Luke Hochevar – A Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma


Riddle me this Royals fans – How does the guy who faced 12 batters and gave up 7 embarrassing earned runs in the first inning of the 2012 home opener come back 4 months later on August 21 to one-hit the Rays through 8 innings and surrender zero runs?  On June 12, 2009, this same pitcher threw a 3-hit, no run, 80-pitch complete game masterpiece, yet ended the season with a 6.55 era, the highest among American League Starters.  How is this possible?  The question may never be answered because we’re talking about Luke Hochevar, the human riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Luke has a somewhat unusual and convoluted baseball history.  I’ll spare you most of the sordid details, but he was drafted three times, including twice by the Dodgers, signed with Scott Boras, fired Boras, hired another agent, signed a deal with the Dodgers, reneged on his deal with the Dodgers, fired his other agent, rehired Boras, and spent time playing independent ball before eventually coming to an agreement with the Royals as the first pick of the 2006 draft.  Not just the Royals first pick, but THE first pick of the draft.

And yes, 2006 is the same draft when Evan Longoria was selected as the 3rd pick, Clayton Kershaw with the 7th pick, Tim Lincecum with the 10th, Max Scherzer with the 11th, Ian Kennedy 21st, …  need I go on?  Not that I would want him on my team, mostly because he’s a blowhard egotistical lowlife, but Chris Perez was also drafted with the 42nd pick in 2006.

There are times when I don’t know if I’m more enraged at Hochevar over has maddening inconsistency and inability to live up to expectations, or with the Royals historical failure to accurately evaluate talent.  Either one is enough to drive Royals fans to pull their hair out.

Beginning with the Zach Greinke pick in 2002, most of the Royals first round picks have experienced moderate success, and many of these picks are on the roster now, such as Aaron Crow, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Billy Butler.   Unfortunately, the fact that many of them are playing in Kansas City obviously hasn’t done much to improve the Royals win/loss total.

Earlier this season, the Royals gave up on Mitch Myer, their 2003 first round pick, Chris Lubanski (also 2003) and Matt Campbell (2004) never made it to the bigs, and Christian Colon (2010), Bubba Starling (2011), and Kyle Zimmer (2012) still need more time in the minors before we’ll know if they can contribute in Kansas City.  These athletes are all familiar to Royals fans as high expectation players, but the team has very little to show for it.

What about the Royals first round picks prior to Zach Greinke?  Do you remember Colt Griffin, Mike Stodolka, Kyle Snyder, Matt  Burch, Jeff Austin, Dan Reichert, Dermal Brown, and Juan LeBron?  Once again, all are familiar names to Royals fans (if you’re old enough) and all are complete and total busts.  You have to go all the way back to Michael Tucker in 1992 to find even a passable major league talent.

Luke Hochevar is the poster child for the Royals first round picks.  Full of promise, loads of potential, occasional brilliance, but infuriatingly inconsistent.  Picked as the opening day starter in 2011, his ERA was an abysmal 5.56 by July 9.  Then from that point on to the end of the season, he posted an ERA of 3.49.

Reports say Hoch wasn’t throwing his most effective pitch, a slider, frequently enough early in the 2011 season, using it only about 10% of the time.  So he changed his approach and threw it twice as often in the second half, and this is probably why his performance improved so dramatically.  Fast forward to 2012 and since June 1 of this season, he’s returned to only throwing the slider 11% of the time again.   If you know something is working, my question is this – Why don’t you use it?

Now here’s the real mystery – on August 21 when he one-hit the Rays, he only used the slider 8 times (7.6%), so maybe his other pitches are more effective than we thought.  However, 7 of the 8 sliders found the strike zone, and when the Rays swung at the slider, which they did 75% of the time, they whiffed on half of these occasions.  So maybe it IS his most effective pitch.  So I ask again – Why doesn’t he use it more often??  It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Trying to figure out Luke Hochevar is like a color blind man trying to solve a Rubik’s cube.  It’s just darn near impossible and probably a waste of time.  But if you’re interested in some real hard-core analysis of Hochevar, check out this story at the Royals Review.

The Royals had some discussions with the Orioles this season about trading Hoch, but even when packaging him together with Jonathan Broxton, the best offer they received was former 5th round pick from 2007 Jake Arrieta who sports a career 5.27 ERA.  Pathetic.

The story lines revolving around the Royals starting pitching would be comical if they weren’t plain depressing.  Bruce Chen as opening Day starter (yes, that’s comical to me); Danny Duffy, Joakim Soria, and Felipe Paulino all require Tommy John surgery (much more depressing than comical); the Royals recycle Jeremy Guthrie and he throws 500 consecutive shutout innings (well, not quite 500) and then surrenders 7 runs in less than 3 innings to the Red Sox, the Royals bullpen has more candidates for the 2013 starting rotation than the current group of starters, etc., etc.

But in my opinion, all of these story lines, and all the Royals pitching question marks and inconsistencies, and all the team’s concerns about the future starting staff can be summed up with one question – What in the world is the deal with Luke Hochevar?