Luke Hochevar. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

You Know, Luke Hochevar, You Know


Now that the Royals have avoided arbitration with Luke Hochevar and reached a deal of $3.51 million, I can safely talk about his value to the club in 2012. And, more importantly, I can talk about what he might mean to a rotation that is not only turning over very little, but projects to not change significantly from 2011.

With a wider stable of starting pitching surrounding him, Hoch may be feeling less pressure than last season. As the ace of a less-than-stellar (but fairly experienced) rotation in 2011, Hoch really needed to give the Royals some quality starts. Maybe he was feeling the pressure at first, or maybe it was just a slower start, but once he got to the second half we saw more of what we want from Hoch. With that in mind, how should we expect him to perform in 2012?

 

Let’s just get some background information out there first. Here’s Hoch’s line from 2011:

31 starts* |  198 IP* |  4.68 ERA* |  128 K* |  62 BB |  1.283 WHIP* |  8.7 H/9* |  2.8 BB/9* |  5.8 K/9

* denotes career high (excluding 12.2-inning first season)

So, everything went pretty well, all told. I’d say that this is a pretty good line, especially for a first-time ace that has previous issues with high-pressure situations (or so it seems to fans). Really can’t complain too much about that, even with the .275 BABIP on the season. Still, here’s the breakdown by month:

Now, I find some of this a bit interesting. Even with roughly the same BABIP in March/April and May, Hoch came out with a much better result in May. But really, it’s not that puzzling. He jacked up his strikeouts in May and removed many of the would-be hits from being in consideration. Plus, it’s just the way things sort out sometimes. With such a small sample size per month, anything can happen, especially depending on the quality of opponents. Anyway, it gives us a place to start with regards to his pitching style and how that matches up with previous success. Hopefully, that’ll give us a sense of what to look for this season.

If we want to see what to look for to start 2012, I’d glance at Hoch’s August. His BABIP is reasonable, so we can exclude that from being an exception. And there are a few reasons that I think that’s what we should expect. The first has to do with the pitches Hoch used. For the first four months of the season, Hoch relied most on his fastball, sinker, cutter, and curve, in that order.  The most productive pitch for getting both a swing and a miss would have been his cutter, which makes sense. Still, that order would be upset from August on, as Hoch’s most-thrown pitches in that span became his fastball, slider, sinker, and cutter. He basically doubled his use of his slider in the last couple months, and it then drew more swings, roughly 22% of which went for whiffs. That whole thing is detailed in an article written last September at Fangraphs, so I won’t go into it too much here. Suffice it to say that we should expect to see a pitch choice more similar to August than to April. Of course, that’s assuming that new pitching coach Dave Eiland doesn’t mess with that success too much.

If we extrapolated that August stat line to Hoch’s whole season, it’d come out to something like this:

207 IP |  4.28 ERA |  191 K |  58 BB |  1.220 WHIP |  8.5 H/9 |  2.5 BB/9 |  8.3 K/9

Now, that’s not so bad, is it? I think I’d gladly take that from Hoch this season. While probably a little optimistic, I think it’s definitely within reach. Let’s compare that to some other projections that have been released:

Bill James:     189 IP  |  4.33 ERA  |  129 K  |  61 BB  |  1.390 WHIP  |  9.6 H/9  |  2.9 BB/9  |  6.1 K/9
RotoChamp: 195 IP  |  4.80 ERA  |  130 K  |  63 BB  |  1.330 WHIP  |  9.0 H/9  |  2.9 BB/9  |  6.0 K/9

So, maybe that August line would be a little optimistic, like I say, but it’s not completely out of line with these projections. Given that the strikeout rate is probably a bit high, everything else matches up reasonably well. Of course, that’s matching projections, which can be pretty variable in quality.

Anyway, I think we should expect an improvement from Hoch yet again. I know that we all struggle with Hoch’s late-inning volatility and inconsistency (or consistency to give up runs, if you prefer)*, but I maintain that he’s improved on the most part. And most of an improvement is enough of an improvement for me for one season. Of course, I’m a noted Luke Hochevar fan, but he’s still my pick to “break out” or make a big jump in performance this season.

*I took a quick glance at this last May.

