Luis Mendoza's may have what it takes to be a key part of the Royals in 2012. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Why Luis Mendoza is Important to the 2012 Royals


Can we all agree on one thing? The Royals’ starting rotation doesn’t have a track record that suggests it will be good in 2012. I know it’s the spring and everyone’s optimistic and hopeful and talking about chips on shoulders and shoulders on chips and so forth, but where I live—reality—this is a mediocre rotation. Do I hope they’ll be great? Sure I do. But a very wise man once said, “Well, you can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which gets filled first.”

With that in mind, the bullpen looks like it will play a more important role than a bullpen might on a team with a more established rotation. David Lesky of Pine Tar Press had an article this Thursday outlining the importance of Joakim Soria to the bullpen and made a terrific point that the Royals will be in some games where the starter has to come out in the third or fourth inning.

I love the phrase “swing man.” It sounds like the guy is part of an elaborate Danny Ocean style con. The swing man for the Royals this season is going to play a very important role, perhaps more important than any other swing man in the league. Is everyone clear on what a swing man is? A long-relief bullpen guy who occasionally makes a start when needed.

It seems clear the Royals have an offense and bullpen capable of competing but a starting rotation capable of working a drive through window (just to add more chip to the shoulder). Sometimes, they’re going to need a swing man who can not only cover the long bridge from starter to bullpen during short starts, thus saving vital bullpen innings, but also jump in and start when Bruce Chen, or whoever, has to miss a start.

If the Royals want to compete, this pitcher needs to be able to stop the bleeding in a game and give the Royals lineup a fighting chance to get back in the game. He needs to be good enough to win a start here and there, but not so good that he should be in the rotation. He also needs to be someone who may not have a high ceiling but has a decently high floor so the Royals don’t have to worry about foster his talent in the minors. Do the Royals have a guy like that?

Hello Luis Mendoza. For those readers who haven’t heard of Mendoza, he’s a 28-year-old pitcher who burst onto the scene last season in AAA with incredible, if deceiving, numbers. In two starts in September with the big club, he pitched very well, winning both. That said, nearly everyone who thinks and writes about the Royals is in agreement that Mendoza’s 2011 was an anomaly. He doesn’t strike a lot of hitters out. He had never shown that type of promise before 2011, and he had some things really go his way.

That’s not to say that Mendoza isn’t any good. He is good. He just doesn’t miss enough bats to be considered a legitimate starting candidate. But he is perfect as a candidate for the swing man role. He’s got the arm for it—he pitched 158 innings last season. He’s pitched in a relief role before. The Royals don’t have to worry about ruining his potential by putting him in this role because he’s 28. His potential is this role.

If Mendoza struck out more hitters or had a more ridiculously low walk rate—it was decent in 2011 at 3.37 in AAA and 3.07 in the big leagues—he could be seen as a back-end starter. In essence, he’s almost good enough to start, but not quite, which makes him perfect as a swing man. Plus, he’s out of options, which means the Royals have to either keep him in the majors or hope he clears waivers, which he probably won’t.

It’s not just that Mendoza falls short of being a starter. He actually fits the Royals swing man role perfectly. He seems to be a contact pitcher, but doesn’t give up a ton of home runs. If a pitcher does give up too many walks, which Mendoza doesn’t seem to and doesn’t give up too many home runs, all he really needs is good defense behind him and a limited role. The Royals should have a pretty good defense, and with a limited role, Mendoza doesn’t have to be spectacular, just consistently average.

I’ll be very surprised if Mendoza is not the Royals’ swing man on Opening Day, especially because he’s out of options. Of course, I could be wrong about his abilities. Maybe, he’ll get rocked every time out, and the Royals will turn to another swing man—Everett Teaford or Nate Adcock. But if that’s the case, there’s really nothing hurt. Those were starts they were probably going to lose anyway. Ned Yost claims that Mendoza is getting a look as a starting pitcher this spring. I can’t see that happening. But he could be a very valuable resource as a swing man, I’m thinking worth as many as 4 wins when thinking about spot starts, long relief, and saved bullpen innings (not in WAR but just in a general sense of helping the Royals win).

