This just in…..Luke Hochevar sucks. This also just in…….the Kansas City Royals are a bunch of god-damned idiots. I could just stop there and you would nod silently and go about your day.
Instead, let us delve into the latest chapter of whichever of those first two statement you think should be the title of the book. This chapter reminds you of that hot girl you dated in high school for awhile even though you didn’t really like anything else about her. She was awful but she was hot and so you tolerated the rest of her because HOT GIRLFRIEND (or SEX WITH HOT GIRLFRIEND-adjust accordingly depending on your age at the time). But in reality she’s mostly insufferable (or just crazy) and you’re an idiot for staying with her for those few moments that you can simply appreciate hotness and forget about everything else.
Earlier this season, I washed my hands of Hochevar and I expected that the Royals would do the same before 2012 ended. Royals fans who are still following along after the All Star Game have pretty universally come to one certainty when it comes to the Royals’ offseason plans to make 2013 something to be excited about: Luke Hochevar needs to go. He is eligible for arbitration and will likely get a significant pay raise (estimated to $5 million or so for 2013?) due to the fact that he will throw right around 200 innings again this season. To his credit (and the Royals’ detriment) Hochevar has been pretty durable during his career and that means he deserves a raise in the Bizarro World that is the MLB pay structure. So the easy solution is to avoid giving an awful pitcher a raise by not making him the necessary qualifying contract offer which would lead to arbitration. The Royals save $5Million+ and he gets a fresh start. Win-win. Sounds pretty simple.
Instead, the Royals have indicated that they think Hochevar can still be a good starting pitcher for them. This despite the fact that the biggest thing holding them back is their poor starting pitching. Their starting rotation issues have directly caused several extended losing streaks in the recent past, and it contributed to an awful July record of 7-19 (after they had scratched back within a few games of .500 despite having a 12-game losing streak in April that was………wait for it…………….actually NOT directly caused by poor starting pitching).
According to the KC Star article linked to above, “Pitching coach Dave Eiland sees, in Hochevar, a pitcher ‘who is starting to figure some things out,’ and who is ‘making strides’ while stressing ‘the growing process is over now; it’s time to go out there and be consistent’.”
You know what? Eiland is absolutely right. The growing process is over. It has been over for awhile now. Hochevar is 29 and this is his 5th year at the MLB level. Consistency also should have appeared awhile ago. It looked like it might have arrived in the second half of 2011, when Hochevar’s numbers were consistently the best of his career for the longest stretch of his career. Everyone was expecting that Hochevar to start the 2012 season they way he finished 2011 and use it as a launching pad for his arrival as a building block on a winning team’s starting rotation.
Unfortunately, we all know the story so far this season, Hochevar has been consistent at one thing: being inconsistent. There are literally two versions of him this season (and his career):
- Hot Girlfriend Luke. He is lovable and wanted by all. Hot Luke throws deep into games without allowing many baserunners. He throws shutouts or maybe gives up only one run in 7+ innings pitched. He works quickly. He keeps his defense on its toes. Hot Luke kisses babies and likes walks on the beach. He has more starts this year in which he allowed two or less earned runs than C.C. Sabathia. Hot Luke thinks his wife’s pet ferret is amazing. He matches David Price in a pitcher’s duel. He fixes things around the house during a homestand. Hot Luke DVRs “Bachelor Pad” and watches it with his wife so they can have “together time” when the Royals aren’t on the road. He once threw a complete game with just 80 pitches. Hot Luke goes to his wife’s friend’s party and plays nice and pretends to like everyone, leaving all of her friends thinking, “Maybe Luke is allright and we misjudged him. I guess we just needed to give him a chance.”
