September 20, 2011; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Luis Mendoza (39) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Luis Mendoza: Smoke and Mirrors


The Royals have been saying all spring that they want 2012 to be a shift from developing players at the big league level (like last year with the influx of Eric Hosmer and company) to winning. Every team says they want to play to win, and somewhere, I’m sure every team means it, but in the Royals case (and that of many other basement dwellers of recent memory), they have to know that the odds are long against them.

That’s tough as a fan and tough as an organization, but every team has to rebuild from time to time. Even the Yankees (though it’s been more than two decades).

Dayton Moore has said that the Royals are in a position this year to “pick 25″ players for the major league roster, rather than “find 25″ as in years past. The Royals have enough players in big league camp to fill a roster, so now they can be selective as to who makes the final cut. The idea that they can win more games than any season in recent memory has the Royals approaching their personnel a bit differently. For example, last year Alcides Escobar was allowed to hit in key situations to see if he could do it. Ned Yost wanted him to have experience in those situations. This year, that may not be the case if a pinch-hitting option can improve the chances of winning. Things like that.

 

So the rumblings out of Surprise that Luis Mendoza might a) make the club and b) make the club in the starting rotation baffles me for a team that says they want to win.

Mendoza had a great 2011 in Omaha. Over 144.1 innings in Triple A, he had a 2.18 ERA. He came to Kansas City after the Pacific Coast League championship and won two starts, giving up just two earned runs in 14.2 innings. Big win for the Royals, right? After trading for him at the end of spring training in 2010, the Royals may have found a late bloomer.

Maybe, but I don’t know how excited I would get.

Here are some figures:

84.1 innings pitched. 79 earned runs.

Take out the two starts from 2011 and that’s Luis Mendoza’s resume in the big leagues.

If you omit his 2011 season in Triple A, he has 966.2 innings under his belt to the tune of a 4.52 ERA. That’s not awful, but it’s not good either.

In 2011, Mendoza benefited from a .273 batting average on balls in play in Omaha. He also gave up a homer on just 2% of flyballs hit. Both of those measurements are well below what tends to be the average (around .300 for BABIP and 10% for HR/FB). Because of that, his minor league xFIP (which aims to figure what a pitcher’s ERA “should” have been, given typical luck) was 4.38 - just more than twice his actual ERA.

These are figures that aren’t sustainable for a pitcher with his track record. Call me crazy, but I’ll opt to trust the 1051 innings Mendoza logged as a pro from 2002 to 2010 rather than the 159 he reached in 2011. Here’s a rhetorical question – how often does a pitcher in this era carry a 4.8 K/9 in the minor leagues into major league success? Last year Mendoza struck out 5.1 batters per nine innings but walked 3.4 per nine. Walks are okay if you’re getting strikeouts, but Mendoza was walking people and relying on his defense to record outs when the ball was put in play. To their credit, they did that, but that’s a recipe for disaster. Mendoza’s performance in that area is similar to a handful of pitchers who were either too old for their level of competition (and who still struggled) or players who had very low walkrates (and had some success, though nobody of notable prospect distinction). Mendoza was putting batters on base then allowing batters to put the ball in play. That’s how runs develop. Jeff Parker at Royally Speaking has a list of pitchers who’ve had similar walk and strikeout numbers in a season and the performances are subpar.

The principle of regression to the mean comes into play. When a player vastly overperforms relative to their career production to that point, they usually snap back to that level. For Mendoza, that’s a decent starter or long reliever in the minors and maybe – maybe – a barely rosterable player at the end of the bullpen or a swingman as depth.

If Mendoza were to make the rotation, it would be at the expense of Danny Duffy, who still has options left. There’s a chance it could be at the expense of Felipe Paulino, who might shift to the bullpen if that were to happen. Mendoza is out of options, so the Royals would have to put him on waivers and have him go unclaimed before they could put him in Omaha. Some have pointed to players like Phillip Humber who were waived by the Royals and went on to success (Humber had a 3.75 ERA in 163 innings for the White Sox last year.) Yes, having Humber do that on this staff last year would have been beneficial, but, as Robert Ford suggested, the loss was more apparent because the 2011 staff was so unreliable. If the Royals do well this year (just a slight improvement by the incumbents plus Jonathan Sanchez would make them above average for the American League), nobody will care that they lost Mendoza and he did anything somewhere else. I think that’s an important distinction to keep in mind.

