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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