After Ned Yost announced that Bruce Chen would rejoin the Royals rotation, fans knowingly nodded their heads. Wade Davis has the worst ERA for any qualifying starting pitcher in the American League. It sounded like the organization must not have been able to tolerate his lack of control and high pitch counts anymore. Yost said that Chen would replace Luis Mendoza. Wait…what?
Then it gets bizarre.
Yost also said that Mendoza was originally named the #5 starter in the Royals rotation because, “Mendy had pitched in winter ball. He pitched in the Carribbean Series. He pitched in the WBC (World Baseball Classic). He was ready to go at the beginning of the season.”
So, according to Yost, Mendoza didn’t win the job because he added a slider in 2012 that drops like a power-curve to go along with his sinker that can reach mid-90s on a good day. It was because he pitched during the off-season leaving him ready to face major leaguers every fifth day. Chen though, “is not an early start guy,” says Yost.
Yost must think that no one ever fact checks him when he makes something up, because he keeps doing it.
Bruce Chen’s pitching by month:
It doesn’t really look like Bruce Chen “is not an early start guy.” His April/March 4.23 ERA is better than his career 4.55 ERA and better than his Mays or Junes. If we are to draw any conclusions about his overall effectiveness from these somewhat arbitrary timestamps within a season, the only thing we know for sure is: Chen should not start in July, any month but July! In the month of July, Chen has a 6.21 ERA! (This doesn’t really mean anything, but for fun, everyone please direct your attention to the date in the bottom right of your computer screen)
Chen probably shouldn’t rejoin the rotation. He shouldn’t replace anyone. He’s been excellent in his role as long reliever, where his skill set can be most effective. His fastball is slow, but as long as Chen doesn’t throw more than 75 pitches, he can fool hitters long enough to get outs. Still, moving Chen into the rotation isn’t entirely indefensible. It has nothing at all to do with Yost’s weird Chen-fiction about early-start difficulties, but there is a case to be made for this move.
Leaving Davis in the rotation was a foregone conclusion. The Royals need him to produce the rest of this season and next season. He needs to get back into the rhythm of being a starter, and he can’t do that without grinding through bad starts. No one debates that he should already be accustomed to starting, but that’s the way things go sometimes. The hard reality is, without Davis pitching well, the Royals have a slim chance of getting a post season spot this year or next, or advancing anywhere if that should happen. Sure, right now he looks like Luke Hochevar 2.0, but how many Hochevars can there be? Based on his track record with Tampa Bay and the flashes of brilliance he’s shown this season, he has to get better. Probably. Maybe.
Why does Mendoza get the boot? Well, he has issues after his first time through the lineup.
|1st PA in G, as SP||56||508||52||122||10||39||64||.267||.331||.403||.734||184||7|
|2nd PA in G, as SP||55||474||69||124||13||40||65||.297||.362||.467||.829||195||7|
|3rd PA in G, as SP||50||315||40||86||8||29||48||.310||.389||.469||.858||130||7|
|4th+ PA in G, as SP||7||13||2||3||0||2||1||.300||.385||.400||.785||4||0|
An .829 OPS second time through and a .858 OPS third time through are not the most ideal numbers for a starting pitcher. After adding his slider last year, batters only had a .665 OPS in their first time through the lineup, which should carry over to long relief. His fastball should increase in velocity out of the bullpen, reaching as high as 96-97 mph. Chen, on the other hand, is a more typical starting pitcher. He struggles through the first inning like most starting pitchers and settles down until his fourth time through the lineup, like most starting pitchers. Bruce Chen has been better through his first 27 batters than Mendoza.
|1st PA in G, as SP||203||1843||200||433||69||158||341||.264||.331||.451||.782||739||14|
|2nd PA in G, as SP||201||1766||209||423||75||127||330||.263||.319||.461||.780||740||11|
|3rd PA in G, as SP||186||1236||162||295||54||93||166||.263||.325||.476||.801||534||11|
|4th+ PA in G, as SP||49||102||11||30||3||9||9||.333||.390||.544||.934||49||0|
Chen will likely be OK, so there’s no need to panic. The move is unnecessary and just plain odd, though. Mendoza is the more likely of the two pitchers to be above average. He throws a sinker that generates fewer home runs (0.9 HR/9 career), which gives him a better chance of being helped out by a good Royals defense. Chen allows 1.5 HR/9. It’s tough to defend a ball over the wall. Mendoza has gotten roughed up lately, but has room for improvement. Chen is 36 years old with an 88 mph fastball, coming off a 34-start season in which he posted a 5.07 ERA. Mendoza has a fastball that touches 95. He posted a 4.23 ERA last season and came into July of this year with a 4.16 ERA before a couple of bad outings. It seems clear where the upside is.