I can understand if they want to manipulate Duffy’s service time some, as he might sneak into Super Two status, but I don’t see that as a good enough reason to swap Mendoza for Duffy. Once they called up Duffy and left him on the big league roster, his clock was started, but their level of team control wouldn’t be affected. He’s a Royal until the conclusion 2017 barring injury, release or trade. If they kept him in Omaha long enough, sure, he could sneak in another year (similar to how Gordon’s exploits up and down from the minors have him becoming a free agent after next year because he won’t accrue his six or more years of service time until then).

But what does that do for Duffy?

A player can’t learn to get major league hitters out by pitching to Pacific Coast League batters and the Royals need to know if Duffy can get major league hitters out. As Kevin Scobee stated, he’s got the combination of minor league track record and “stuff” to be the best pitcher on the Royals this year. Duffy is drawing praise for his work in camp so far and among all the Royals, he’s the most fired up to get the season started. It seems odd to douse that flame by shifting him to the minors. Both Duffy and Paulino have the “stuff” to strike out batters and go stretches with success. Mendoza did in 2011, but at no other point in his career did he show that promise. If the Royals felt that they absolutely had to send Duffy to Omaha, Everett Teaford has shown promise in the last couple of years and would give the Royals a better chance to win than Mendoza.

For a team that wants to win and has the luxury of picking their best 25 players to make that happen, picking Mendoza seems to be an option they’d want to avoid.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Danny Duffy Kansas City Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Luis Mendoza MLB Royals

  • Kevin Scobee

    First

  • jim fetterolf

    Mendoza comes across as a right-handed Master Chen, which is a hard sell for the sabermetrics crowd, another pitcher who reminds that fips and nips and pips still have a long way to go in defining a pitcher’s effectiveness.
     
    I think Mendoza gets a good look this spring and if he makes the 25 it will be at the expense of Teaford as long relief/spot starter.  From what I’m hearing, Duffy’s a stud this spring and Paulino proved his worth last year.

  • Kevin Scobee

    @jim fetterolf Jim, you said that just to poke at me, me thinks. ( :) )

    Chen in his career has given up more hits than innings pitched and has incredible limited stuff to predict any kind of long term success. The nips and pips may not tell the whole story, but they tell a pretty good one.

    Chen would be fine as a swing starter or a fifth guy in a rotation with a Duffy at his peak and a Paulino/Sanchez at the top of theirs. But if your team is counting on him to be anything more, then there are some problems. And Mendoza is worse.

  • jim fetterolf

     @Kevin Scobee  @jim Watched an old episode of Numbers tonight, the one about sabermetrics, and the thesis of the story was that a young fantasy player had found a way to mathematically identify players using steroids because the ‘roids created “inflection points” in their careers, both starting and stopping PEDs.
     
    Other events can also create inflection points, as we saw last year with our outfield all changing swing, approach, and two of them physical training. The most obvious of all inflection points for an athlete, whether a ball player or ballet dancer, is injury. Master Chen used to be a power pitcher until he blew up his arm, then over a few years reinvented himself as a finesse pitcher who kept hitters off balance and missed sweet spots, something that only BABIP can hint at in advanced metrics at the moment.  Chen’s career before the inflection point and including his rehabilitation is fairly meaningless in regards to the pitcher that will take the mound for us this year. The current Bruce Chen’s career comprises two seasons with 24 wins and an average ERA of about 4.00 and a BABIP under .280. Odds are that he will continue that performance and maybe even be better with a better defense, offense, and bullpen behind him.
     