If I were to write an actual predictive line, I think I’d do something like this:

32 starts  |  205 IP  |  4.30 ERA  |  150 K  |  62 BB  |  1.278 WHIP  |  8.8 H/9  |  2.7 BB/9  |  6.6 K/9

For a guy that’s experienced little consistent success throughout his career, I would take that line. It would be the best of his career and befitting of the #2 or #3 guy I’ve thought he could be. I’d be willing to keep him around for much longer given performance like that. But then again, you never know. Do you think I’m on to something, or is that shooting too high for Hoch? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks to mmeade17 for his comments on my last post, which propelled this one forward.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Luke Hochevar MLB Royals

  • jim fetterolf

    From what I remember, Luke’s big problem last year was inconsistency within a game, he’ld go four or five dominant innings, then the wheels would fall off. Two reasons I’ve heard for it are that he doesn’t throw well from a slide-step and that when he gets in trouble he relies too much on his fastball and tries to throw it by major-leaguers. This year could be better with a deeper bullpen allowing a quicker hook. If he can post an ERA under 4.50 and average seven innings, Royals will be happy.

  • Gage Matthews

    @jim fetterolf That inconsistency (or consistency to have rough later innings) has been one of the more frustrating things about Luke’s outings. Last season, Yost was intent on keeping Luke in there to solve his own problems and blatantly said that was the plan. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles it this year with the Royals wanting to take another step forward and with, like you say, a “killer bullpen.” Always something to look out for.

    Thanks, Jim.

  • jim fetterolf

    From what I remember, Luke’s big problem last year was inconsistency within a game, he’ld go four or five dominant innings, then the wheels would fall off. Two reasons I’ve heard for it are that he doesn’t throw well from a slide-step and that when he gets in trouble he relies too much on his fastball and tries to throw it by major-leaguers. This year could be better with a deeper bullpen allowing a quicker hook. If he can post an ERA under 4.50 and average seven innings, Royals will be happy.

  • Gage Matthews

    @jim fetterolf That inconsistency (or consistency to have rough later innings) has been one of the more frustrating things about Luke’s outings. Last season, Yost was intent on keeping Luke in there to solve his own problems and blatantly said that was the plan. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles it this year with the Royals wanting to take another step forward and with, like you say, a “killer bullpen.” Always something to look out for.

    Thanks, Jim.

  • mmeade17

    Thanks for the shout out! I think this piece is right on the money. On a semi-related note, I’ll be joining you as a contributing writer for Kings of Kauffman very soon and am very excited. Nice post!

  • mmeade17

    Thanks for the shout out! I think this piece is right on the money. On a semi-related note, I’ll be joining you as a contributing writer for Kings of Kauffman very soon and am very excited. Nice post!

  • Gage Matthews

    @mmeade17 Glad to hear it! I’ll look forward to reading your stuff!

  • Gage Matthews

    @mmeade17 Glad to hear it! I’ll look forward to reading your stuff!

  • KHAZAD

    I think you are way too optimistic about Hochevar. He has beaten your projected WHIP in only 4 of 21 months as a starter, your projected ERA he has beaten 4 times and tied once. If you took the best April, May, etc from his career and cobbled them together you would still end up with a 4.38 ERA, he would not have that many IP, or K/9, or K. (He would beat the WHIP and therefore the BB and H per 9)

    This is a guy whose ERA as a starter for the Royals is the same as Kyle Davies in a similar amount of starts and innings pitched. (and he needed the strong run at the end of the year just to catch him) They are the same age. His WHIP and peripherals were always better than Kyle’s, but lumping his mistakes together makes up the difference.

    Forgive me if I need to see more than a decent end to the season before I believe that 96 starts and nearly 600 innings of suck are an illusion. I hope you’re optimism is prescient and that he was magically “fixed” and can have this type of season, but I will have to see extended success before I believe.

  • KHAZAD

    Even if he reaches your projection levels, he would become only the 22nd pitcher to reach 128 starts with a career ERA over 5.00. He would be the sixth pitcher on that list to have done time with the Royals in the last 15 years. (Kyle Davies, Scott Elarton, Jose Lima, Glendon Rusch, and Sidney Ponson.) That is his level.

  • KHAZAD

    I think you are way too optimistic about Hochevar. He has beaten your projected WHIP in only 4 of 21 months as a starter, your projected ERA he has beaten 4 times and tied once. If you took the best April, May, etc from his career and cobbled them together you would still end up with a 4.38 ERA, he would not have that many IP, or K/9, or K. (He would beat the WHIP and therefore the BB and H per 9)

    This is a guy whose ERA as a starter for the Royals is the same as Kyle Davies in a similar amount of starts and innings pitched. (and he needed the strong run at the end of the year just to catch him) They are the same age. His WHIP and peripherals were always better than Kyle’s, but lumping his mistakes together makes up the difference.

    Forgive me if I need to see more than a decent end to the season before I believe that 96 starts and nearly 600 innings of suck are an illusion. I hope you’re optimism is prescient and that he was magically “fixed” and can have this type of season, but I will have to see extended success before I believe.

