Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis, & Misusing Sound Logic


Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever had a friend say he or she didn’t like a movie? You’re a human person living in the 21st century, so of course you have. Maybe you know a guy who just can’t stand the movie Legally Blonde. He says the dialogue isn’t all that funny, the premise is absurd, and the main character is annoying. None of those statements are that out of line. Your friend has a perfectly fine opinion, backed up with valid arguments. Then, your friend says he wishes more movies were like Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, because that’s a high-quality film.

All of his complaints about Legally Blonde should equally apply to Legally Blonde 2, but your friend praises the latter, while putting down the former. How much sense does that make? Don’t you hate it when people do that?

For instance, this quote from Jeffrey Flanagan of FOX Sports Kansas City, on one of the candidates for the Royals’ fifth starter spot:

“…the gap between his effectiveness as a reliever and his ineffectiveness as a starter is simply too vast to ignore.”

Let’s play a quick game of Name That Royal! Can you figure out which Royals’ pitcher Flanagan is referring to? If you guessed Luke Hochevar, I’m sorry, but that’s incorrect. The answer is: Wade Davis.

Flanagan is correct in saying Davis has proven himself to be much better out of the bullpen than in the rotation. However, just two sentences earlier, Flanagan – who seems to have a direct line to Dayton Moore’s office – suggests the final rotation spot will be a battle between Yordano Ventura and the aforementioned Hochevar. If you’re like me, and that is to say, you have access to the internet and can find your way to each player’s statistical profiles, Flanagan’s statement probably strikes you as very odd. Why would he single out Davis’ shortcomings as a starter, while simultaneously saying Hochevar could return to the rotation? Couldn’t that very logical argument apply to both Davis and Hochevar, especially considering each guy’s history? Both pitchers have been below average starters, and above average relievers. They’re actually quite similar, statistically speaking.

Hochevar as a starter: 6.22 K/9, 3.01 BB/9, 4.44 FIP, 4.26 xFIP
Davis as a starter: 6.33 K/9, 3.36 BB/9, 4.49 FIP, 4.50 xFIP

Hochevar as a reliever: 9.65 K/9, 2.17 BB/9, 3.40 FIP, 3.27 xFIP
Davis as a reliever: 10.53 K/9, 3.70 BB/9, 2.79 FIP, 3.32 xFIP

From a peripherals-based standpoint, there isn’t much to distinguish between the two pitchers, which, again, makes the above quote seem even more strange. When we look at each player’s results as a starter, however, there is a noticeable difference.

Hochevar as a starter: 758.1 IP, 5.44 ERA
Davis as a starter: 513.2 IP, 4.57 ERA

We all remember how poorly Davis pitched as a starter in Kansas City last year. His 5.67 ERA was awful, to put it kindly. But it seems like some have forgotten that in the year before last, Hochevar had an ERA even higher than that, at 5.73. If you don’t have your calculator handy, I’ll go ahead and tell you that means Hochevar was worse than Davis, from a run-preventing angle. Normally, I am not a fan of putting more faith in a pitcher’s results, since only so much is under a pitcher’s control. However, when a pitcher consistently underperforms his peripherals year after year, like Hochevar does, we have to re-evaluate our method of evaluation. Stats like FIP and xFIP aren’t all that useful in analyzing Jeremy Guthrie, and they don’t tell us much about a guy like Hochevar, though Guthrie is obviously on the other end of the spectrum.

Prior to last season, Davis had actually overperformed his peripherals as a starting pitcher, which suggests he could be due to bounce back some in 2014, if given the opportunity. Now, before you get all riled up, I’m not saying Davis should be the Royals’ number five starter this season. He’s far from the best candidate for that role, and even if I would expect better results, he’s still more effective as a reliever. What I am saying is that saying Hochevar is a good candidate to return to the rotation, while saying Davis isn’t cut out to start, is a hypocritical stance. They’re similar pitchers, and if anything, Davis is a better candidate than Hochevar, if only due to the latter’s longer track record of ineptness.

I realize Hochevar’s raw stuff grades out better than Davis’. But despite his superior stuff, Hochevar has seen inferior results. It seems that the Royals’ front office, through Flanagan, is allowing recency bias to creep in and cloud their judgment. Don’t get me wrong, the increased velocity and sharper breaking balls from Hochevar, the reliever, were incredibly impressive. But he has proven time and time again, that he is a bad starting pitcher. Davis may not be a good option, but Hochevar certainly is no better an option. As Flanagan put it:

“…the gap between his effectiveness as a reliever and his ineffectiveness as a starter is simply too vast to ignore.”