    The way this relates to Luis Mendoza is that Mendoza also had an inflection point in 2010, failure, that drove him to the pitching coach in Omaha who completely disabled the old Mendoza and rebuilt him with different mechanics, arm angle, and pitches, which created the PCL Pitcher of the Year in 2011. That isn’t to say that Mendoza is truly the RH Master Chen, but I do suggest that his “career” before his reinvention shouldn’t carry much weight. If Ned Yost and Dave Eiland are seeing off balance swings and balls hit off the handle, that gives them information that stats are as yet unable to do, although I expect the new FieldFX cameras to start delivering those numbers. That is why Mendoza will get a long look and has a good shot at making the ‘pen as long relief/spot start. I don’t see him bumping either Paulino or Duffy from the rotation, but, if he has a good spring, I don’t see him DFA’ed.
     
     

  • jim fetterolf

     @Kevin Scobee  @jim Expounding on “inflection points” last year’s outfield consisted of three desperate ballplayers; Melky, whose weight and attitude were ruining his career, Frenchy, whose weight and lack of discipline had him at the end of his rope, and Gordon, who was on the cusp of being a bust. All three threw themselves on the mercy of GMDM and/or Kevin Seitzer in an attempt to create an inflection point, a change in the trend lines of their careers. It was a success for all three. That is little different from what Chen and Mendoza faced or what Broxton and Mijares and Sanchez face this year. There are no guarantees, but there are plenty of eyeballs trying to see what the stats won’t notice for a few more years.

  • michael.allen.engel

     @jim fetterolf  @Kevin Scobee  @jim I’m normally stat-friendly and all but Mendoza has to demonstrate a skill or an improvement in skill or have a history of skill to get me thinking he’s turned a corner based on anything but luck.
    Bruce Chen struck out over nine batters per nine innings in over 800 innings in the minors. He showed good control and was considered a prospect.
     
    What he’s done in the majors is added savvy to a reasonable skill set (but not one that excels) and that allows him to survive.
     
    Mendoza has just gotten rocked. He gives up hits. He gives up homers, To his credit he doesn’t walk a lot but he’s not a control master and walked more per nine in 2011 than his career average. He doesn’t strike people out and has nothing overpowering or special. So where’s his inflection point coming from? What did he change from 2010 to now that isn’t just hoping and dreaming that he’ll get better? I don’t understand how a guy with two good starts in the majors and a full decade of mediocrity is suddenly getting support when I see no area where he’s actually demonstrated a change that would inspire such a turnaround. 
     
    He wasn’t out of shape before and got in shape. He didn’t change from sidearm to over the top. He didn’t add a notable pitch. He didn’t train to increase velocity. The numbers indicating his raw skills haven’t changed from day one. People can bet on the 10% of success that is 2011, but I’ll go with the larger sample of “bleh”.

  • jim fetterolf

     @michael.allen.engel  @Kevin Scobee  @jim The inflection point was the reinvention in late 2010, the result out pitching Duffy and Montgomery in 2011. The change was pitches and arm angle, interestingly changes Chen also made in his reinvention. I would suggest that Mendoza’s new skill set has some of Chen’s tools, the ability to induce off-balance swings and miss the sweet spot on bats. With current stats, the only place those tools show up is runs allowed and wins.
     
    Starting today we will get a better idea of if the new Mendoza is for real or if last year was an outlier and aberration. I don’t know, haven’t seen him pitch, but those who have seen him are keeping him around for the spring in a very crowded field.
     
    For me, this is probably less about Luis Mendoza than Master Chen, of whom I am his #1 fanboy. Also an element of most stats as aggregates and averages rather than trend lines and ranges.As for the larger sample of “bleh”, how did that work with Frenchy, Melky, and Gordon last year:)?
     

  • michael.allen.engel

     @jim fetterolf  @Kevin Scobee  @jim I think he’s getting shelled today. Maybe it’s wishful thinking because I want Duffy in the rotation all year. Hes part of their best five starters.
     
