Opening Day is only a few days away, and wouldn’t you know it, Bruce Chen will take the hill.
Let’s start with the mea culpa.
Last week I broke downthe spring training performances of various Royals in an attempt to predict which efforts were mirages, and which were real. In any such breakdown, the author will oftentimes end up with egg on their faces. It’s inevitable. Especially when such predictions are delivered with unabashed certainty.
As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “so it goes”.
But sometimes, when the error is so egregious that it cannot be overlooked, the writer of said grossly miscalculated prediction must step forward and offer his condolences to those who took his words at face value.
Now is one of those moments.
Within that aforementioned piece, in the wake of another horrible spring start, I predicted that veteran lefty Chen would begin the season on the disabled list. I went so far as to insinuate that Chen may have been a dubious off-season signing, in lieu of his age and noted lack of “pure stuff”.
Of course, Chen pitched exceedingly well in his next start. So well, in fact, that he was named the opening day starter immediately after the game was over. Suddenly, my hypothesis was more outdated than 1995 Sandra Bullock thriller The Net.
In the matter of a couple of days, Chen was named the opening day starter, Felipe Paulino was (somewhat curiously) placed on the disabled list, and Luis Mendoza laid claim to the final rotation spot. It was also announced, and subsequently lost in shuffle behind the plethora of other moves, that Luke Hochevar would be the starter for the home opener. So it looks like, in a way, Hochevar was rewarded for his stellar second half and strong spring training. I’m happy for Hoch, who has been the most consistent Royals pitcher since last season’s All-Star break. Proof: in the second half of 2011 Hochevar sported a 3.52 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 79.1 innings pitched. Batters combined to OPS .647 against him. With this in mind, I felt that he earned the opening day start for the second consecutive season.
But Chen got the Opening Day nod after a ghastly spring, and the decision was the biggest news of the week. Even with his solid final start, Chen finished spring training with an 11.50 ERA. He gave up 34 hits and 24 runs in 18 innings. Either something was wrong with him physically, or he was still feeling out his arsenal. Turns out it was the latter.
According to manager Ned Yost, Chen didn’t use his overhand fastball at all this spring until his last start. So, yeah.
That helps explain Chen’s wildly inflated spring ERA that hovered around 20 at points this spring, and also helps build the case that I was woefully misinformed to judge three weeks of spring training through box scores and occasional radio broadcasts.
So has my stance on Chen changed since I threw his career to the scrap heap last week?
Sure. With tail firmly between legs, I’d like to apologize to Chen, his family, friends, and acquaintances for throwing him under the proverbial bus last week. Obviously, there were factors I wasn’t aware of that were at play.
That being said: I still think Hochevar deserved to start Opening Day.