Battle for the Bump 2.0 – Three minus one equals four?

Is Smith the man for the job? Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

You’d think the battle for the fifth rotation spot just got a little more clear, but no, not just yet. As we all know, Luke Hochevar, banished to the bullpen, is out of a three-horse race that should be down to just two, but instead, there are four? It was my understanding there would be no math…

We already knew about Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza, but since I last broached the subject, Will Smith has continued pitching brilliantly in Surprise, and according to reports, top prospect Yordano Ventura may be in the mix.

Even with Hochevar involved, I thought this battle was a coin toss between Mendoza and Chen, with a possible nod to Chen (being a veteran and a lefty), but now…I’m wondering why not Smith? This spring, Smith has made three appearances for a total of 7 innings pitched. In that small sample size, he’s mowed down 8 batters and walked only 1. He’s only allowed 2 hits as well, which all adds up to a 0.429 WHIP and 1.29 ERA. Going back to the Baseball Reference “Quality of Opposition” tool once again, Smith’s number is at a 9.5 of a possible 10…meaning he’s gone up against some pretty damn good hitters.

I thought Chen’s throwing arm would be a big plus…being the sole lefty candidate in the battle, but Smith being a southpaw negates that advantage. With the Royals trying to win this year, they no longer need to go with a stopgap, a tag you could slap on either hurler (Smith as the young unproven pitcher, Chen in the role of “over the hill” veteran). Smith is 13 years younger than Chen and still on his way up (hopefully). He’s more of an unknown, sure, but with a world of untapped potential. Chen, on the other hand, is past his prime. We know what Chen is capable of.

For the record, Chen currently sits at 8.2 IP, 7 hits, 2 BB, 8 K, and 6 earned runs. His WHIP isn’t bad at 1.038, but his 6.23 ERA fails to impress. His quality of opposition also sits about a full point below Smith’s at just 8.6. That means Chen is getting lit up by a mix of AAA and lower end big league talent for the most part.

What of right-hander Luis Mendoza? I previously stated he should probably be the front-runner in this battle. He’s gone just 6 innings with the Royals this spring (thanks to the World Baseball Classic) but has looked sharp. He’s given up 6 hits and 1 walk, struck out 4, and given up just 1 earned run for a 1.167 WHIP and 1.50 ERA. With Mexico, Mendoza only logged a couple of innings, but got knocked around a bit, giving up 2 BB and 3 hits for a 2.50 WHIP, although he posted an ERA of zero.

Going by the stats this spring, it looks to be a race between Mendoza and Smith…but they say numbers don’t necessarily win these battles, so Chen is definitely still in the mix. And then, there’s the wild card. Yordano Ventura?

I personally don’t think there is a chance “Ace” Ventura vaults all the way from AA past this trio, but stranger things have happened. Reports say he’s in the mix, and will receive more innings as a starter now that Luke is in the pen. So let’s take a look at his spring stats.

The first thing that jumps out at me? Ventura’s quality of opposition is a 9.6 – a notch above Smith. But how is the young phenom, who only has 29.1 innings above A ball, performing against such stiff competition? Well…he’s doing a stellar job, actually. In his 8.2 innings, he has allowed 4 hits and 2 BB (0.692 WHIP), and has struck out 6 batters. Ventura has allowed 2 earned runs, giving him a 2.08 ERA.

Oh, and he pitched so well the other day, the home plate umpire couldn’t even believe it.

Is flame throwing Yordano Ventura really in the mix?. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

What does all this add up to? Does he have a chance? Again…I doubt it, but I don’t think he could pitch any better than he has this spring. With hardly any time at AA last year, I think Ventura is headed north, to Omaha (at least for now). It certainly gives us all something to be hopeful about, though, and he could be called up sooner rather than later, depending on how things go with the other candidates. One thing is certain – his stuff is filthy, and that fastball will be hard to keep off the roster for too much longer.

So…when you add it all up, where do we stand? I’d like to see Mendoza get his shot. He had a great second half of 2012, pitched great winter ball, and is throwing great again in Arizona. I still think Yost could lean towards Chen or Smith based on wanting a lefty, and if that’s the case I am rooting for Smith. He’s young and hungry and pitching better than any other person we’ve discussed here. What’s the worst thing that could happen? He stinks it up for a few starts and gets replaced by one of the other guys?

The Royals have to go with their best five, no doubt. No more throwing the young guy out there for the hell of it or going with a veteran placeholder. The team wants to compete right now. And right now, Smith might be the best guy for the job. Will he be that guy that guy two weeks – or two months – from now? We’ll find out soon enough.