    As for Gordon, Frenchy and Melky, Gordon was the college and MILB player of the year, a 2nd overall pick and destroyed the Texas League. He had a rough rookie year but redeemed himself, then in 2008 was on his way to looking like a regular. Injuries in 2009 slowed him, and 2010 was reinvention. Gordon had demonstrated his skills and it was a matter of staying healthy all year to use those skills.
     
    Frenchy showed very early that he could be an impact bat. Hit hit in them minors and hit as a phenom as a rookie and in his second year. His tendencies to chase (and bulking up too much) caused some bad seasons but he’d shown skills in the minors and last year was able to display them again.
     
    Melky as well had shown the ability to hit for average and get on base in the minors (though most was built off of his BA) and had some extra base ability. He hovered around league average prior to the Royals but had shown that he could be potentially better than average based on his minor league performance. In his case, he lost weight and gained focus, but that “inflection point” applies to him because he’d already demonstrated ability to produce.
     
    Mendoza has never been an average minor leaguer. He’s been an awful big league pitcher. He’s not shown any skill in striking batters out (missing bats and contact), preventing baserunners (1.40 WHIP) or showing extraordinary control (2.8 bb/9 but actually increased last year in Omaha). So even if there’s an inflection point, how does that conjure up skills that Mendoza has never demonstrated in the past? 

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  • jim fetterolf

     @michael.allen.engel  @Kevin Scobee  @jim Mendoza didn’t get shelled, nor did Mazzaro nor Adcock, all produced a bunch of ground balls as they are supposed to. Things would be much easier if Mendoza did blow up this spring.
     
    As for last year’s outfield, found a blogger who proclaimed it to be the worst outfield ever and gave some numbers. Josh Duggan, and, as I recall, he wasn’t alone. I used to get a lot of grief because I did, in fact, predict that Alex would have a real good year, based on him spending the winter at Mac-N-Seitz totally retooling his swing and approach, creating an inflection point.
     
    Mendoza will be interesting and we’ll just have to disagree about the value of K9 and stuff. Good thread, thanks:)

  • davidwlowe

    If the Royals truly wanted to embrace the youth movement in the starting pitcher ranks, then they shouldn’t have signed Bruce Chen to two more years. He essentially took Danny Duffy’s spot in the rotation.
     
    Add to that the pickup of Felipe Paulino last year, his moderate success, and the lack of options, the Royals seem determined to give him a shot.  So that is another starting spot taken from Royals prospect arms, namely Duffy and Mike Montgomery.
     
    Now the emergence of Luis Mendoza, who has no options left in the minors, clogs it up even further. If Mendoza’s change in mechanics is truly career changing and no one can hit him, the Royals would be foolish to not give him the ball every fifth start.
     
    Add to that the fact that Jonathan Sanchez took another spot in the rotation from the young guns, at least for one year, and suddenly there are zero spots for the prospects.  Luke Hochevar, of course, is the incumbent.
     
    It is for these reasons I believe:
    a.  Luke Hochevar must at least repeat what he did in the 2nd half of the season last year. Any regression from that progress will get him traded to the NL for minor leaguers.
     
    b.  Felipe Paulino must perform well. If he doesn’t, he’ll be put on the DL or traded/put on waivers.
     
    c.  Luis Mendoza must also perform well. If he doesn’t, he’ll be put on waivers or traded.
     
    d.  By signing Bruce Chen to two years and by trading for Jonathan Sanchez, the Royals are locked into these two guys for the entire year, and two years for Chen, barring trades involving either or both.
     
    Any of the uncertainties mentioned in a) through d) will open up spots for the young Royals starting pitchers. The way it looks now, the starting rotation will be:
    1.  Luke Hochevar
    2.  Jonathan Sanchez
    3.  Luis Mendoza
    4.  Bruce Chen
    5.  Felipe Paulino
     
    And that means none of the homegrown young starting pitching prospects will start the season with the Royals. Sorry, that’s just the way the Royals management decided to do it. They made their bed and must now sleep in it.
     
