Blue Jays: Exploring a Pat Venditte experiment in 2016


Ambidextrous Blue Jays reliever Pat Venditte is still looking to establish himself in the MLB at age 30, but in Toronto, there’s not much standing between him and the bullpen

Pat Venditte represents one of the final moves made by Alex Anthopoulos in his tenure with the Blue Jays, an October 19th waiver claim from the Oakland Athletics with the unique ability to throw both right and left-handed. Venditte has enjoyed an excellent career throughout the minors, owning a career 2.39 ERA and 1.067 WHIP across all levels, but 2015 represented his first taste of MLB action.

Venditte originally came up with the New York Yankees as a 20th Round pick, and while he’s American, Venditte obtained Italian citizenship in order to represent Italy at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. It turns out I’ve had the pronunciation of his name wrong, too. It’s Ven-detti, not Ven-deet. 

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Throwing ambidextrously has clearly been a benefit to Venditte, but as he’s continued to see his ceiling capped in the minor leagues, I’ve remained curious if a more specialized role would benefit him. Especially a role that sees him being used more heavily against left-handed pitching. Not only is the organization thin on lefty arms (though Chad Girodo is on the way), Venditte has found more recent success from that side himself.

Across his 28.2 Major League innings with the Athletics last season, the 30-year old underwhelmed with a 4.40 ERA. In 71 plate appearances against right-handed batters, Venditte struck out only seven while allowing an opponent’s line of .274 / .357 / .484. Against batters from the left side, however, his strikeout total jumps to 16 over 48 plate appearances, including a much nicer line of .116 / .188 / .256.

A larger chunk of his season was spent with AAA Nashville, where he threw 40.2 innings to a breakout ERA of 1.55. At that level, Venditte has seen his K/9 come in at 8.6, shy of his career minor league total of 10.0. With Nashville, Venditte allowed a 2.19 ERA and .220 batting average against right-handed bats. Impressive, but those numbers drop to a 0.56 ERA and .130 average against the lefties.

Pitching from both sides is Venditte’s thing. Abandoning it would be like asking Journey not to close concerts with Don’t Stop Believin’, and that’s not the right move here. With Aaron Loup the only lefty in the bullpen outside of Brett Cecil, however, there could be a job available for a man that, at least sometimes, can be effective from that side. He’s by no means a favorite for the gig, but his chances look better in Toronto right now than they would in most organizations.

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A leading cause of Venditte’s perceived MLB limitations is his velocity. A flawed bullpen arm that throws 97 MPH will trump a productive arm in the mid-80s more often than not, and he’s found himself on the wrong end of that equation several times.

Venditte is a sidewinder from both sides, with his right-handed arm slot being slightly higher than his angle from the left side, which is truly sidearm. His right-handed fastball can rest in the 84-85 MPH range, with him relying equally on a slider in the low-to-mid 70s that he likes to call his “go-to” pitch.

It’s the same story from the left side, just a bit slower. The fastball velocity is more likely to live in the 81-82 MPH range, but this is helped by a slider that produces a greater depth than his right-handed offering. From the left side, this slider usually rests in the low-70s, but at times can dip as low as 68-69 MPH.

These are soft-tosser velocities, but giving Venditte an increased dose of left-handed batters could make for an interesting, and valuable, spring training experiment. All the while allowing him to maintain his pitches from the right side, but giving a greater focus to the left. If you’re Venditte, that’s you’re quickest ticket to another MLB shot.

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At risk of diving a little too deep down the rabbit hole, I’ve entertained at times the idea of Venditte using his right arm as a “junk innings arm”. In the unlikely situation that Venditte were able to creep into the bullpen with improved performances against lefties, wouldn’t it be fascinating to put the tax of blowout innings on his right arm, leaving his left arm and the remainder of the bullpen fresh for the next day? Dare to dream, I suppose.

Expect Toronto to use the majority of their available 40-man roster spots on pitching depth, especially the bullpen. They’ve been rumored to be in the market, but not aiming all that high. As it stands, Venditte is in a foggy and not-so-inspiring conversation with the likes of Ryan Tepera, Steve Delabar, Ben Rowen and Chad Jenkins for a job. This will change, of course, but if Venditte lasts until spring, I’ve got a feeling that there might be a little something more left to his potential if used in a different fashion.