The pitching version of Dan Uggla, Jonny Venters had quite the interesting season. On the whole, his 3.22 ERA looks like a decent season, but there were a couple signs that showed hitters may be finally figuring him out.
His walk and strikeout rates remained the same, both fairly high. He struck out 26% of hitters, using that lethal sinker/slurve mix, though his contact rates on each of those pitches went up nearly 10%. He started mixing in a changeup about 7% of the time, with hitters missing that almost 65% of their swings. However, the same tough stuff to hit is hard to control, as Venters walked about 10% of hitters. He did throw more first-pitch strikes, which is a good sign with someone with a high walk rate. As long as the K’s hang around, that walk rate is manageable.
What threw everything for a loop was his batted ball profile. Hitters finally started squaring him up, hitting 21% line drives, a big factor in his .357 BABIP allowed. Even crazier was his 24% HR/FB ratio, over double the league average. Groundball pitchers usually have a slightly higher HR/FB%, but this is way beyond sustainable. One can’t expect him to only allow a homer a year, but six homers out of 25 flyballs is a bit extreme.
His K rate against lefties dropped quite a bit, but he still held them down quite a bit. Jonny also had a tremendous April, not allowing a run and striking out 44% of hitters, but he followed that with a rough May and a DL visit around the All-Star Break. He had a good September, so hopefully he’s back on track for another full season.
Venters is entering his first arbitration season, and I would expect something around $1.5M for him. Being a reliever, extensions usually aren’t the smartest way to go, as this group of players are as fickle as any in the game. His skillset is so unique, posting three of the four seasons since 2002 where a pitcher with at least 50 IP has a K rate above 25% and a GB rate above 60%. The high walk rate leaves him out of elite territory, but he’s probably the best 7th inning man out there.