Is There Hope for Luke Hochevar?

Ned Yost believes Luke Hochevar can turn things around and I’ll let you in on a little secret – to some extent, so do I. (At this point I will pause so you can get the laughter out of your system). You may think I’m kidding but I’m really not. Before I go into my reasoning, please understand two things:

  • I’m not blind to what he’s done thus far in his major league career.
  • I was probably the last person to get off the Kyle Davies bandwagon – I mean, I stayed on that thing after it had swerved off the road and crashed into that gigantic oak tree.

There’s no denying that Luke’s career has not unfolded as he, or the Royals, would have liked. (Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

As was the case with Davies, I freely admit there are certain players where I will cling to the belief that they will have lasting success when all evidence points to the contrary. In many cases it gets to where I know it is completely irrational, but I can’t help but keep hoping. At some point you become so committed and invested in believing something that it’s hard to break away from it. I think as fans we all have certain players that fit that mold for each of us and it’s always hard for others to understand.

Maybe that’s where I am with Hochevar. I do seem to be pretty much alone in my belief – outside of what the Royals organization is publicly stating anyway, but obviously they’re biased and there’s also a healthy amount of spin in their statements.

It seems everyone else has gotten sick of the bumpy ride and jumped off and I can’t blame anyone for abandoning the cause. I can’t fault anyone for refusing to accept even the smallest possibility that Luke Hochevar is capable of elevating his game to the point where he’s consistently above average and an asset to a major league rotation. I get it. He’s been decidedly below average for the entirety of five major league seasons now and at 29, it’s not like were talking about a 24 year old who was rushed to the majors. Given his stuff, his natural talent and the fact that he’s been healthy for the past two seasons, he should have a better track record than he does at this point.

When the Royals did tender Hochevar at the arbitration deadline it elicited the following from Kings of Kauffman staffer, Kevin Scobee:

Hochevar has the 16th worse ERA in the history of recorded data (that’s 1871, y’all) for all pitchers with more the 500 innings pitched at the major league level at 5.39, which isn’t that bad when you consider it was as bad as 12th among 500 inning throwers as recently as May. So, improvement?

Setting aside his snark at the end of the quote, it’s a revealing statement to be sure. However, ERA on it’s own contains a lot of “noise” statistically and I always prefer to look at ERA+ since it normalizes some things pitchers have no control over (like park effect). Of course this doesn’t really help in this case as Hochevar’s 78 ERA+ is tied for eleventh worst since 1901 for pitchers with 500 or more innings pitched. Want another kick in the pants that flies in the face of my belief? Last season his ERA+ was 71, the second worst of his career and just a smidge better than the 68 he pitched to in 2009 when he was 7-13 with a 6.55 ERA in 143.0 IP.

So why in the world do I believe Luke Hochevar still deserves a spot on the 2013 Royals 25-man roster and a spot in the team’s rotation as the fifth starter?

Well if you’re still reading this, I’ll go ahead and tell you.

The first reason is that in 2012, he finished the year with a 7.0 SO/9 and 2.36 SO/BB. Both of those marks were career bests and while they don’t signify significant improvement, it at least provides us an area where he didn’t go backwards.

Realistically though his slightly improved strikeout rate is just a brick in the larger wall of my stance on Hoch.

The bulk of wall is formed by the simple fact that when Luke Hochevar is on his game, none of his peers from the Royals 2012 rotation can reach the same heights that he can.

Don’t believe me? Consider this little nugget:

Since Luke Hochevar made his Royals debut in 2007, the team has been the benefactor of 41 starts that resulted in a Game Score of 75 or better. Fourteen of those starts, and three of the top four, belonged to Zack Greinke meaning that the rest of the team’s starters over the last six years have racked up just 27.

27 … that’s really a depressing number when you think about it. In 6 years and 972 starts (counting Zack’s) since Luke Hochevar first stepped to the mound as a major league pitcher, this organization has seen just 27 non-Greinke starts that resulted in a Game Score of 75 or better. Granted, these aren’t all that common but you’d expect more than 4.5 per season.

For those who are curious, Hochevar has the most starts in this category outside of the gems spun by Greinke the Great.  Granted Luke has the advantage of quantity here since he’s been in the rotation for all six of these seasons while other Royals careers make up just a portion of this stretch. Greinke for example turned in his 14 from 2007-2010 and if you’re wondering, he’s added another seven since being traded giving him 21 over this six year span.

Here are the totals from fewest to most 75+ GSc starts over the last six seasons:

Of the current Royals, Guthrie, Chen and Hochevar are still on the active roster. We can remove Guthrie from the conversation because we know he’s going to be a part of the rotation in 2013 given his new contract. Chen has been with Kansas City for four of the six year span we’re looking at but in his case we have to recognize that at 35 he doesn’t have much magic left to draw upon. In 2012 Chen had one start that broke the 75 Game Score barrier, a 8.0, 4-hit shutout against the Tigers that resulted in a 77 GSc.

Luke Hochevar threw three of his six 75+ GSc starts in 2012, which is in itself encouraging. The best of them came on August 21st against the Rays when he allowed one hit and three walks in 8.0 shutout innings while striking out ten. That resulted in a Game Score of 87.

We’ve all seen the starts where he’s looking like the front of the rotation guy the Royals claimed he would be when he was drafted. Unfortunately they’ve been few and far between. He’s also failed to produce many starts on par with most back of the rotation starters over the years, but the 2013 rotation doesn’t need Hochevar to shoulder the load. He just has to be a part of the mix, and while he may be inconsistent, there are very few, if any, #5 starters in the majors that can match Luke Hochevar’s stuff and ability.

We’ve all seen him get rattled and we’ve all watched how quickly his starts can crumble around him when he gets rattled. But there is no question the 2013 rotation is going to be a different environment and I believe it will be one that will allow him to flourish with plenty of established and capable veterans on hand to help him grow and develop.

For $4-5 million dollars, I’d take that gamble and see what happens. Against all odds, I still believe he can be an asset. Maybe I’m crazy but it is what it is.

Topics: Kansas City Royals, Luke Hochevar

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  • jimfetterolf

    Agreeable piece. I follow Game Score and it does the best job of showing what Luke has been, the best and worst of pitchers, often in the same week. I still lean toward using him as a 7th inning set up man and working him toward closer, his arsenal would be comparable to Soria’s, and expect Chen to be 5th starter as a leftie. Hope Luke is long-tossing this off season.

    • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

      Often in the same week is absolutely right!

      I think Luke would be wasted in the bullpen and they really don’t have a need for him in that role. On top of that I personally think Chen – as much as I love him – is all but done. Not sure opening with both of them on the 25-man roster is all that feasible and between the two I’d take the younger guy.

      • jimfetterolf

        I still think Luke gets traded, that was the major reason for tendering him, setting up a change of scenery deal and getting some return for his stuff, which some GM out there thinks his pitching coach can harness.

        If he stays, the bullpen idea is to attempt to evolve him into a closer, he’ll pick up a couple of mph in that role and that would either enhance value for a trade or free Holland to return to fireman, where he’s much less scary than as closer.

        Chen is a question, I think he’s still got production left, he is a leftie, and, like Hoch, he is capable of occasionally ambushing the other team’s #1 if he gets a fat strike zone. Have even considered a Luke/Hoch platoon at #5, rather have Hoch pitch in Fenway and Chen in Yankee Stadium, just as examples.

        Nice feeling to be worrying about the 5th starter as the major pitching question. I expect both to be gone by the ASB latest, barring injuries, as I expect at least one of the TJS pushing up by then, Lamb or Duffy based on progress reports. Should be an interesting year, maybe even in a good way.

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