    Dave

  • davidwlowe

    If the Royals truly wanted to embrace the youth movement in the starting pitcher ranks, then they shouldn’t have signed Bruce Chen to two more years. He essentially took Danny Duffy’s spot in the rotation.
     
    Add to that the pickup of Felipe Paulino last year, his moderate success, and the lack of options, the Royals seem determined to give him a shot.  So that is another starting spot taken from Royals prospect arms, namely Duffy and Mike Montgomery.
     
    Now the emergence of Luis Mendoza, who has no options left in the minors, clogs it up even further. If Mendoza’s change in mechanics is truly career changing and no one can hit him, the Royals would be foolish to not give him the ball every fifth start.
     
    Add to that the fact that Jonathan Sanchez took another spot in the rotation from the young guns, at least for one year, and suddenly there are zero spots for the prospects.  Luke Hochevar, of course, is the incumbent.
     
    It is for these reasons I believe:
    a.  Luke Hochevar must at least repeat what he did in the 2nd half of the season last year. Any regression from that progress will get him traded to the NL for minor leaguers. Plus, everybody is tired of the “Ya know?” interviews.
     
    b.  Felipe Paulino must perform well. If he doesn’t, he’ll be put on the DL or traded/put on waivers.
     
    c.  Luis Mendoza must also perform well. If he doesn’t, he’ll be put on waivers or traded.
     
    d.  By signing Bruce Chen to two years and by trading for Jonathan Sanchez, the Royals are locked into these two guys for the entire year, and two years for Chen, barring trades involving either or both.
     
    Any of the uncertainties mentioned in a) through d) will open up spots for the young Royals starting pitchers. The way it looks now, the starting rotation will be:
    1.  Luke Hochevar
    2.  Jonathan Sanchez
    3.  Luis Mendoza
    4.  Bruce Chen
    5.  Felipe Paulino
     
    And that means none of the homegrown young starting pitching prospects will start the season with the Royals. Sorry, that’s just the way the Royals management decided to do it. They made their bed and must now sleep in it.
     
    Dave

  • michael.allen.engel

     @davidwlowe If Mendoza doesn’t do well, nobody’s going to trade for him, but yeah, he won’t be on the team. The logistics of roster maneuvering really stink when it determines that there’s a strong possibility that the Royals will leave their most talented starting option in the minors in a year where they’re saying they want to do things with an eye towards winning.

  • michael.allen.engel

     @jim fetterolf  @Kevin Scobee  @jim How can you not value K/9? It’s not as simple as saying “high strikeout rate = guarantee of success”, but it provides a much better chance for it.
     
    No batter has ever in the history of the game gotten a base hit by swinging and missing. More contact = more opportunities for basehits. That’s where Mendoza can run into trouble. Maybe he didn’t get shelled today, but he didn’t have a steep increase in ground ball tendencies, he didn’t improve his walkrate drastically (in fact it worsened) and he didn’t have a sharp increase in strikeouts. His approach still relies on the defense and the hope that batters don’t hit it out of the park. All of those factors, statistically over a longer time period, should gravitate back to the general career line that Mendoza’s always had, which is a barely average minor leaguer. I was wrong for two innings today (though nobody on the Rangers seemed to hit well today other than Moreland’s hit, so it’s tough to judge two inning chunks). 
     
    I don’t know how I can convince you that nothing has changed with Mendoza. Had he had a jump in strikeouts to even 6+ K/9 or dropped his walks to under 2 BB/9 that’d be one thing. Or if he had a 55% GB rate or better, that’d be another, but nothing has shifted far from his typical career numbers. 

  • davidwlowe

     @michael.allen.engel yeah, probably fair that nobody would trade for Mendoza. So if he doesn’t perform, he’ll probably be put on waivers and hope that he clears.

  • jim fetterolf

     @michael.allen.engel  @Kevin Scobee  @jim  K9 is nice, but if we look at our staff we have Sanchez, Paulino, Duffy, even Crow and Collins who have high K9 and aren’t much on net K/9, which leads to a lot of pitches and short outings and little success at winning games last year. When I look at pitching leader boards, two numbers jump out to me, runs and innings, the best pitchers averaging over seven innings and around three runs.
     
