June 12, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Luis Mendoza (39) waves to the crowd after being relieved in the seventh inning of the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Kauffman Stadium. Mendoza threw a no hitter through six innings. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A Mendoza Miracle

I begged. I pleaded. I implored Ned Yost not to waste a rotation spot on Luis Mendoza. I argued his strikeout and walk rates were a recipe for failure and that he’d be a disaster as a starting pitcher. This was, of course, a year ago and my rock solid argument fell on deaf ears as Mendoza opened the 2012 season in the rotation.

My oh my, what a difference a year makes. I’m begging and pleading again, but this time, I want Mendoza in the rotation.

I wasn’t entirely wrong about him last year, the predictable did happen; he walked too many, struck out too few and was just all around horrible. He was demoted to the bullpen in May but received a second chance when Felipe Paulino went down in early June. He responded to his second chance by being a pitcher he’d never been in his career before. Look at the difference in his numbers between his first 10 appearances and his last 20, which were all starts.

4/9 – 6/6 5.36 10 5 43.2 5.1 3.9 0.76
6/12 – 10/3 3.83 20 20 122.1 2.5 6.2 2.50

That’s a fairly impressive run for a guy who struck out just 4.8 hitters every 9 innings in the minors (1111 IP). He finished the season with a 97 ERA+, a mark Luke Hochevar has never come close to accomplishing. Based on that 20 start stretch I think Mendoza has earned another look in the rotation. I don’t think it will happen though. Yost has already made comments that Mendoza would be a good fit at long relief, and I suspect Hochevar will get the fifth spot, even without actually earning it. Regardless of how I viewed Mendoza last year he did have a solid spring. This year I don’t think it will matter, especially now that he’s off on a WBC quest for Mexican glory.

I can’t imagine Hochevar suddenly getting it this year so I think at some point Mendoza will get a shot. If Yost needs a couple more months to completely rid the inconsistent right-hander from his system then I suppose I can live with that. I just won’t like it.

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  • jimfetterolf

    Maybe Ned Yost is a sabr guy and thinks last year was an outlier? Mendoza’s career screams “epic fail” as I was informed much of last year by folks who were supposed to know these things.

    What I think is that Luis Mendoza was reinvented middle of ’10 at Omaha, won PCL Pitcher of the Year in ’11, started a little rough in ’12 but cleaned up the mechanics and added a curve and returned to the rotation where he did just fine, FIP be damned.

    This year he’s in a crowd but is the most keepable of the three obvious candidates for the 5th spot, the other two of whom are drawing trade interest, as Mendoza also likely is, as Will Smith is a young lefty and Yordano Ventura is knocking on the door with three TJS rehabbers getting close. Mendoza’s great advantage as a long man is that he can both get warm quick, something not every starter can do, and he can burn innings, something not every reliever can do. That’s the main reason to see him in that role.

    As for Ned Yost and Luke Hochevar, Yost is doing his job, Luke is working on his, threw some nice heat yesterday, good curve and change, and survived two innings with runners on base. There’s some GM out there who thinks his pitching coach can fix a guy with four or five pitches who throws 94mph, so there’s a chance for a trade, there’s a chance for a platoon of Hoch and Chen depending on ballpark and line-up, there’s a chance Luke turns into a late-inning reliever, but I doubt anything is pre-determined.

    We went through the whole “Dayton Moore won’t admit he made a mistake with xxx” last year and that meme seems to be continuing, but I don’t buy it. Last year Luke was good enough for a bad rotation, this year he’s one of eleven or so potentially good starters over the course of the year, so the leash is much shorter. I think he gets traded by the end of SP. Some team will have an injury and be willing to take a chance on pure stuff.

    • Jeff Parker

      I agree there are teams that’d love a crack at Hochevar, and there may actually be a pitching coach that can fix him, but I can’t see it happening in KC. I’ll say this though, Hochevar at #5 offends me far less than at #1 or #2.

      • Bob Ellis

        We keep hearing that the Royals are afraid to move Hoch and watch him succeed elsewhere. Well guess what? It’s not working here. So what if he succeeds elsewhere? The chances of him succeeding here grow smaller every season.

        I just saw a quote from Moore somewhere in the last couple of days saying if you worry about what the guys you’re trading are going to do somewhere else that eventually you’ll be paralyzed into never trading at all. Time to listen to your own advice DM….

