Feb 25, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Luke Hochevar (44) throws during a workout at Surprise Stadium practice area Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Hochevar has one last chance for redemption


Sep 20, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar (44) delivers a pitch against the Texas Rangers during the eighth inning at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals defeated the Rangers 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

When a player is the first overall selection in the MLB Amateur Draft, expectations are high. It is anticipated that the player selected will end up being the type of player that a team can be built around. Those players are expected to change a franchise for the better, to be the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future. For Luke Hochevar, that just did not happen.

In 2006, the Royals had the first overall selection in the Amateur Draft. Unfortunately, that draft did not have a player that was considered to be a true franchise player at the time. Even with that assessment, the Royals still surprised a lot of draft prognosticators (yes, even baseball has their version of Mel Kiper Jr, only without the hair) by selecting Hochevar over players like Tim Lincecum, Brad Lincoln and Andrew Miller. In Hochevar, the Royals thought they were getting a pitcher that had been compared to Kevin Brown, a possible top starter with a fastball in the upper 90′s with the talent to be an ace.

Instead, Luke Hochevar struggled during his time as a starter, going 38-59 with a 5.39 ERA. Despite being billed as a possible top of the rotation talent, Hochevar performed at a level that far worse than league average, posting an ERA+ of only 79 from 2007 through 2012. To compound matters, players such as Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, who the Royals bypassed to take Hochevar, have gone on to become star players, ranking among the league leaders. Hochevar, meanwhile, led the American League in earned runs allowed in 2012 and has ranked in the top ten in losses three times. Yet, it could have been worse – the Royals could have drafted either Billy Rowell or Kasey Kiker instead.

With a rebuilt starting rotation, Hochevar was banished to the bullpen in 2013, where it was expected that Ned Yost could at least minimize the damage that he could inflict. Instead, Hochevar, probably to the surprise of many, became an effective relief pitcher, taking over as one of the primary setup men by the end of the season. For the first time in his major league career, Hochevar found success, putting together a 1.92 ERA and a strikeout to walk rate of 4.82.

The reason for the improvement seems obvious. In relief, Luke Hochevar relied mainly on his fastball and cutter, mixing in the occasional curve and sinker. His fastball almost three miles per hour last year, going from an average velocity of 92.65 MPH in 2012 to 95.40 MPH in 2013. By simplifying his approach, Hochevar improved.

Now, he finds himself in the battle to be the Royals fifth starter. Making $5.21 Million this season, Hochevar is the sixth highest paid player on the team in 2014. For a team that claims to be against their payroll limit, spending over $5 Million on a setup man is completely ridiculous. If Hochevar is going to be worth that salary for the Royals, it will need to be as a starter.

Meanwhile, for Luke Hochevar, this is his last chance for redemption. A free agent after this season, he needs to prove that he can be a viable option in the rotation in order to earn the type of contract that he would want in free agency. Although it is not expected that whoever wins the fifth starter spot will remain in that role all season with Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy in need of a role later this year, a solid start to the season could propel Hochevar into free agency as a useful option as a starter.

Luke Hochevar was a first overall pick not only for his talent, but because there was not a standout player considered to be the top talent in the draft. This may be his last chance to prove he was worthy of that selection.

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Tags: Kansas City Royals Luke Hochevar

  • jimfetterolf

    I think Hoch has the inside track for #5. He still has the stuff and his ceiling can be found in game logs, so it’s not all hope. I still think there is a training element involved in his resurgence as he looks stronger and more fluid.

    • unclejesse40

      I agree. Rotation 1. Shields 2. Vargas 3. Guthrie 4. Chen 5 Hoch. its your right left right left right that Yost likes and I think Duffy is going to struggle with control all spring and Hoch will beat him out at least for a months worth of starts. Ventura is going to be a victim of super 2, and will be down on the farm at least until that time is over. Who knows what the rotation looks like when the season is over but thats at least how I see it starting.

  • Michael Lizalde

    Making him the starter would be a horrible mistake. You can’t change history and neither can he. He is a horrible starter. Solid for 2-3 innings then would give up the world in the 4th to 6th inning. That’s why he is so great out of the pen. He is a only going to pitch 2 inning max and that’s what he is great at. He can shut down 2 innings. Him trying to go 5+ is murder to our pitching staff and bull pen!!

