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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ad Hoch Hypothesis





The percentage of newly religious Royals fans is on the rise. Something supernatural has certainly befallen the Kansas City rotation, as Luke Hochevar has been relegated to the bullpen. At the games, most of you will have your Garth Brooks-buzz on before the Royals march him out there, so you should be able to handle it more easily with a little liquid levity.

The organization has finally reconciled with the fact that Hochevar is not a positive in the rotation. Though, all you get is platitudinal optimism from team insiders and Luke's teammates. And what else can you expect? They're not going to trash on the guy, even if he is one of the worst starting pitchers EVER. Really, he is: According to FanGraphs, Hoch is the 18th most horrifying starter in history in terms of WPA (Win Probability Added/Minimum-750 IP.) But everyone already knew that to some extent. His "stuff" has never been the question, right? Is the stretch complicit to his crumblings or is he just an unhinged nutcase? And isn't that distinction a requirement for the bullpen?

Okay, great, he's in the 'pen. So, is this one step closer to the guy stowing away on a Japanese cargo ship? Or is he going to succeed and become that satiny comfort pillow that Dayton Moore needs to finally put the 2006 draft to bed? Even if he won't admit it, Moore was the GM when Hochevar was drafted. To DMGM, Hoch is the homely neighbor girl you awkwardly lost your virginity to--when you told everyone it was like Basic Instinct with a cheerleader. You ain't gotta lie ta kick it, Day-Day.

Hochevar's velocity has always ridden to the mitt somewhere between 90 & 93 MPH in the rotation. Jeremy Greenhouse of Baseball Analysts' "Touching Bases" found that the average increase in fastball velocity when transitioning from the rotation is just 0.7 MPH. But, he also cited Tangotiger's "Rule of 17." This rule states that one can expect a BABIP 17 points lower in the bullpen, 17% more K/PA (strikeouts per plate appearance,) and 17% fewer home runs per contacted plate appearance. So, the latter relief tendencies bode well for Hochevar, but it isn't as if he is going to start averaging 97 MPH on his heater.

The right hander has gone through many "adjustments" over the years that were supposed to have been the hitch in his get-along (to use a home-cooked colloquialism.) Last year, this Titanic brass-polishing manifested itself in Hoch bringing down the hammer just over 20% of the time, up from 11.6% in 2011 and 8.5% in 2010. The curve looked pretty effective in Spring Training and it may be valuable for the Half-Inning Hochevar that we can begin to accustom ourselves to. Maybe it won't be effective. The important thing is, the turbulence will be limited. This "adjustment" is significant.

So, if you are able to put aside a few things: his $4.56MM salary, his propensity for wretched misadventure, and Moore's desperate kung fu grip on his watery value; this may not be a bad idea. It's not the first time a club has had to cut their losses. The Yankees have played this game with Joba Chamberlain. But Joba was kind enough to stay on the shelf with injuries rather than seeming to mulishly refuse to budge from the mound. But that isn't the most positive forecast. Perhaps teammate Wade Davis could weigh in (and then get traded and weigh back out.)

You really can't blame Hochevar. Not for the length of his leash. Not for his salary. Not even for his shortcomings as a professional baseball player. He is what he is. He took the ball when they gave it to him. Just like he was supposed to. No matter how awesome it would've been had he superseded Ned Yost or Trey Hillman and removed himself from the rotation, that isn't the kind of person most of us want to be. And, apparently, that isn't Luke. Moore and company should have sooner found a better way to use him (like, uh...the bullpen.) Or, more reasonably, he should've been demoted or non-tendered. He didn't give himself this many chances. He's tried to get better--even if it didn't work. Personally, I'm glad he didn't give up.

Maybe he turns a page and relief work better suits his repertoire. Maybe he can try to erase his career-long struggle in short bursts. Maybe the Royals' straw-grasping, new plan pans out the way we all expect it to. But if it works, maybe more of the credit is given to Hochevar. And maybe less is Moore.


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