        • jimfetterolf

          Bob, we hear the “afraid” thing from the “usual suspects” who told us that last year about Sanchez and Yuni. I know things aren’t moving as fast as the Instant Gratification Generation might like, but Bob Dutton did mention that there were so many scouts at the game to watch Hoch and Bruce the other day that the media room ran out of food.

          Things are percolating, other teams are watching their own injury situations and question marks, for a pitcher going to a new team doesn’t need a lot of lead time, so why trade now when you can trade in three weeks.

          The Royals are watching Santana for indications of injury, based on his velo drop last year. Bruce is old, Wade Davis was a reliever last year, Guthrie had a bad first half with Coors Field and an injury, one of the Nerds is worried about Shields falling off. Even the Royals have some questions.

          Something will happen to thin the herd, Dayton Moore and other GMs are just waiting for more information before they make decisions. Some one or two of the contestants will be traded.

          • Michael Engel

            1. Who are the “usual suspects”?
            2. Nerds?

            And I don’t think Bob’s advocating “make a trade right now”. I read that more as a general idea that it’s not reasonable to be afraid to make a deal because it seems that the breakthrough may be unlikely in KC, so the options are to keep him around just so nobody else can fix him (which is a waste of time and resources more times than not) or to get what you can now – cut the losses and recover anything of value. What happens after a trade is out of KC’s control so being afraid is silly and DM shouldn’t have that as a consideration.

          • jimfetterolf

            You are not a “usual suspect”. “Nerds” are the stat guys. I assume you saw the piece about Shields breaking down or whatever.

          • Bob Ellis

            I don’t need instant gratification, but the thought that they may not move Hoch – or keep him over Chen or someone else – because they are afraid he will find success elsewhere is not very sound decision making. I’m glad Moore said what he did, now he just needs to act on it – assuming he finds a willing trade partner. I don’t expect anything to happen (if it does) until the end of spring.

          • Michael Engel

            And they’ll have more value toward the end of spring as other injuries occur or fringe guys don’t look like they’ll be able to be Team ___’s 5th starter.

          • jimfetterolf

            “Afraid” is the meme, but need and return are more important. If Luke is traded, though, I expect it to be to an NL team; SD, Colorado, and Houston being three possibilities. I think Luke and Mendoza bring the most return, Mendoza more valuable and a good fit for Coors Field, Hochevar with a big ceiling.

            If Luke has a good spring, there will be interest. From Dayton Moore’s side it comes down to how the big four stay healthy and look, the rehabs on TJS, whether Dave Eiland thinks Ventura is close, whether Will Smith really is channeling Split, whether old Master Chen can keep the ball down. He’ll have more answers in a few weeks and some other teams will have a starter with a shoulder, lat, or elbow or maybe even one doing a Guthrie and wrecking his bicycle. Might see a package of Hochevar and a reliever, maybe Giavotella thrown in to get an OF.

            Look at it this way, if you could trade a couple of A-ball arms or a 4th OF for a 29 year old who throws 94mph and has five pitches and durability, would you do it? I would if I had the room for him.

  • Dave Lowe

    Yep, I remember your begging and pleading last year, Parker. I also heard it from the guys at Royals Review. I was in favor of Mendoza in the rotation, and I was pretty much alone.

    I am glad you at least came out and admitted you missed it last year.

  • http://twitter.com/OmahaBaseball Lee Warren

    I wrote this story about Mendoza last year about this time: (Why Luis Mendoza Deserves Another Look, http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ycn-11055114)

    Coming into the 2012 season, he wasn’t the same pitcher, thanks in part to Doug Henry changing his delivery, but I didn’t know if it would translate to the big leagues. I just had a feeling that it would.

    • Michael Engel

      Great link, Lee. I think skepticism of his 2011 is justified, but he did see improved strikeout numbers in the second half while starting so some adjustments clearly took.

      In general, though, most pitchers wouldn’t see such a turnaround without a dramatic change in some metric (K rate, BB rate, GB/FB) and Mendoza’s 2011 rates were worse than his usual pro rates, and most pitchers aren’t going to show improvement at all when that happens. Hope he keeps the magic and shares it with the rest.