Hochevar Needs to Go for the Royals to Succeed
Luke Hochevar was drafted with the first overall selection of the 2006 draft on June 6. After spending time pitching for Fort Worth in an independent league, Hochevar threw 15.1 innings that year for Burlington and looked incredibly impressive. Of course, it was a tiny sample, but it looked like the Royals may have drafted their ace, or at the very least a good number two or three starter. The next season, Hochevar went to AA Wichita and was okay. His peripherals were great with a strikeout per inning and very few walks, but he was extremely hittable, allowing over ten hits per nine innings. Due to what I can only assume is his age and a big league need, the Royals promoted Hochevar to AAA Omaha without the numbers to back it up and he struggled there, too, though he wasn’t quite as easy to hit. His strikeouts dropped, though, and his walks rose predictably. He made his big league debut that year and that was the last year he spent the majority of his time in the minors.
In 2008, Hochevar did not begin the year in the big leagues, but he did make 22 starts and was only really okay in one category and that was home runs allowed. Things got worse on the surface in 2009 as Hochevar had an ERA of 6.55, which is astronomical, but his strikeout rate increased, his walk rate decreased and he seemed to be getting a little unlucky with hits. The thought was that while the numbers didn’t show it, a lot of what he was doing might be good for the future. And the beauty of it at the time was that he was still cheap having not yet reached arbitration. In 2010 and 2011, Hochevar went 17-17 with a 4.72 ERA in 301 innings spanning 48 starts. He gave up about a hit per inning, a home run per nine innings and the ERA was way worse than where the numbers said he should be. That’s about a 4.00 ERA pitcher which isn’t worthy of the number one pick, but was still solid if he could get there.
Of course, and this is where I became guilty of believing, the last 12 games of that stretch looked like he had turned the corner. Turning the corner has, of course, become a bit of a dirty phrase to say when discussing the Royals, so I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to any children reading this. Anyway, in those 12 games, Hochevar went 6-3 with a 3.52 ERA in 79.1 innings. He struck out 7.7 per nine innings and walked just 2.7. He gave up far less hits than innings pitched, got the home run rate down and seemed to make the nickname of “Big Inning Luke” look like a thing of the past. Like I said, that’s the point where I’m guilty of being too dumb to realize it was fool’s gold and that this was just a bit of a longer stretch of solid pitching than we had grown accustomed to with Hochevar.
In 2012, it didn’t take long for Hochevar to assert himself as the disappointment we had all grown to know in the Royals rotation. He was fine in his first start, but he gave up seven runs in the first inning of the home opener, just two days after a blown lead against the Oakland Athletics. I’m not blaming the entire season on that (I think it was doomed anyway with the lack of starting rotation depth), but I do think that first inning stopped the Royals from even having a chance of hanging around the race for awhile. And that’s what Luke Hochevar does. He crushes dreams. I don’t mean to pain Hochevar as a bad person. I’ve never actually had the opportunity to meet him, but in interviews, I enjoy his accountability and his willingness to talk about his faults. But he’s done enough to crush the dreams of the Royals and their fans and it’s time for the Royals to cut bait.
This seems like such an obvious article for me to write because everybody in the free world seems to understand how Hochever has been become a huge part of the problem rather than a potential part of the answer, but the Royals haven’t done the obvious and parted ways with their former first overall draft pick. I think that’s one of the biggest flaws of this leadership regime. Their inability to recognize sunk costs and lost causes and move on has led to many issues over the years with the 2013 team potentially seeing more of the same with Luke Hochevar holding a rotation spot and Jeff Francoeur taking the filed in right on Opening Day.
There is, of course, time for the Royals to right their wrongs and move on from Luke Hochevar. When a guy is young and making minimum wage or close to it, a team like the Royals absolutely has to hang on to guys who could actually turn things around and become impact players. Up until really 2012, Luke Hochevar was that player. He has the pedigree of a two-time first round draft pick, someone who did have some success in the minors and as someone who was very highly regarded for his potential as a top of the rotation starter. He’s had 128 starts at the big league level, and I think we can unequivocally say that he has not and will not live up to expectations with the Kansas City Royals.
I believe Hochevar can still pitch at a middle of the rotation level, but I don’t think that will ever happen as a member of the Royals. You hear all the time about how players need a change of scenery in order to blossom, and if Hochevar is ever going to blossom, he needs to be paired with someone who can teach him more than just pitching because one of his biggest issues is the mental side of the game (although his stuff was way down in 2012, too). Hochevar may or may not become anything, but I know that the Royals, on a limited budget, will never be able to succeed while paying as much money as Hochevar will inexplicably command and waiting for him to figure it out. I’ve heard the excuse that they need someone to pitch, and I get that. Someone other than Hochevar is the answer. The time to move on is now.
photo by Levi Payton
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