  • Eric Akers

    I am unwilling to say he can’t yet be an effective starter. I am willing to give him 8 starts, and if he looks like the guy that will just blow up for an inning, send him back to the pen. Regardless of who gets the 5 spot to start the season, I think we will be seeing both Ventura and Duffy in the rotation at the same time due to injuries and ineffectiveness. At least with Ventura and Duffy ready to step in, we would have to have the best depth we have had in a long time.

    • Dave Hill

      I am actually thinking that Ventura and Duffy will be in the rotation by the end of the year, but for Guthrie and whoever the fifth starter is. Maybe I’m completely wrong, but I’m not sold at all on Guthrie this year.

      • jimfetterolf

        Paul Swyden at fangraphs has a nice piece on the Royals and a six-man bullpen.

      • jessanders

        Guthrie still has another year on his contract, right?

        I don’t like Guthrie (as a pitcher, great guy I’m sure) much, but he has consistently out pitched his peripherals. I don’t know if the anti-BABIP fairy will stick with him or not, and I don’t believe his strand rate is sustainable, but he proved all critics wrong last year (when he was used properly. That game late in the year against Detroit [I think] where he was sent back out late in the game after giving up 12 hits and having thrown almost [if not over] 100 pitches was Yost’s fault, not Guthries), myself included. Maybe he can sustain for another year.

        Next year I’m hoping he gets the swing man roll and Chen is gone. I like Chen, but age has got to catch up sometime. And I’m hoping that Zimmer can come in and slot in as the #1/#2, with a rotation of Vargas, Zimmer, Ventura, Duffy (if he can figure it out) and Guthrie/Almonte/Adams/Lamb. We’ve got a good crop of middle rotation pitchers coming up, with a few potential front ends after Zimmer and Ventura. Hopefully we’ll be set in the rotation for years to come.

        • Dave Hill

          He does, plus an option for 2016 with a $3 Million buyout. Hopefully, the Royals can dump him off on someone. As much as I enjoy his tweets, he just is not worth keeping on the Royals with the young guns coming up.

    • Michael Lizalde

      Why 8 starts? He’s had over 100 starts to prove himself. You would sacrifice a season just to give him a chance? Within those 8 starts there will be won streaks that could get broken up or losing streaks that need broken. Your saying you trust Hoch and his losing record with over 5 ERA as a starter to do that?

      • Eric Akers

        8 starts because it is a small number that even our number 6 started is basically guaranteed to get. Five starters are not enough, and usually we give at least 9 different guys starts. I am willing to give it to him because he just dominated in the pen. I am saying that I am willing to see if he has changed, which isn’t unprecedented. If he has, he is a huge asset, if not we gave him a few starts that a number 6 guy would have gotten anyway and he can go back to the pen. If he doesn’t even win the number 5 spot, then so be it, that doesn’t hurt my feelings either.

        If you look at the projections for Hoch, Duffy, and Ventura, there is not much of difference between these guys. None are very exciting. For us to be successful next year, I think at last one of these guys needs to be a big success for us. If there is a chance that Hochevar is that guy, I want to give it to him.

        • Michael Lizalde

          Isn’t that what spring training is for? Just see this as hanging on to long. He is what he is. A #1 overall bust. We need to move on from that and stop trying to polish a turd. He is great for 2-3 innings. Downright dominate. For a team that was less than 8 games away from making the playoffs last year, shouldn’t they doing everything they can to close that gap?

  • jimfetterolf

    For those who yell “History!” I would remind that Hoch’s history this time last year was that he couldn’t pitch with men on base. That’s why a noisy few wanted him DFA’ed instead of moved to the ‘pen.

    • Michael Lizalde

      His history was after the 4th inning he would give up the world and Yost would keep him in for no conceivable reason.

      • jimfetterolf

        Didn’t have much value last year, did it? They made a fix on him in the stretch, he apparently changed his conditioning, and he returned to being able to throw 98mph like while he was a college starter. That’s why he’s in the conversation this year and why “history” lacks the weight that this year’s spring training carries.

        As for Yost’s reasons, which he stated over the years with Hochevar and Davis, he left them in to give them a chance to fix the problems and to save the bullpen. With the Royals’ offense the last several years, little difference between being down 5-0 and 10-0 in the 3rd inning, so let the pitcher wear it for 100 pitches. That affected the ERA of both, staying in for 100 pitches when they were getting hammered. Yost wasn’t going to save them.

