Ventura vs. Thor a showdown of MLB's hardest throwers
By Richard Justice
NEW YORK -- These guys throw fastballs that buckle knees and test nerves and shatter bats. They challenge the body for sure, but they challenge the mind, too. Are you willing to crowd the plate when the guy out there is throwing 100 mph? OK, just checking. Take all the time you need to answer.
Welcome to Game 3 of the 2015 World Series on Friday at Citi Field (air time at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX, 8 p.m. game time). This is power pitching versus power pitching -- Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard and Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura.
At a time when 95-mph fastballs have become almost commonplace in baseball, these guys have power that's special even by the new normal.
Syndergaard's fastball averaged 97.4 mph this season, tying him with Yankees right-hander Nathan Eovaldi for tops among Major League starting pitchers, according to Statcast™. Ventura is a tick behind, with a fastball that has averaged 96.8 mph this season, which is third among big league starters.
Syndergaard's fastest pitch was clocked at 101.4 mph this season and touched 99 mph three times in the first inning of his last start. Ventura has cranked it up as high as 100.6 mph this season.
They generate all that power from different body types. Syndergaard is 6-foot-6, 240 pounds and 23 years old. He's the physically imposing textbook definition of a power pitcher, with a release that looks absolutely effortless.
No team in baseball has handled 95-mph (and up) fastballs better than the Royals this season. They're also quick to point out that the Mets' kid pitchers are more than hard throwers.
"It should be fun," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "I'm sure there'll be three digits up there a lot of times. Those guys over there, they don't just throw hard. In looking at Syndergaard's last start, he mixed up his stuff against the Cubs a lot. It wasn't just going out there and trying to pump heaters. I don't think you're going to see either guy doing that."
Yordano is a year older than Syndergaard at 24. He's listed as 6 feet, 180 pounds and generates all that velocity with a whiplike delivery in which he drives smoothly off the mound to home plate.
Part of the game inside the game on Friday will be the radar-gun readings at Citi Field. Hitters will use them to gauge how hard the pitcher is throwing in the early innings and if the velocity diminishes as the game wears on.
And in a game like this, might both pitchers be glancing at their own velocity -- and also that of the other guy? Mets manager Terry Collins said it's far broader than that.
"Both sides do [look at the radar-gun readings], believe me," he said. "You go to any park nowadays, and every team is looking to see how hard the guy is throwing. Because nowadays there are so many hard throwers that you kind of have to gauge.
"I think it's become a huge part of the game to know how hard somebody is throwing. Because you've got to make adjustments at the plate. And all the film that you have on all these guys, you can't get a true feel until you get in the batter's box."
Royals manager Ned Yost said: "Everybody looks at it. That's the first question they ask in a new stadium. Everybody up and down the dugout is asking, 'Where is the radar-gun reading?'"
For his part, Ventura said there are more important things than simply throwing hard. "Right now I'm not focused on velocity," he said. "I'm simply focused on pitching deep into the game, keeping the game close and giving my team a chance to score runs. I just want to do my job."
Likewise, Syndergaard said his game is to locate his pitches, mix them up and change speeds. If he does those things, he'll be effective at both 93 mph and 99 mph.
Both pitchers have taken different paths to get to Game 3 of the World Series. Ventura was Kansas City's Opening Day starter, but spent a month on the disabled list at mid-season with an irritated nerve in his pitching elbow.
He had some very good starts and some very bad ones after his return. He hasn't finished six innings in any of his four postseason starts, but is fresh off his best outing -- one earned run in 5 1/3 innings in the clinching Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against Toronto.
Syndergaard made his Major League debut on May 12 as the latest in a string of heralded Mets prospects. He has been as good as advertised, especially in the postseason, during which he has a 2.77 ERA after two starts and a one-inning relief appearance.
Collins said Syndergaard was in the conversation to start Game 1 of the World Series.
"When he first got here, we saw 96 [mph]," Collins said. "What he's doing now, I have never seen that. I've never seen 98, 99 and 100. I've seen good, good power stuff. But I've seen a guy grow and learn how to pitch here, where he will go to his secondary stuff in certain counts."
One of the best parts of all this is that Syndergaard and Ventura are so good and so young that they could rank among baseball's elite pitchers for years to come. But they may never pitch on a bigger stage than this one. They're both capable of delivering a World Series memory. Here's hoping.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.