I’ve started the campaign: Mendoza for Swing Man in 2012. We’re not well funded but at least we’re low in numbers as well.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Bruce Chen Everett Teaford Joakim Soria Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Luis Mendoza MLB Nate Adcock Ned Yost Royals

  • somedevil04

    count one more in your growing throng of support for Mendoza as the swing man. Although, I also like Teaford for that role as well.  Mendoza is certainly entriquing.  The real issue will be if he kills it in spring training and Duffy or Paulino get shelled.  I dont see either of those guys thriving in that role.  They walk too many batters.  It is a little odd but this rotation is crowded in a sense because there are so many guys with the same abiliy/potential level.  We have 7 starters that would be 4/5 guys in a good rotation.  lets hope there’s some improvement and we get 7 guys that would be 1/2/3 starters, but then again you know what they say about hope and crapping in ur hands (side note: look at my random punctuation…it’s wacky)

  • davidwlowe

    I agree totally with your assessment of the Royals starting rotation.  It’s weird to me that current polls on the Royals Review blog site has 80%-90% of Royals fans responding that the Royals are better than the Twins and White Sox for 2012.  But just look at our projected starting rotations:
    White Sox:
    Looking just at the rotations, how can the Royals dream of competing?  Chris Sale, the #5 starter of the White Sox, is better in my opinion than all five of our starters. The Twins starting five is very solid in my view…average, but solid.
    Now the Royals hitting, in my opinion, will be one of the best in the league in 2012. This is why I don’t  think the Royals can finish any better than .500 in 2012.
    The dream scenario would be for the Royals to build on the 2011 campaign by finishing .500 in 2012 while allowing the young players to continue to develop. Guys like Duffy, Crow, Herrera, Montgomery, Adcock, Coleman, Jeffress, Teaford get a year more experience. Meanwhile, the offense mashes and causes the opposition to get nervous.
    And down on the farm, hopefully we catch a break and some of our pitching prospects pan out and continue to move up the ladder and make decisions difficult for Dayton Moore.  Guys like:
    Jake Odorizzi
    Noel Arguelles
    Chris Dwyer
    John Lamb
    Tim Melville
    Elisaul Pimentel
    Yordano Ventura
    Leonel Santiago
    Greg Billo
    Brooks Pounders
    Leondy Perez
    Will Smith
    Justin Marks
    Jason Adam
    Robinson Yambati
    Brian Brickhouse
    Kyle Smith
    Jake Junis
    Very hopeful, but realistic, about the future for the Royals pitching staff!

  • barkwellt

     @davidwlowe Your “dream scenario” is .500? Who’s your “dream girl” – Tilda Swinton? “Dream date” – Applebees and an Adam Sandler movie? Dream vacation – Dollywood?
    C’mon, man. Dream big. Pennant, January Jones, dinner at the Four Seasons, and a Pacific Island cruise aboard a luxury yacht.

  • mmeade17

     @somedevil04 I prefer your spelling of the word “intriguing” (entriquing, what the hell is that?) to your wacky punctuation). But seriously, I watched Mendoza’s starts from September last night. He’s got really good sink on his fastball, a decent change, and a decent curve. He does a good job mixing up his pitches and working in on hitters. He occasionally leaves the ball up to much, but that’s not as big a deal in Kauffman with his movement. If I’m Ned Yost, I’d feel comfortable asking him to pitch 4 innings for me to get to the rest of the bullpen in a high scoring game or make a start here and there and give my team a chance to win. I like Teaford too as a swing man, but lets leave him in AAA for now and see if he doesn’t become a decent starter instead. He’s a little more valuable that way. 

  • mmeade17

     @davidwlowe No doubt, the White Sox for sure have a better rotation. The Twins’ rotation probably has a better track record, but talent wise may be around the same level as the Royals. I think Pavano’s 170 years old so how long can that last? I would call the Royals’ rotation average right now, maybe slightly below. Their numbers look pretty bad from last year, partly because Kyle Davies was pitching in that rotation and he’s worse than a scorching case of herpes. The rotation the Royals will probably run out there (Hochever, Chen, Sanchez, Paulino, Duffy) has tremendous potential. But I just don’t see them all reaching that potential. In fact, I think Sanchez will be traded mid-season, Chen will be less effective, Paulino has a good chance of being less effective, and Duffy and Hochevar may take a step forward. What’s that add up to? About .500, maybe slightly above. 
    Luckily, the Royals have 3 things the White Sox and Twins may not have … a dynamic offense, a good defense, and terrific bullpen. Those things help teams win too. 
    So, let’s not count them out for 2012 just yet. But let’s not start budgeting for playoff tickets either. 

  • davidwlowe

     @barkwellt Yes, that’s my dream scenario because I am realistic. I hope more than anyone that the starting pitchers will all have great years, but just like I said at the beginning of the season last year, it will depend on starting pitching.
    But I do like your other dream scenarios, other than Adam Sandler movies.

  • davidwlowe

     @mmeade17 I feel you, bro. Looks like we both came to the same conclusion, though: a .500 season would be a good one.

  • eric.akers

    The guy had too good a season to not give him a chance to be a starter, and if he makes it as the swing man, so be it. Also, if he doesn’t earn a spot, I do not feel so bad if he goes somewhere else because of his age either.  But I feel that it is way too early to say he is not good enough to even be a number 5. He did not have a great SO numbers, but he does have nasty sinking movement which can make him effective.

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