Topics: Kansas City Royals, Spring Training, Yordano Ventura

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  • jimfetterolf

    I would remind that Mike Montgomery had a Ventura’esque spring a couple of years ago. I expect a couple of trades to clarify things over the next two weeks, Hoch to the ‘pen is a “Reduced Price” sign unless they’re looking at trading Aaron Crow, and Luis Mendoza should have a lot of value to Colorado with his ground ball rate and their poor staff.

    • Michael Engel

      how many is “a couple of trades”? I could see *a* trade, but they’re really not at the mercy of options/waivers or anything like that except in the case of the three starters from the original fifth starter battle and are clearly comfortable having all three (or saying as much) right now. If they get the return they want, sure, they’ll make a move, but they’d be trading simply to be trading otherwise.

      • jimfetterolf

        I think two. Luke was just put in the discount bin, Will Smith is pushing Chen out, so I still see two of the three candidates and former candidates gone as soon as the end of SP. And yes, trading to simply be trading makes sense at this point for Hoch and Chen, get a lottery ticket, eat half the salary, and move on. Mendoza is the most valuable of the three and might get a return worth trading him. I looked at Colorado’s rotation the other day and he would be their ace and someone who could survive at Coors’ a little better than average.

        • Bob Ellis

          I’m just expecting the one trade…but we’ll see. I suppose they could get busy in the last couple of weeks and trade a couple of guys. I think they try like hell to move Hoch, Put Chen in the rotation, Mendoza in the pen, and send Smith/Ventura to Omaha. I’m rooting for Smith or Mendoza to grab that fifth spot…but I think they let Chen start with it and see how he does.

          but who knows…I never thought I’d see the day they gave up on Hoch as a starter….I feel like anything is possible.

          • jimfetterolf

            Believing in Hoch as a starter was forced by lack of depth. Now, with depth and Luke’s walk year, much easier to take him out of consideration as starter for the time being.

            This spring, I think, has made Dayton Moore a little more comfortable with what he has, probably the biggest thing is Ervin Santana seems to have re-found his velocity. GM Moore talked about a battle for #5 but was probably afraid it might be a battle for #4 and #5, so kept some options open. The more comfortable he gets the more expendable a couple of the pitchers get, freeing space and some salary.

          • Bob Ellis

            Only problem with the lack of depth/believing in Luke thing…they had depth going into this year. With 4 guys slated in plus (not counting Luke) at least Chen, Mendoza, Smith that’s 7 starters you could go to. And Duffy/Paulino making their way back at some point…plus later in year you MIGHT be able to call on Ventura (if needed for some reason). But, hey…at least we have options!

          • jimfetterolf

            Can’t remember exactly when Luke was tendered, but don’t think we had the first four starters in place then. Seems we had Santana at that point.

            Agree that we have options now and they are being looked at. I’m sure Dayton Moore is on the phone.

          • Bob Ellis

            Jim, it was about a month after the Shields trade that Hoch was signed. That’s why so many were up in arms at that point. Shields trade was Dec. and Hoch was signed in mid-January. I think when we landed Shields/Davis to go with Guthrie/Santana and the rest….it was assumed we’d non-tender him.

            Anyway…I agree…I’m sure something will happen and Dayton is probably a busy man right about now.

          • jimfetterolf

            Tendered, not signed. The tender for arb eligible comes earlier I think, looks like before 12/02/12. Santana was traded around 10/31/12. Guthrie signed 11/21′ish/12. Looks like Shields and Davis were first week of December. Timing is everything.

  • Dave Lowe

    I’ll be at Ventura’s start Friday night in Glendale against the Dodgers! Lovin’ me some Phoenix, AZ heat.

    • Bob Ellis

      Dave – do you have a scouting report for us?

  • ArrowFan

    what is so wrong with keep a sixth or even seventh man in case of injury? Is it all about the money or does roster spots play a bigger roll?

    • Bob Ellis

      Oh there’s nothing wrong with depth. With the first four spots settled, they still have four guys (five if you count Luke) who can start for them in a pinch. Luke, Chen, Mendoza, Smith, and Ventura as a last resort until he gets some AAA polish. Then Paulino and Duffy will be coming back as well…so there are plenty of arms to fall back on as the season goes.

      The problem is being on the hook for so much money with Luke, who they have removed from the rotation. So let’s say Chen gets the spot…Smith will go to AAA, then you have Luke and Mendoza in the pen…taking up spots that could go to some really good relief arms (see Mike Engel’s article on musical chairs).

  • ArrowFan

    If we do trade one or two what do we need?

    • Bob Ellis

      I’d say a lottery ticket minor leaguer or a guy who could challenge for a bench role on the big league roster….I don’t expect much in return, but they definitely have a log jam at this point….

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