July 14, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Luke Hochevar (44) is relieved by manager Ned Yost (3) in the sixth inning of the game against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

The Proof is in the (Lack of) Pitching

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.

August 17, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

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.

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Tags: Jeremy Guthrie Kansas City Royals Luke Hochevar

  • Eric Akers

    I agree that sometimes addition by subtraction is good. However (dramatic pause to make it a big however), every single year, the Royals need many starting pitchers because of injuries. Yes, because of ineffectiveness as well. But injuries alone mean we need more than 5 quality starting pitchers.

    I am unconvinced that Mendoza and Smith will outperform Hooch (I have more faith in Mendoza however). Ignoring salaries, I would definitely keep Hooch.

    I am sure that both Duffy and Paulino are better pitchers who will both not be fully ready to start next season. Even if they are recovered from the injury, it will take some time to get the feel and control back.

    Also, looking at Hoch’s stats for the last two years, this is definitely a guy that can fit in as a number 5. Last year he threw 198 innings (most by a Royal), that is a huge plus to have a guy that can throw that many innings. He has the same number of BB/9 as last year (2.8) while increasing his K/9 by a full K to 6.8. Fan graphs has his war from last year as 2.3, and this year as 1.8. His FIP last year was 4.29 (4.68 ERA) and 4.3 (4.93 ERA) this year. His K/BB ratio is at a career best 2.47.

    If this is a guy that can’t fit in a rotation that regularly uses at least 10 starting pitchers in one year, I don’t know who is. Having an innings eater with all the injuries we have now a days is a huge bonus by itself. He won’t give us consistent starts and the bad ones where we are out of the game with a single bad inning is very frustrating, but he has been giving us more starts where we at least have a chance to win the game than the other type lately, even if they are not quality starts.

    Given all that, is he worth $6 million next year, I think he is actually. Even if we get a number one type pitcher, I still don’t see how we just let Hooch go.

    • Bob Ellis

      Eric – that’s another part of our problem…the fact that we burn through so many starting pitchers every year. Yes he’s gotten “better” by his standards, but still, we are looking at a guy who will be 29 in a couple of weeks, with a career ERA of more than 5 and .402 winning percentage. Can he be a #5? I guess. But why not let Mendoza (or someone else) be that guy at league minimum? I’d rather go with a free agent/trade acquisition, keep Guthrie, and then fill out the rotation with Chen/Mendoza/Smith/Odorizzi…that’s six guys, with two coming back at midseason. There are other guys who can spot start in case of injury. Point being, to improve (on our owner’s budget), some guys have to get squeezed out. I don’t see the team letting go of Frenchy or Chen (who they’d still have to pay).

  • jimfetterolf

    Bob, looks like you are using bWAR. Using fWAR, Luke is at 1.8, a smidge behind Edwin Jackson’s NL enhanced 1.9 that will earn him $10 mil for next year.

    Average and aggregate statistics don’t explain Luke, who can be an ace one night, ask David Price, and a DFA the next week. That is why he will stay, somewhere around $5 mil.

    • Bob Ellis

      Jim, yep…I pulled the stats from baseball reference. I know fWAR is a little different. At BR, Edwin has a 2.0 WAR vs. Luke’s 0.1…they are much closer with fWAR. I don’t think Jackson’s an ace either though. I’m not suggesting we spend big money blindly…but wisely, and I don’t think Jackson’s necessarily an answer for KC at what he’ll cost. I do think Jackson has been better, and if you use fWAR for career – Jackson is at 15.9, Luke at 9.2.

  • Geoff

    We can have a different #5 at a fraction of the $6 million or so that Hoch will get. It’s time for him to go. Too inconsistent. We need to find other solutions. It’s not like he wasn’t given a fair shake. Not that he can’t be successful. But what’s to say the person we plug in his place, and save $5 million to use towards a TOR starter, won’t be just as good or better. Based off these numbers and what we have seen every year, not much.