        • Michael Lizalde

          I got to say you’re proving the point toward not having in be a starter. The junky thing they fixed was limiting his exposure. His velocity was better because he didn’t have to throw 100 pitches. He is perfect for the pen. A stretch as the #1 pick overall at the time, and a stretch as a starter now. Hoch has never had an above .500 record as a starter and has never had an era below 4.6 in a season as a starter. He’s had 128 starts over 6 seasons. That’s not a small sample size. Pitching 70 innings last year is where he can succeed. Yost needs to keep his players in places of success, not stranded on a mound gettin pounded.

          • jimfetterolf

            Luke threw 98 in college as a starter, so there’s some history, and while he was a starter it was pretty obvious that he got flustered in the stretch, came off awkward, and tried to overthrow fastballs. Last year he apparently calmed down and listened to the coaches on that and some other things. That fix helped him a lot with runners on base.

            Since you mention sample size, perhaps you also know that both ERA and wins are fairly poor metrics? Luke’s peripherals are better than those. What keeps Luke employed is demonstrated ceiling. He flashes 1st round ability often enough to keep getting chances. In ’12, an overall disastrous year, he had not only the worst three game scores among Royals’ starters but also the best three.

            As for Yost, he may be right, he may not be. This year, given the depth of the rotation and ‘pen, I think we’ll see a much quicker hook, especially if the offense looks capable of scoring a few runs. The present is much more important than history to the folks who make decisions.

            As for this year, still think Hochevar has the inside track, as much due to walk year and trade possibilities. Spring training will make the decision and whoever takes the 5th slot will be on a very short leash, two bad starts and back to the ‘pen or down to Omaha. That’s what depth do.

          • Michael Lizalde

            I just feel that for a team that very well could be on the verge of making the playoffs, and competing day in and day out with the big dogs, messing with success is disastrous. Luke in our pen makes us strong. Does moving him out of his strength and into his previous weakness, on the hope that his few flashes become consistent worth it? I guess we’ll see. I’ll throw this comparison out there. Making Luke a starter is like resigning Tyson Jackson because of his one good season. Is it worth it?

          • jimfetterolf

            The effort is worth it this year. We have three Young Guns, Duffy with command issues, Ventura with Super Two considerations, and Zimmer likely starting at Arkansas. All optimism aside, we’ll be lucky if one of them sticks for significant time this year, so that leaves quite a few games needing to be filled, especially in the first half of the season considering Ventura and Zimmer. Should one of the three force a hand early while Luke struggles, easy decision. Should one force a move while Hochevar is pitching at his ceiling, much harder decision, but Chen can go back to the ‘pen. If two force a call up and Luke pitches well, he has value in a trade and can be moved or returned to the ‘pen to finish the year. It will all get down to production, the competition will go on all year.

  • moretrouble

    Your piece is tough, but fair, David. Nice piece today.

    • Dave Hill

      Thanks MT. Thought this was a good take on Hochevar’s situation. At least, until a couple of hours ago.

  • jessanders

    It’s not that I’m sure Hoch couldn’t make the rotation. I’m also not sure he couldn’t turn into an effective #2-#3 starter. His upside is definitely that of a #2 starter.

    The problem is that I don’t feel that it’s worth giving him the chance.

    That said, the Royals are so stacked with mediocre middle-back of the rotation starting pitching that it’s got to go to someone. I’d imagine it’ll be a rotating door for the first few months between Duffy, Hoch and Davis with Ventura getting the call after Super 2 has passed.

    Hopefully the three of them can piece something together that’s worth-while. Hell, maybe one of them will stick and Chen gets bumped to swing man when Ventura comes up.

  • Eric Akers

    Well, its moot now. He is out for a few months. Good luck Hooch.

    • Dave Hill

      Yeah, I’m pretty good at screwing up player’s careers when I talk about them or purchase their jersey. Please do not hate me when Salvador Perez gets injured this year.

      • Eric Akers

        If it helps, i will let you send me all the Jersey’s you have. That will free you up to start getting some Indians’ jerseys.

        • Dave Hill

          My track record:

          Dan Quisnebrry jersey – Quiz dies within two months.
          Mark Teahan – traded at the end of the year.
          Zack Greinke – traded at the end of the year.
          Salvador Perez – ???

          Maybe this can be the player I don’t jinx or get traded? Please?