Jul 5, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Luke Hochevar (44) delivers a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

On the Block: Luke Hochevar

It’s been a busy offseason of overhauling a Royals pitching rotation that has been below average for years. Now, with three new starters in the mix and a returning Jeremy Guthrie, the Royals at least have decent options and a mess of the same old group from last year.

They’re really only going to go with the conventional five starters and James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis have the inside track for four spots. After them, it’s a mix of Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Luis Mendoza, and Will Smith seeking the fifth spot.

With that in mind, the Royals have reportedly been looking to unload Hochevar recently. His struggles have been notable over the years, and frustratingly so. Two strong starts get followed up by two bad ones. One great one precedes three awful ones. There’s no real pattern and no clue as to which Hochevar will show up on a given night. The talent is there when you look at him, but the results have never come along.

Regardless, the Royals tendered him a contract and have until January 18th to come to a salary agreement for 2013 or exchange figures in advance of arbitration hearings. Now, they’re trying to trade him.

According to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, the Royals had called the Colorado Rockies about Hochevar, and there seems to be interest. Renck noted that the Rockies saw Hochevar as more valuable as a non-tender player. That’s obvious, since they’d be able to negotiate a lower salary than a projected $4-5 million he’d get as an arbitration-eligible player and they’d save prospects, too. But that it’s mentioned at all suggests to me that there may be slight interest at least. The Royals would like to move the salary obligation if they could and it would clear up their rotation picture now and later in the year when Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy return (barring setbacks).

As for the potential return, the Royals can’t exactly be picky. Hochevar has eaten innings the past couple of years, but they haven’t been quality innings. There’s just not likely to be a lot of teams willing to part with significant prospects to take him off the Royals hands. Depending on which source you look at, he’s been below replacement level for his career so far (according to Baseball Reference, he has a -0.3 WAR) but he’s been much better according to FanGraphs (8.9 WAR).

The difference between the two, as I understand it, is that B-R places more weight on the actual results on the field, so if Hochevar stranded only 66% of the baserunners who reached against him (as happened in 2011), those are runs against him and simply count in the WAR calculation. FanGraphs looks more at the FIP and xFIP of a pitcher to see how they theoretically should have performed based on how many runners they stranded (for starting pitchers, the average is about 70-72%; Hochevar’s career LOB% has been 63.4%), how their BABIP and HR/FB% compared to league average and takes those figures and tries to correct everything to show what they “should” have had as an ERA. Hochevar has consistently lagged behind his peripheral numbers – in other word, he should be better than this, but over 128 starts and nearly 800 innings, he hasn’t been.

A good illustration of this discrepancy is Hochevar’s 2009 season. His ERA was 6.55 in 143 innings. Really bad. B-R gave him -0.7 WAR for the year. His FIP was 4.84 and his xFIP was 4.28 that season, so FanGraphs gave him 1.5 WAR.

So maybe it’s prolonged bad luck or maybe he’s just not good enough to be a league average starter. Either way, team’s aren’t going to give up a lot for that kind of track record. Maybe the Royals can flip him for a fringe prospect or a guy who’s outgrown his hype. Find a 25-year-old outfielder who’s been stuck between Double A and Triple A and see if a change does him some good, or take a chance on some raw kid who walks everyone, but throws 99 mph at the age of 19 that may not be anything more than a reliever. Maybe the Royals just take cash.

If they just want to get rid of him now that they’ve filled out their rotation, it may be their only option. They can still wait though. It’s not like after designating Vin Mazzaro and Clint Robinson when their options were to lose both after ten days or at least get something  – anything – back for them.

The Royals say they have faith that Hochevar is going to turn it around and figure out how to be a consistent big league starter, but if they’re shopping him around, that’s exactly what they should be saying. I’m getting the feeling that before spring training is over – if not  sooner – the two sides will have parted ways.

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