You Know, Luke Hochevar, You Know


Now that the Royals have avoided arbitration with Luke Hochevar and reached a deal of $3.51 million, I can safely talk about his value to the club in 2012. And, more importantly, I can talk about what he might mean to a rotation that is not only turning over very little, but projects to not change significantly from 2011.

With a wider stable of starting pitching surrounding him, Hoch may be feeling less pressure than last season. As the ace of a less-than-stellar (but fairly experienced) rotation in 2011, Hoch really needed to give the Royals some quality starts. Maybe he was feeling the pressure at first, or maybe it was just a slower start, but once he got to the second half we saw more of what we want from Hoch. With that in mind, how should we expect him to perform in 2012?

Let’s just get some background information out there first. Here’s Hoch’s line from 2011:

31 starts* |  198 IP* |  4.68 ERA* |  128 K* |  62 BB |  1.283 WHIP* |  8.7 H/9* |  2.8 BB/9* |  5.8 K/9

* denotes career high (excluding 12.2-inning first season)

So, everything went pretty well, all told. I’d say that this is a pretty good line, especially for a first-time ace that has previous issues with high-pressure situations (or so it seems to fans). Really can’t complain too much about that, even with the .275 BABIP on the season. Still, here’s the breakdown by month:

Now, I find some of this a bit interesting. Even with roughly the same BABIP in March/April and May, Hoch came out with a much better result in May. But really, it’s not that puzzling. He jacked up his strikeouts in May and removed many of the would-be hits from being in consideration. Plus, it’s just the way things sort out sometimes. With such a small sample size per month, anything can happen, especially depending on the quality of opponents. Anyway, it gives us a place to start with regards to his pitching style and how that matches up with previous success. Hopefully, that’ll give us a sense of what to look for this season.

If we want to see what to look for to start 2012, I’d glance at Hoch’s August. His BABIP is reasonable, so we can exclude that from being an exception. And there are a few reasons that I think that’s what we should expect. The first has to do with the pitches Hoch used. For the first four months of the season, Hoch relied most on his fastball, sinker, cutter, and curve, in that order.  The most productive pitch for getting both a swing and a miss would have been his cutter, which makes sense. Still, that order would be upset from August on, as Hoch’s most-thrown pitches in that span became his fastball, slider, sinker, and cutter. He basically doubled his use of his slider in the last couple months, and it then drew more swings, roughly 22% of which went for whiffs. That whole thing is detailed in an article written last September at Fangraphs, so I won’t go into it too much here. Suffice it to say that we should expect to see a pitch choice more similar to August than to April. Of course, that’s assuming that new pitching coach Dave Eiland doesn’t mess with that success too much.

If we extrapolated that August stat line to Hoch’s whole season, it’d come out to something like this:

207 IP |  4.28 ERA |  191 K |  58 BB |  1.220 WHIP |  8.5 H/9 |  2.5 BB/9 |  8.3 K/9

Now, that’s not so bad, is it? I think I’d gladly take that from Hoch this season. While probably a little optimistic, I think it’s definitely within reach. Let’s compare that to some other projections that have been released:

Bill James:     189 IP  |  4.33 ERA  |  129 K  |  61 BB  |  1.390 WHIP  |  9.6 H/9  |  2.9 BB/9  |  6.1 K/9
RotoChamp: 195 IP  |  4.80 ERA  |  130 K  |  63 BB  |  1.330 WHIP  |  9.0 H/9  |  2.9 BB/9  |  6.0 K/9

So, maybe that August line would be a little optimistic, like I say, but it’s not completely out of line with these projections. Given that the strikeout rate is probably a bit high, everything else matches up reasonably well. Of course, that’s matching projections, which can be pretty variable in quality.

Anyway, I think we should expect an improvement from Hoch yet again. I know that we all struggle with Hoch’s late-inning volatility and inconsistency (or consistency to give up runs, if you prefer)*, but I maintain that he’s improved on the most part. And most of an improvement is enough of an improvement for me for one season. Of course, I’m a noted Luke Hochevar fan, but he’s still my pick to “break out” or make a big jump in performance this season.

*I took a quick glance at this last May.

If I were to write an actual predictive line, I think I’d do something like this:

32 starts  |  205 IP  |  4.30 ERA  |  150 K  |  62 BB  |  1.278 WHIP  |  8.8 H/9  |  2.7 BB/9  |  6.6 K/9

For a guy that’s experienced little consistent success throughout his career, I would take that line. It would be the best of his career and befitting of the #2 or #3 guy I’ve thought he could be. I’d be willing to keep him around for much longer given performance like that. But then again, you never know. Do you think I’m on to something, or is that shooting too high for Hoch? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks to mmeade17 for his comments on my last post, which propelled this one forward.

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