- The Other 80% of the Girlfriend Luke. He is an asshole. He walks too many guys and gets his pitch count near 100 in the 4th inning. 80% Luke’s stuff is flat and right over the middle of the plate; and it gets hit HARD. He complains about having to help clean the house, take out the garbage, and mow the lawn during extended homestands. 80% Luke tinkers with several pitches during the game. He folds like a lawn chair when there are men on base and he has to pitch out of the stretch. 80% Luke’s numbers are bad when pitching out of the stretch and are downright dreadful when runners are in scoring position. Right before he leaves for a road trip, 80% Luke turns on every light in his wife’s ferret’s bedroom (of course the ferret has his own bedroom-the Hochevars are freaking millionaires!!!!!!), then blasts the stereo and walks out of the house to leave it that way for days so that the ferret gets freaked out while they are both gone because his wife is out of town on the professional beach volleyball tour. I mean, WHO DOES THAT TO A PET?!!!!! He also has seven starts giving up six or more earned runs; only two pitchers in baseball have been worse. Only three others have started as many games with as bad an ERA as 80% Luke’s. 80% Luke is also known for showing up to his wife’s friends’ parties in a horrible mood, making a scene and demanding that they leave early, and then leaving his wife in the awkward position of having to make up a story about how she doesn’t feel very good so she and 80% Luke are going to leave the party early.
In defending Hochevar, some suggest that he has been tweaked so many times in 5 years by former pitching coach Bob McClure, former manager Trey Hillman, current manager Ned Yost, and now Eiland. He was tipping his pitches, then he wasn’t going after hitters and pitching to contact, then he wasn’t throwing inside often enough, somewhere in there he wasn’t relying on his fastball enough, and now Eiland says he’s been throwing his cutter too much and it is messing up his mechanics for his other pitches-his best pitches.
Hochevar’s response is that he feels like he’s been messed with a lot and that he just needs to execute his pitches better. In other words, he sounds like he’s done listening and is ready to do it his way. Eiland has essentially countered with, “How’s that been working out for you?” The other complication is that you can’t send him to the bullpen and use him there, either, because bullpen guys tend to enter the game to pitch when there are runners on base. So…….yeah……..that might not work out so well given his numbers when pitching out of the stretch/with runners in scoring position. He’s a starter-not a stoppper. While Hochevar might have a point that he’s been told to try a lot of things that will make him successful, there is one common denominator to all of this: LUKE FREAKING HOCHEVAR!!!
It doesn’t matter what he does or what some coach adjusts, it doesn’t stick and Hot Luke ends up reverting back to 80% Luke before too long. The same pattern repeats and all the good feelings of having a hot girlfriend go *poof* the minute the unbearable personality takes over and makes life otherwise miserable. The problem is that the Royals won’t simply cut the hot girlfriend loose. They are afraid. They think about former Royal Phillip Humber. They look at the examples of Jorge de la Rosa, Jason Schmidt, Kevin Millwood, and Chris Carpenter (all guys who their original teams got frustrated with for various reasons and traded or cut them loose) who found success at later stops in their careers and potential regret scares them to death.
The Royals have to change that thinking between now and the deadline to offer arbitration. They can never move forward to build a starting rotation that can help them become a playoff contender with unreliable pitchers like Hochevar in the mix. The Royals cannot hold onto the hot girlfriend out of fear that they cut her loose and she might hook up with the guy who heads up the Robotics Team, evolve into a person you’d actually want to hear talk, and live happily ever after and repeatedly win “Best Couple on Earth” several years in a row.
The Royals have given Hochevar 5 years and 125 starts and still don’t know what they have. He is still the hot girlfriend that can be tantalizing. You know, until the rest comes out and makes people hate him. The time has come for the Royals let Hochevar go and let him grow on his own and if that means he finds success elsewhere then good for him and good for the Royals for moving on. The Royals must move on and learn for themselves that the right pitcher (the total package-hot AND worth hearing talk) who can help them contend is out there for them.
If Hochevar turns out to be a great pitcher for another team then that is just how it is and the Royals can’t be blamed for trying-or for letting him go. Heck, even the leader of the Robotics Team needs that special someone in their lives. Let him go, Royals. Let someone else put up with his crazy ass. And if he thrives then that is great.
As long as it isn’t for the San Diego Padres. EVERYONE hates those assholes.