July 18, 2011; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Louis Coleman (46) delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

This Bullpen's Looking Crowded

These numbers just aren’t working out. It’s frustrating me because no matter how bad some of the Royals pitching staff has been, I’d like to keep the ones who have potential. So many of them have potential, but there’s simply not enough room.

Ned Yost has indicated that he would like to carry 12 pitchers and four bench players into the season. That means five starters and seven relievers, but however I slice it, a potentially valuable commodity gets left out. Actually, more than one.

It’s an unusual feeling for Royals fans, to feel like we have too much talent for one roster. I made a comment the other day on Twitter that the 2012 Omaha Storm Chaser bullpen might be the second best bullpen in baseball.

Here’s how it breaks down. I believe the five holdovers from last year’s starting rotation will win their jobs back; that leaves seven spots in the bullpen. Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland, and Jose Mijares are all pretty much locked in. That leaves three spots for Aaron Crow (who Yost has indicated will stay in the bullpen if he can’t make the rotation), Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, Luis Mendoza, Blake Wood, and Kelvin Herrera. The other candidates seemingly have no shot—and frankly, I don’t think Wood’s got much of a shot either.

Aaron Crow. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Six guys for three spots. Each guy brings something a little different to the table. Collins is another lefty. Crow has great strike out potential. Coleman’s a steady hand with good deception. Mendoza’s got versatility to throw multiple innings and start occasionally. Wood has the power sinker to get ground balls. And Herrera might have the best stuff of all of them. So, who gets left out? And more importantly, what are the ramifications of those decisions.

We have to assume at this point that Crow will get one of the remaining spots. Yost has essentially said as much. He was an All Star in the bullpen, and I think Yost doesn’t want to play with Crow’s confidence by sending him to AAA to work as a starter, which is what I think they should do. At some point, they will have to decide what they have in Crow and give him a chance to be that, whatever it is. If it’s a starter, they have to let him try to be a starter instead of shuffling him back and forth between roles.

Anyway, despite what one lowly, rotund blogger thinks, it looks like the Royals will give one of those bullpen spots to Crow. That leaves two. I’m pretty certain that Yost will want to carry more than one lefty in the pen. That means that as long as Collins isn’t terrible in the spring, he’ll get one of the spots. He was supposedly very effective in the intrasquad matchup, and people are raving about a mechanical adjustment that helped improved his command. We’ll see.

That leaves one spot for three talented pitchers … and Blake Wood (ZING!). Some are not as high on Mendoza as I am (if thinking a guy can excel in a swingman role is being “high” on him). I find value in a pitcher who can move between bullpen and rotation, throw some strikes, keep a team in a game, and who the team doesn’t have to worry about in terms of his future. The Royals can use Mendoza however they want. And he’s out of options, which along with his versatility, is the greatest point in his favor.

I have no answer for who gets the last spot. I don’t think it will be Wood or Herrera because Wood isn’t good enough and both have options. It comes down to Coleman or Mendoza. Coleman pitched very well last year. I like him a lot as a pitcher. But he can’t make a start if the Royals need him to, and he probably can’t take over in the third inning and bridge the gap to the rest of the bullpen with three or four innings of work.

On the flip side, Mendoza isn’t as proven as Coleman. Michael Engel wrote a very scathing critique of Mendoza that pointed out his greatest flaw: he doesn’t strike out many hitters. Consequently, his numbers from AAA look a little deceiving. Coleman, on the other hand does strike guys out.

Ultimately, performance in the spring might decide this conundrum. But if all considered pitch well enough, the Royals have to ask themselves some tough questions. If they choose Coleman over Mendoza, who fills the long relief role? It could be no one, but that might wear out the bullpen quickly. It could be Crow. But he’s never filled that role before, and they have his future to consider.  Also, he spent the last half-season being pretty ineffective. If they choose Coleman over Mendoza, they probably lose Mendoza to the waiver wire.

If they choose Mendoza, they will gamble that he can sustain his performance from last season without the benefit of high strike out numbers.* It’s a pretty risky gamble, made slightly better by the Royals’ good defense. Note please that one of the criticisms of Mendoza is that he won’t be able to maintain his low BABIP from 2011, .268. By contrast, Coleman’s was .246. In fact, looking a little closer at the numbers makes Coleman’s season from last year look a little less shiny (4.30 FIP, 3.92 BB/9, 1.36 HR/9), just like Mendoza.

*I wrote this before Sunday’s game in which Mendoza and Herrera pitched very well.

I’m so torn about this decision, and I don’t even have to make it. Luckily, spring performance should help decide. But I’m going to do the ballsy thing and give my thoughts right now, before seeing a pitch.* If I had the choice to make, and I had to make it right now, I’m taking Mendoza. I think having someone to fill the swingman role is important with such a suspect rotation, and keeping Mendoza gives the Royals the chance to have both pitchers if they need them moving forward—say if Broxton gets traded midseason or someone gets hurt. If Mendoza is ineffective, they can cut him and bring Coleman up without too much damage being done.

*Again, I wrote this before Sunday’s game. Though it wasn’t on television so technically I still haven’t seen a pitch.

Feel free to openly criticize that decision and let me know who you would keep and why.

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Tags: Aaron Crow AL Central Baseball Blake Wood Greg Holland Joakim Soria Jonathan Broxton Jose Mijares Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Kelvin Herrera Louis Coleman Luis Mendoza MLB Royals Tim Collins

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