Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Last Chance Hochevar

As any regular readers to this space can guess, we are very excited for tonight's season debut by Kansas City Royals starting pitcher, Luke Hochevar. Back in 2005, Hochevar capped off his collegiate career at the University of Tennessee by going 15-3, with a 2.26 ERA and 154 strike outs in just under 140 innings.

Recapping the start of his pro career...

2006: Luke Hochevar was the #1 overall pick in what looks like a very solid draft. I have no idea what "experts" think about this draft class, but just looking at who was taken in the first 42 picks of the draft makes me think it was a good year.

Here are some players the Royals passed on, when selecting Hochevar...

Evan Longoria (#3 overall pick)
Brandon Morrow (#5)
Andrew Miller (6)
Clayton Kershaw (7)
Tim Lincecum (10)
Max Sherzer (11)
Travis Snider (14)
Matt Antonelli (17)
Daniel Bard (28)
Emmanuel Burriss (33)
Chris Coghlan (36)
Joba Chamberlain (41)
Chris Perez (42)

We are not saying that the Royals should have taken all of these guys over Hochevar. In fact, the only guys that we can say they should have definitely taken instead are Evan Longoria and Tim Lincecum.

In any sport, it's easy to look back at a draft a few years down the road and second guess picks that were made with different information. Some players fall in the draft because of "signability". A large majority of players become better as they gain more experience and grow into their bodies, but the players who currently look better than their draft status may have just gotten better faster.

2007: Luke overcame less than impressive minor league stats to earn a September call-up and Major League debut. Luke immediately became a member of our 2007 championship roto team, as a beloved RP with SP eligibility. (Past SP/RP stars we've employed to great success include John Smoltz, Jonathan Papelbon, and Ryan Dempster.)

2008: Hochevar had the honor of being our last round draft pick for the 2008 season, but his contributions didn't last long. Luke was clearly not ready for the show last season. His 22 starts garnered him a 6-12 record and 5.51 ERA, with a K/BB ratio of 1.76 (2009 Triple-A K/BB is 3.00)

2009: After a solid spring training, Luke probably deserved to be in the Royals' Opening Day rotation. Since he had minor league options remaining, the Royals' brain trust decided to relegate him to the purgatorial Pacific Coast League. Unfortunately for Royals' fans, this allowed clowns like Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez to embarrass themselves and the entire Kansas City front office.

Hochevar has really sparkled in Omaha. In six starts and 40 innings this season, he has allowed just 28 hits & 10 walks, while fanning 30 batters on his way to a 5-0 record and 0.90 ERA.

We sit here on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 12th, 2009. Luke Hochevar's entire career is waiting to take off. I'm sure he never wants to be in the Minors again, but what will it take for him to (a) stay with the big club, and (b) be fantasy relevant?

How much patience should we show with Hochevar? We have gone down this road every chance we've had.

Should a poor start tonight have us running to the waiver wire to replace him with George Sherrill or Juan Pierre? If he struggles at Oakland tonight, should we maintain faith that he will right the ship. Some comments he made to Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star give me great confidence in his future...

“Everything is clicking,” he said. “All of the things that I learned last year in the big leagues about attacking hitters. My delivery, I feel, is a lot more repeatable this year. I feel the things I had to think about before, they’re just coming naturally now.

Reading those comments make me feel like Hochevar hasn't really left himself an out, if he struggles. I mean after saying that "everything is clicking", everything better freaking "click" tonight.

Dutton includes insight as to what contributed to Hochevar's struggles in previous seasons...

The issues surrounding Hochevar have always been the peripherals: consistency, pace and command.

“There were times when Luke would just get going too fast,” pitching coach Bob McClure once said. “It was like he was pitching with the house on fire. When that happens, he just needs to slow down and take a deep breath.

Still, that magic feeling of hope permeates throughout this opportunity for Luke Hochevar.

“The stuff is there.”

Hochevar’s sinking fastball is a killer pitch capable of making him a ground-ball machine. Throw in a sharp-breaking curve, a four-seam fastball that hits the mid-90s and a chase-pitch slider — it’s an impressive arsenal.

Does Hochevar deserve more or less stability than Jordan Zimmermann? Or, Rick Porcello? Is Daniel Bard wasting space on our roto roster? How can a former roto champion build a pitching staff filled with so many kids? Why did we allow Tommy Hanson, Zimmermann, Porcello, Bard, Hochevar, and Masterson to be on the same roto staff?

When building a roster, fantasy owners must step through an intricate dance that balances patience with a keen sense to avoid becoming paralyzed by hope and expectations.

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