  • KHAZAD

    Even if he reaches your projection levels, he would become only the 22nd pitcher to reach 128 starts with a career ERA over 5.00. He would be the sixth pitcher on that list to have done time with the Royals in the last 15 years. (Kyle Davies, Scott Elarton, Jose Lima, Glendon Rusch, and Sidney Ponson.) That is his level.

  • Gage Matthews

    @KHAZAD You know, you make some excellent points, KHAZAD. And it’s fair to not expect him to hit the level I’m talking about. It’s your opinion and I respect that. If Hoch has a bad year, then that’s the way it goes. I just don’t think he will, though I’ve been wrong before.

    Comparing him to Davies, however, is where things go wrong with your argument. Hochevar, on average, has thrown more innings per season in his career. His xFIP each season has been, on average, much lower than Davies. Hoch walks between one and two batters fewer per nine innings. And he explicitly changed something about his pitching style that Davies didn’t really do at the end of that mystical 2008 season in which he compiled a 4.06 ERA. Hoch is a different case for all of those reasons (and more), so grouping him in with Davies seems extreme.

    However, since we’re bringing up Davies having a “good” (relative term) season and then faltering, it also goes to reason that anyone can have such a season. So, while we might not expect it to happen, it very well could. Does it mean Hoch will have a 3.00 ERA and get Cy Young votes in the next few seasons? Not at all! We’re just talking about one season and Hoch’s ability to pitch to this level. I don’t think that’s too extreme.

    Of course, we’ll see what Eiland has planned for him, which could drastically change the outlook for Hoch’s (and other pitchers’) season.

    Thanks for the comment and for stopping by!

  • Gage Matthews

    @KHAZAD You know, you make some excellent points, KHAZAD. And it’s fair to not expect him to hit the level I’m talking about. It’s your opinion and I respect that. If Hoch has a bad year, then that’s the way it goes. I just don’t think he will, though I’ve been wrong before.

    Comparing him to Davies, however, is where things go wrong with your argument. Hochevar, on average, has thrown more innings per season in his career. His xFIP each season has been, on average, much lower than Davies. Hoch walks between one and two batters fewer per nine innings. And he explicitly changed something about his pitching style that Davies didn’t really do at the end of that mystical 2008 season in which he compiled a 4.06 ERA. Hoch is a different case for all of those reasons (and more), so grouping him in with Davies seems extreme.

    However, since we’re bringing up Davies having a “good” (relative term) season and then faltering, it also goes to reason that anyone can have such a season. So, while we might not expect it to happen, it very well could. Does it mean Hoch will have a 3.00 ERA and get Cy Young votes in the next few seasons? Not at all! We’re just talking about one season and Hoch’s ability to pitch to this level. I don’t think that’s too extreme.

    Of course, we’ll see what Eiland has planned for him, which could drastically change the outlook for Hoch’s (and other pitchers’) season.

    Thanks for the comment and for stopping by!

  • KHAZAD

    @Gage Matthews I am aware that Luke’s xFIP and other peripherals have always been better than Davies’. xFIP is a nice tool to use to compare similar pitchers to see which one has a better chance of improving. But there are some pitchers who consistently underperform their expected levels (as well as a few pitchers who seem to consistently outperform it) and after nearly 100 MLB starts, Hochevar is the poster child for this. At some point a large body of work (79 ERA+ as a starter) outweighs a rather simple predictive tool. Having less walks per nine contributes both to the xFIP as well as the fact that Hochevar gets about 2/3 more innings per start than Kyle did with the Royals. (I used to love hearing Bob Davis exclaim-acting surprised each time he did so- that Davies was at 80 pitches in the 4th inning)

    I really hope that Hochevar’s success at the end of last season IS a change, and not just a hot streak. (Though if it does turn out to be a real change, why did it take the team nearly 5 years to do something as simple as having him work quicker, pitch inside more and mix in some more sliders?) I am just not going to count on it.

    I suppose it sticks in my craw that many people write Hochevar in as the #1 starter next season, when throughout his career his performance has been more like a bad 5th starter. If he had not been taken #1, he would have either spent most of his career in the minors, or he would be in his third organization by now.

    He deserves a rotation spot this year, but if he reverts to his previous form (any ERA approaching 5.00), it should be his last chance.

  • Gage Matthews

    @KHAZAD Bringing up the thing about xFIP is a completely valid point. And maybe I’m just stubborn and want to stick to my guns on it. As for the #1 starter thing, that’s just the label the organization has placed on him last season, and I would assume it’ll be that way this season unless they go with Chen or Sanchez in his place. That’s all that means to me, at least.

