With the acquisition of Jeff Francis, there is some doubt as to whether Luke Hochevar will be the Royals’ Opening Day starter.   My opinion is that the time is now for the Royals to push the former overall number one pick and see what happens.   Chances are, Hochevar is who he is:  a number three or four starter with some trouble staying healthy.   There is a chance, however slim, that thrusting Luke into the high pressure-high profile role (even if it is only by default) of the number one starter might just elevate his game.

What would be the ceiling for Hochevar?   Well, probably not a legitimate ace pitcher and likely not even a true number two starter, either.   Luke could, however, stake claim to being a solid middle of the rotation guy if he can become more consistent and avoid nagging injuries that have caused him to miss starts in two of this three major league seasons.  Frankly, if Kansas City’s system produces like many hope, then having Hochevar be just a middle of the rotation starter is all the Royals need.

Those thoughts are for seasons to come and we enter 2011 with Luke Hochevar as the number one or number two starter in an already much maligned Royals rotation.  At times, he has produced outings that make one think that he can at least hold his own in that role.   Other starts, however, are all too frequent reminders of a number one pick that could have been used on someone else.

Have a look at Luke’s 2010 starts:

Luke Hochevar – Good Starts

Date IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP BF Pit Str GB FB LD
7-Apr 7.2 5 0 0 1 2 0 0 27 89 57 16 8 3
4-May 6 3 1 0 4 3 0 0 23 92 48 6 10 3
13-Sep 5 2 2 0 3 2 0 0 20 78 39 9 6 2
5-Jun 7 6 1 1 2 10 1 0 28 109 74 6 10 4
26-May 8 6 2 2 0 4 0 0 30 99 67 12 14 7
18-Apr 6 6 3 2 5 4 0 0 28 104 53 10 9 2
29-Sep 6 7 2 2 3 4 0 0 28 97 61 6 15 7
20-May 9 4 3 3 2 7 1 0 33 107 75 10 14 1
19-Sep 6 8 3 3 1 5 1 0 25 101 67 10 9 2
24-Apr 6.2 8 5 4 1 7 0 0 30 100 67 12 10 6

 Luke Hochevar – Not So Good Starts

Date IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP BF Pit Str GB FB LD
12-Apr 5 6 5 4 3 5 1 1 24 98 59 4 11 4
24-Sep 5 8 4 4 1 5 1 0 24 94 59 11 7 2
11-Jun 4 6 4 4 0 3 1 0 18 68 39 7 8 3
9-May 2.2 3 4 4 4 1 0 1 15 71 43 5 4 2
31-May 7 9 5 5 2 7 2 0 32 106 65 8 15 5
15-May 6.1 7 5 5 2 3 0 1 29 103 68 12 11 4
29-Apr 2.2 11 9 9 2 1 0 0 20 73 41 7 10 7

What we see here is a frustrating mix of 10 good starts and 8 poor ones.   Equally as frustrating is the mix of dates in the above charts.   Inconsistent – the catch phrase that has surrounded Luke Hochevar since he came to the majors.

Still, 2010 was an improvement over 2009 when Luke’s ‘Good Start Chart’ would have contained 10 games and his ‘Not So Good Start Chart’ would list 15 contests.   In fact, as has been pointed out by others, in the four starts prior to the four inning outing on June 11th that led to Hochevar’s stint three month stint on the disabled list, he had thrown 31 innings, allowed just 25 hits, 11 runs and walked just six batters while striking out 28.    Was that just a good stretch that happened to be interrupted by injury or a sign of Hochevar really turning a corner?

When Hochevar returned in September, he was okay, but not up to the level he had attained immediately prior to his injury.   Coming back from three months off and doing so in September for a team that was pretty awful makes any analysis of those starts problematical.

Also problematical is trying to determine if the jump in Hochevar’s average fastball speed from 91.8 in 2009 to 93.5 in 2010 was real or mostly the result of a hot radar gun at Kaufmann Stadium.   Fangraphs does tell us that Hochevar used a cutter and his changeup much more frequently in 2010 in place of a slider and curve.   The results was a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.93 in 2010 versus 4.84 in 2009.    With improved defense at short, center (hopefully) and probably at three of the four corner positions, we can hope that Hochevar’s actual earned run average gets closer to his FIP and that it (the FIP) actually improves as well.

Over time, I have gotten over the angst of what could have been in that 2006 Draft (after all, I thought the Hochevar pick was a good one at the time) and taken Luke Hochevar at face value.   He will never live up to what we think a overall number one pick should be, but there are signs that Hochevar could be a solid major league starter.   Bascially, he won’t be Zack Greinke, but he might be Gil Meche – the Gil of 2007 through half of 2009 – and for the Royals that might be enough over the next three or four years.

For 2011, would you be satisfied with a 2008 Meche-like performance?   Thirty-two starts and an ERA just under four?  Such a season would not make the Royals contenders in 2011, but it would go a long way towards laying the groundwork for contention in 2012.