Could the Royals be one big-time pitcher away from a winning record? Possibly, but in this case addition should start with subtraction.
I wrote an article last week about Jeremy Guthrie, and how he is not the solution to the Royals pitching woes. I also took a parting shot at Luke Hochevar, and how he once again has turned it on (at least for the time being) which will most likely result in him being a part of the rotation again in 2013.
This can’t happen. The Royals ever changing date to become competitive now sits at 2014, unless…it hasn’t changed again, has it? I see no reason they can’t get a lot better than that a little bit sooner, as in next year, if the team is ready to end the Luke Hochevar era.
If you go back and read the end of my last article, and the ensuing discussion that took place in the comments, you’ll see a conversation about Hochevar, which made me think maybe I wasn’t being fair…maybe I should dig a little deeper when judging Luke. So I did. Looking at the stats, I don’t think I was wrong.
Here we go.
We’ll begin with Quality Starts (QS). This is a start in which a pitcher goes 6 innings and gives up no more than 3 earned runs. Basically, if a pitcher has a QS, he’s left his team in a position to win. In 2012, of all American League starters, Luke ranks 32nd in QS. Of his 26 starts this year, 12 have been quality, meaning he gives KC a chance to win 46 percent of the time. The White Sox and Tigers, the good teams in the Central, have a combined six pitchers (three each) ahead of Hochevar in this category.
So quality isn’t Luke’s thing. Let’s look at runs allowed per 9 innings (not just earned, but unearned runs). Luke allows 5.4 runs per 9 innings. According to Baseball Reference, the teams he has faced this year have scored an average of 4.55 runs per 9, which means Hochevar allows almost a full run more than his opponents generally score.
Not only does Hochevar not stack up against opposing batters, the average starting pitcher is also better. The average starter, against the same opponents, with the same Royals defense behind him, would only give up 4.8 runs per 9 innings. Meaning what? Luke is below average.
Now let’s shift gears and look at WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. This measures the number of wins a player gives his team over a replacement level player (minor league call up due to injury, for example). This is not comparing a big league player to the league average, but to someone who couldn’t even make the team. Detroit’s Justin Verlander has a WAR of 5.8, even after being roughed up by KC. Chris Sale, the young White Sox ace, has a WAR of 5.2. Those are the two best pitchers on the teams fighting for this division.
Hochevar has a 0.1 WAR.
On his own merits, regardless of the team around him, Luke has the talent and sheer willpower to get his team one-tenth of a victory.
The problem doesn’t begin and end with Hochevar. The currently active Royals pitchers with the most starts, minus Hochevar, are Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza, Will Smith, and Jeremy Guthrie. The highest WAR among this group is 0.7, belonging to Mendoza. Guthrie only has a WAR of 0.1 since coming to KC. Which goes back to my claim of Guthrie not being an answer any more than Hochevar. Well, probably a little more than Hochevar, as Guthrie has seasons of 3.7, 3.8, and 4.3 WAR in his past. Luke has a 0.9 career high.
The key to fixing this rotation doesn’t begin with who we may or may not trade for or sign this winter. It begins with an amputation. The rotation has Type 2 Diabetes. Luke is the foot that has to go.
If Dayton Moore takes Hochevar to arbitration, he’s going to get a raise. I’ve seen estimates in the $6 million range. Cutting Hochevar allows us to redirect those dollars towards a better pitcher. Why pay Luke when it hinders the ability to sign a much better pitcher in the $15 million range?
The White Sox pitching staff has a combined WAR of 18.5 versus 9.2 for the Royals. Detroit has a 15.7 pitching WAR. It doesn’t take a complete overhaul of the Royals staff. But it does take one or most likely two very good starting pitchers. The White Sox have Sale at 5.2 and Jake Peavy with a 4.7 WAR. Detroit’s top guys are Verlander and Max Scherzer at 5.8 and 2.4, respectively.
The math is simple. Subtract Luke’s salary and frustrating mediocrity. Add a high dollar pitcher who can post a WAR of 5 or more. Luis Mendoza, Will Smith, or Jake Odorizzi can do just as much as Luke, if not more, at a fraction of the cost.
Maybe Odorizzi breaks out. Maybe Guthrie sticks around and has a solid year. Maybe Duffy and Paulino come back strong for a midseason boost. We’ve got plenty of maybes…we need a sure thing.