As the heat begins to descend upon the Paris of the Plains, so does baseball begin to trickle from the lips. Conversations around grills and between sips of Boulevard beer drift towards the Boys in Blue.
“How about that Moustakas?”
“Hosmer will come around. I’m not worried”
“We really need some starting pitching”
“Luke Hochevar is just terrible”
Some variation of that last comment is typically thrown around while heads nod in agreement. Depending on my willingness to disagree with the person, which is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol imbibed, I’ll retort. Because while on occasion, Luke Hochevar has an epically disastrous outing, he is not in fact That Bad.
Just last week, I crowned Felipe Paulino the Ace of the staff. However, if you look at his numbers they aren’t a far cry from those of Luke Hochevar. Paulino strikes out 9.9 batters every 9 innings while Hochevar whiffs 7.4. Paulino clearly has his number here, but he also is superior to every other American League starter not named Max Scherzer.* Hochevar’s rate is just below Jared Weaver’s and just above Josh Beckett’s. It’s a very respectable strikeout rate.
* Former member of the recently crowned Big 12 baseball Champions, natch.
The yin to the strikeout’s yang is of course the dreaded base on balls. Paulino gives out 3.5 free bases every 9 innings compared to just 3.1 for Hochevar. These rates are not as highly ranked as their respective strikeout rates, but they aren’t completely dreadful. Hochevar this time nestles between Hiroki Kuroda and Max Scherzer. It seems walks are always an issue with the Royals, and while there is improvement needed, it’s not a huge issue with Luke Hochevar.
So he has pretty good numbers of two of the Three True Outcomes, and his runs given up are poor, so it must be what’s left: home runs. Once again, lets start with staff ace Paulino. He allows 0.9 home runs per 9 innings, while Hochevar surrenders 0.7. Once again he tops Paulino in an important statistical category. In fact Hochevar ranks 9th in the American League in home runs given up per 9 innings. The list of pitchers in the top 10 is like a who’s who of starting pitching: Lowe, Millwood, Sale, Verlander, Hammel, Wilson, Weaver, Price, Hochevar and Hernandez. I know, right?
In three important categories, Hochevar is very similar to Felipe Paulino and other quality starting pitchers. However, under his name on gigantic outdoor LCD screens everywhere, is plastered his ERA of 6.19 which is good for 2nd worst in the American League. It’s this number which gets people angry at Luke and suggest he be kicked out of the rotation in favor of…well I honestly don’t know who.
The thing about Luke Hochever, and this won’t be a surprise to anyone, is that he gives up a bunch of runs in a single inning. He has taken the disaster inning to a new artistic height. Everyone in the ballpark knows it’s going to happen, yet we’re glued to the game to find out how. I’ve been calling him “Big Inning Luke” for a couple of years now. It’s just his thing. Some people point to it being mental, whatever that means. But it doesn’t seem like it’s something that’s going to go away any time soon.
The question though, is how much does it really matter? If Hochevar goes out and implodes every few games and surrenders 9 runs, but then pitch as a well-above average starting pitcher the rest of the time, is that acceptable? It kind of seems like it is to me. Runs don’t carry over to the next game, so if Hochevar gives up 29 runs in the 4th inning of a game on Tuesday, it has no impact on the game that Sunday. It certainly mars his ERA and his adoration by fans, but so?
Anyone spending their Tuesday looking at this blog already knows that what Hochevar seems to have a very special knack for is surrendering lots of runs. Championships aren’t given out to the team with the most strikeouts or fewest walks. It’s the runs that matter. They can be deceiving however when used to rate a pitcher. Once the ball leaves his hand, the game is out of his control. Poor defense, bad luck, a small ballpark, these are situations the pitcher cannot control. What a pitcher can control are his strikeouts, walks and home runs. Those are called the Three True Outcomes. In those, Luke Hochevar is a good pitcher.
The question as to whether he can survive giving up as many runs as he does, well only time will tell. The bottom line is that he isn’t just another Kyle Davies. A pitcher who had stuff, but no results. Hochevar has some good results, but they’re disguised by some abhorrent results. He still unfairly carries the baggage as a Number One Overall Draft Pick, however he got paid a lot of money for the burden.
Each Hochevar start at the very least is going to provide entertainment and drama. Everytime a couple of batters get on base with soft singles, every one watching begins to think “Is this the Big Inning?” It’s like watching an episode of the Walking Dead, the scary moment is always just around the corner and even when it doesn’t come you get that thrill of expectation. So while Hochever might not be the best pitcher on the team, he’s surely the most entertaining.
- Nick Scott