    Honestly, I really like Hoch and think he can be a valuable piece if he can perform at the level I’m talking about. Given arrivals by Montgomery, Lamb, and Odorizzi as well as anyone else in the system, Hoch could be a capable fifth starter in a few years. Whether that happens or not likely depends on his success this season and possibly next as well as how the aforementioned prospects perform. It’ll be interesting to see what he does, but I have no qualms with cutting players who aren’t getting the job done, even if they’re some of my favorites.

    I guess only time will tell.

  • KHAZAD

    @Gage Matthews I am aware that Luke’s xFIP and other peripherals have always been better than Davies’. xFIP is a nice tool to use to compare similar pitchers to see which one has a better chance of improving. But there are some pitchers who consistently underperform their expected levels (as well as a few pitchers who seem to consistently outperform it) and after nearly 100 MLB starts, Hochevar is the poster child for this. At some point a large body of work (79 ERA+ as a starter) outweighs a rather simple predictive tool. Having less walks per nine contributes both to the xFIP as well as the fact that Hochevar gets about 2/3 more innings per start than Kyle did with the Royals. (I used to love hearing Bob Davis exclaim-acting surprised each time he did so- that Davies was at 80 pitches in the 4th inning)

    I really hope that Hochevar’s success at the end of last season IS a change, and not just a hot streak. (Though if it does turn out to be a real change, why did it take the team nearly 5 years to do something as simple as having him work quicker, pitch inside more and mix in some more sliders?) I am just not going to count on it.

    I suppose it sticks in my craw that many people write Hochevar in as the #1 starter next season, when throughout his career his performance has been more like a bad 5th starter. If he had not been taken #1, he would have either spent most of his career in the minors, or he would be in his third organization by now.

    He deserves a rotation spot this year, but if he reverts to his previous form (any ERA approaching 5.00), it should be his last chance.

  • Gage Matthews

    @KHAZAD Bringing up the thing about xFIP is a completely valid point. And maybe I’m just stubborn and want to stick to my guns on it. As for the #1 starter thing, that’s just the label the organization has placed on him last season, and I would assume it’ll be that way this season unless they go with Chen or Sanchez in his place. That’s all that means to me, at least.

    Honestly, I really like Hoch and think he can be a valuable piece if he can perform at the level I’m talking about. Given arrivals by Montgomery, Lamb, and Odorizzi as well as anyone else in the system, Hoch could be a capable fifth starter in a few years. Whether that happens or not likely depends on his success this season and possibly next as well as how the aforementioned prospects perform. It’ll be interesting to see what he does, but I have no qualms with cutting players who aren’t getting the job done, even if they’re some of my favorites.

    I guess only time will tell.

  • jim fetterolf

    @Gage Matthews@KHAZAD Last season Luke finished on the third page of fangraphs pitching leaders by fWAR, so performed as a #3 starter. I predict him to make the second page this year. I think most of us will be pleased with that and I hope that, at least, he can average seven innings with under a 4.50 ERA. Last season, second half, I think he started listening to his coaches.

  • jim fetterolf

    @Gage Matthews@KHAZAD Last season Luke finished on the third page of fangraphs pitching leaders by fWAR, so performed as a #3 starter. I predict him to make the second page this year. I think most of us will be pleased with that and I hope that, at least, he can average seven innings with under a 4.50 ERA. Last season, second half, I think he started listening to his coaches.

  • KHAZAD

    @jim fetterolf@Gage Matthews Jim, I was just sitting down to my regular breakfast of brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts when I read a reply from you referencing fWAR!

    Fess up, Jim. You love a good pop tart as much as the rest of us. There is no need to eat them in the closet.

  • KHAZAD

    @jim fetterolf@Gage Matthews Jim, I was just sitting down to my regular breakfast of brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts when I read a reply from you referencing fWAR!

    Fess up, Jim. You love a good pop tart as much as the rest of us. There is no need to eat them in the closet.

  • jim fetterolf

    @KHAZAD @Gage Matthews I’ve learned a lot in the last year, going from someone who had never heard of sabr to understanding Scott’s excellent post on Zips projections. I still think OBP has a large contextual component and UZR is a fatally flawed stat, but I keep chugging along.

  • jim fetterolf

    @KHAZAD @Gage Matthews I’ve learned a lot in the last year, going from someone who had never heard of sabr to understanding Scott’s excellent post on Zips projections. I still think OBP has a large contextual component and UZR is a fatally flawed stat, but I keep chugging along.