On the heels of the disappointing decision yesterday of sending David Lough to AAA instead of platooning him with Jeff Francoeur, the Kansas City Royals made the correct decision in naming Luis Mendoza the team’s fifth starter. Bruce Chen will join erstwhile starter Luke Hochevar in the bullpen.
Mendoza hasn’t pitched much with the Royals this spring due to his World Baseball Classic commitments. In his limited chances though, he has pitched very well. In 3 games and 11 innings, Mendoza has given up only 1 run on 10 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 8. That translates to a sparkling .82 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in the very small sample size. Chen, on the other hand, had a 7.90 ERA and a WHIP of 1.39 in 13.2 innings. Both have pitched in minor league games and these numbers do not include those games.
In 2012, neither pitched particularly well. Mendoza had the better ERA (4.34 to 5.07) but Chen had the lower WHIP (1.37 to .142). Neither strike out many hitters and both give up too many hits. Chen, however, is more of a fly ball pitcher. Last season, 67% of the balls put in play against him were in the air (45% fly balls and 22% line drives). He gave up 33 home runs in 191.2 innings, a number entirely too high. In comparison, Mendoza is an extreme ground ball pitcher. In 2012, 52% of the balls in play against him were hit on the ground. In 166 innings, he allowed only 15 home runs, less than half the Chen allowed in only 26.2 less innings.
Despite their similar surface stats, Mendoza appears to be the best choice. For soft tossers like Chen and Mendoza, having ground ball tendencies is better than giving up long balls. If pitchers don’t miss a lot of bats, they have to curtail the possible damage of giving up more hits. It’s better to give up ground balls than home runs. Because of this factor, Mendoza was the correct choice for the Royals. Keep in mind, if all goes well, he will just be a place holder until Danny Duffy or Felipe Paulino can return in June or July.
Some will worry that the Royals won’t have a left hander in the rotation to start the season, but the Royals can choose to switch their roles if Mendoza falters or it proves to be detrimental later. It has been a while since the Royals have had this much depth in the rotation (25 years?). It is a nice luxury to have and we should be glad the Royals do not have to have Chen, Mendoza, and Hochevar at the top of the rotation any longer.
(Thanks to Ron Shandler’s 2013 Baseball Forecaster and Encyclopedia of Fanalytics for that publication’s information on fly ball, ground ball, and line drive rates.)