    As for what has changed for Mendoza, we’ve been told that it is his complete mechanics. That is fairly major. I’m guessing that he’s also had a little training change, as I’ve heard his fb is now in the 91-94mph range, which is good for a sinking fb. Spring training  will give us more information, but he did nothing yesterday to hurt his chances, 4-1 GB-FB rate. He should be an informative case and shed some light on what Dave Eiland is doing, a little jump in velocity suggesting enhanced training, something I’ve expected from Eiland.
     
    Let’s just revisit this in a few weeks when we have more data. You will likely be right, but Mendoza is a central domino of the staff, his success or failure having repercussions for several other pitchers.

  • Kevin Scobee

     @jim fetterolf  @michael.allen.engel  @jim a pitchers responsibility is to limit balls in play by any means necessary, and worry less about how many innings he may end up throwing – this is the fatal flaw of the “pitch to contact method”, which is a myth. (More on this later today when I post)
     
    Simply point, from my perspective as a former coach and training, I want me guys throwing for the strikeout to every batter. Two reasons 1) greater chance of success without balls in play and 2) a natural byproduct of throwing quality stuff on every pitch by means of trying for a strikeout, is two and three pitch outs. It’s simple logic that people fail to get to. If my purpose is to get to three strikes, then each pitch leading up to that point will be of high quality and unhittable. If it is hittable, by purpose of my end goal of a strikeout, it will be of weak contact.
     
    Now, to tell a pitcher to try and throw for the 1 and 2 pitch outs, you are thereby lessening his effectiveness and “stuff” because the natural inclination is to gear back and through more pitches over the plate. After all, you can’t get a one pitch out if your first pitch is a ball.
     
    One and two pitch outs is a byproduct of quality stuff, not throwing strikes. It works when pitching for strikeouts and swings and misses; it doesn’t work the other way around. The “use your defense” method of pitching is a myth. Defense should make the plays they have to make regardless if I, as a pitcher, am “keeping them in the game” or not. That’s their job.
     
    I must stop this now. I’m editing and I’m going to get sidetracked and have to write an even longer post.
     
    I will say this though: if you are right about Mendoza and he does in fact turn into something other than the train wreck he’s been in the minors, the Royals are in a good situation.

  • jim fetterolf

     @Kevin Scobee  @michael.allen.engel  @jim Kevin, I understand the advantages of Ks but we also see that many Ks don’t come from three quality pitches in the ‘zone, but from pitchers nibbling after they get two strikes and trying to get a hitter to chase a ball out of the ‘zone, Danny Duffy and Tim Collins both coming to mind, and in both cases it leads to high walks, which lowers net Ks, and high pitch counts, which leads to shorter appearances and more weight on a bullpen.
     
    I agree that one and two pitch at bats come from quality stuff, which can be defined as movement and deception, which manifests as strikes but can also be seen in three hopper ground balls and IFBs. With the team trying to go with a seven man ‘pen this year, 25 pitch innings, even with 3 Ks, can be a disadvantage for a starter. Superior stuff doesn’t always stay in the ‘zone and as Paul Splittorff pointed out last year re: Tim Collins, major league hitters can hold off on pitches darting out of the ‘zone that AAA batters whiff on. Few pitchers have the four plus pitches of Justin Verlander and can make batters miss on pitches in the ‘zone.
     
    This discussion will continue until we start getting finer slices of balls in play, when LDs can be broken down into cup cakes to the 2B, one-hoppers to the LF, and screaming drives off the wall. Same with GBs, all of which aren’t created equally. There’s the weak roller to the SS, the solid two-hopper to 2B, and the crushed one-bounce liner from a flat swing that never gets three feet off the ground. Velocity of BIPs is the missing ingredient and I think that is something a pitcher has a great deal to do with.