This has become an annual rite of spring, maybe even more than the “best shape of my life” stories we see pop up all the time. Over the course of the last few years, the Royals have added a cutter, taken away the cutter, found out Hochevar was tipping pitches and many other maladies that have caused Hochevar to be one of the statistically worst pitchers in baseball history. After the end of the 2011 season when Hochevar seemed to put it all together by adding that cutter, I believed. I don’t know why, but I saw a legitimate change in his repertoire and I naively believed he had figured it out and would put forth a great season.
Well now, according to this report by Bob Dutton, Hochevar studied tape and figured out why the moniker “Big Inning Luke” has graced him. Apparently, when Hochevar would “step on the gas” in pressure situations (while in the stretch), his front side would fly open and everything would flatten out. Apparently, he’s fixed that flaw and is ready to rock and roll for the 2013 season. Despite my reluctance to believe it, Luke Hochevar is going to be the Royals fifth starter come Opening Day. I’m convinced of that. According to Dave Eiland, this is something many pitchers have a similar issue as they try to up their stuff in situations where it’s most needed. We’ve all heard it before, but sometimes a pitcher needs to throw softer when he gets into trouble rather than harder, and that’s something Hochevar hadn’t done.
The timing of this story was interesting because it came on the heels of Ned Yost saying he thinks Hochevar could win 15-18 games because his stuff is that good. Dave Eiland has since echoed those comments. They brought a bit of an uproar among Royals fans that the Royals continue to believe in a pitcher as bad as Luke Hochevar has been. My initial reaction was being slight annoyed, but then when I thought about it, I realized this is just the style of the Royals management team. They pump up their players, and it doesn’t really bother me all that much other than the fact that sometimes I worry if they really believe some of the things they say. With Luke Hochevar, my worry is that they fully believe he will one day win 15-18 games and they aren’t willing to let that happen in another team’s uniform.
In Dutton’s article, he cites that Luke Hochevar had a 3.65 ERA in 25 starts last season, which takes away just seven horrific outings. For those out there who are interested in statistical analysis, I’ll tell you that you can’t do that, but if you want to, you have to take away his seven best starts as well. If you take just those out, his other 25 starts feature a 7.57 ERA. See how that works? Now, if you take both of them off, which is the correct way to analyze stats, Hochevar had a 4.94 ERA in the remaining 18 starts. What that tells me is that those seven bad starts were awful, but when you take away the appropriate good starts to make it a valid argument, he’s still not a very good pitcher.
As the fifth starter, I don’t actually mind all that much about Luke Hochevar because his ability to throw innings will actually make him better than most fifth starters around baseball, especially if he’s able to lower his ERA to somewhere around the 5.00 level. That shouldn’t be too much to ask of a big league pitcher making multiple millions of dollars, but you never know with Hochevar. I do think there’s an opportunity for Hochevar to put it together a little bit because I’m convinced most of his problem is in his head. By being in the fifth spot of the rotation, I think there’s a small chance that he can get over that mental block of being at the top of a rotation. I wouldn’t count on that, but it’s at least a possibility.
I’ve avoided talking a lot about Luke Hochevar because the whole situation just frustrates me, but for some reason, things have become a little clearer to me. Spending nearly $5 million on a pitcher who has been so disappointing throughout his career is not a good business move. The right decision would have been to simply not tender him a contract, but with the average salary sitting at $3.2 million around baseball, it isn’t the absolute worst thing in the world. I still don’t think it’s the right move, for what it’s worth, just that there are worse things they could have done. You know, like jumping the gun on making moves and not letting the market set itself.
The Royals organization has to find a way to get over their fear of pitchers moving on to other organizations and finding success. When Phil Humber had a successful 2011, I think that sent the Royals over the edge in worrying about giving up on a pitcher or any player too soon, and because of that we’re stuck watching Luke Hochevar in 2013. So did he find something in his delivery that led to him becoming a good starting pitcher and not blowing up? I don’t know, we’ll have to see. My first guess is that no, he did not. We’ve been through this song and dance before and we’ve seen good Luke peppered into a season full of disaster starts. So long story short, we’re not buying it Luke. You have to show us. Unfortunately, you will get that opportunity this season.
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