau is attainable. Ventura’s frame has long led to skepticism about his ability to handle a starter’s workload. He has managed nearly 180 innings per season since becoming a full-time major league starter, which is enough to answer the skepticism about his role but not enough to confidently project 190 innings until we see it. Advantage: Heaney
- Heaney 2015: 6 (33 percent)
- Ventura 2015: 13 (46 percent)
Heaney won a third of his decisions for an Angels team that won 85 games. PECOTA is pessimistic for 2016, projecting the Angels to give ten of those wins back, and I’m inclined to side with PECOTA. This just isn’t a very good club and it has no path to improving itself. PECOTA doesn’t think too highly of the Royals either. I’ll respectfully disagree. Ventura has 27 wins in the last two seasons and another total in the teens is likely. Advantage: Ventura
- Heaney 2015: 11 (61 percent)
- Ventura 2015: 13 (46 percent)
While Heaney didn’t add any value in the win column, he did turn in 11 quality starts. Avoidance of some of the ups and downs you expect from a player’s first extended big league stretch should help Heaney in 2016. You might have noticed that Ventura’s win percentage and quality start percentage were the same in 2015. That’s pretty amazing, and underscores just how volatile he was. Eight of his final 11 starts met the definition and since I favor Ventura’s run-prevention ability, I’m giving him the slight edge here. Advantage: Ventura
Heaney missed a portion of the 2013 with a lat strain but has been durable and increased his workload every year since. There’s not much cause for concern here other than, you know, being a pitcher. Ventura has missed time in each of the past three seasons. While the injuries have been minor and haven’t depressed his overall value much, Ventura’s small frame and heavy curveball usage (assuming it continues), put him at higher risk. Advantage: Heaney
I alluded to some strikeout upside for Heaney above and while I stand by that a few paragraphs later, it’s the kind of potential that makes him a steady SP3 candidate, not the kind that can suddenly vault him into the upper tiers. His value is tied to ratio stability. In other words, this is another easy win for Ventura, who can do an SP2 impression even if he can’t pitch enough innings to get all the way there. Advantage: Ventura
There’s a time and a place for floor and perceived stability, but the middle of my dynasty rotation isn’t it. Heaney has his merits and I expect him to be a mid-rotation cog for many a year. However, I’m a firm believer in high strikeout upside and frontline skill from your SP3 and that makes Ventura the choice, WHIP risk and durability concerns aside.
And the winner is… Ventura.
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