Luke Hochevar has been awesome this year. You can throw some qualifiers in there about being a middle reliever and mostly low leverage innings, but after last night where he may have won the game by ending an 8th inning rally I feel like he deserves some love. This is the first time in at least a couple of years that I am truly glad we have Hochevar, and his exorbitant price tag for this year may have been worth it.
Quantifying the differences in bullpen Hoch Vs. starter Hoch takes a little time. You should be better as a reliever, so the new career highs are to be expected, but the magnitude of the changes is larger than I would have ever guessed. His 9.65 K/9IP rate is more than 2.5 better than any other year as a Royal. Similarly, his walk rate is almost half a walk better per 9 than any other season. Average fastball velocity has jumped to 95.5 MPH from 92.6 last year allowing him to throw fewer strikes and allow less contact than ever before.
Before I throw Luke a parade though, I would like to discuss how lucky he has been. Hochevar has used the fantastic Royals defense and Kauffman stadium well this year. His ground ball rate of 34% is very low and almost 10% below his lowest mark set lest year. This increase in fly balls has led to a BABIP of .210, a HR/FB of 7.6%, and a strand rate of 88.6%, which are all unsustainable. His xFIP, a stat that tries to account for those regressing to normal, says his ERA should be 3.26 rather than the spectacular 1.81 that it is.
There is something unusual about these luck signs. Typically Hochevar has always had an ERA worse than his FIP and xFIP that made it seem that he was unlucky. This year he has finally been good with runners on base, unsustainably good, but good nonetheless at something that Rany Jayzayerli especially has talked about as his fatal flaw. Luck aside, this looks like progress to me.
Now the big question comes. Is Luke Hochevar built for the bullpen, or does he deserve another
shot at starting during spring training next year?
Next year’s rotation is going to be discussed a lot over the coming months. Everyone is waiting for the seemingly inevitable departure of Ervin Santana. If he costs anywhere near what I expect him to, 4 years and $60+ million, then I for one will be glad the Royals didn’t sign him. That does not change the fact that he is a very good pitcher and likely not replaceable without David Glass pulling out the check book and taking at a run at Matt Garza (please do this Mr. Glass), or Dayton Moore finding a trade for a slightly below ace level pitcher.
This will lead to only two pitchers that we really know what to expect, James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie. Some of the other names are sexy, but do expect young guys like Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, or Kyle Zimmer to pitch a full season? If they do will they have anything left for the playoffs should all of our hopes come true? This all makes me think that Hoch might deserve one last chance to start. I will be nervous when he takes the mound, similar to how I feel when Wade Davis does now, but he may have figured some things out and the bullpen does not need him.
I hated that the Royals paid you a lot of money this year Luke, and thought you should have been dropped like a sack of potatoes. Please accept my apology for thinking these things. You have justified your $4.65 million salary as far as I am concerned. Now can you do the same thing again next year as a starter? I sincerely hope you get the chance.