Luke Hochevar Meets Tommy John

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Tommy John has struck again. This time the famed surgery has claimed Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar, as he will miss the entire 2014 season. It’s amazing to think this way, but this is actually a blow to the Royals, as Hochevar was an important part of the teams success in 2013 and looked to continue that this year. It seems weird to say that, since Hochevar for years was an unreliable starter who put up some of the worst numbers in baseball history. The Royals were contemplating giving Hoch another run in the rotation this year as the fifth starter, but obviously those plans have now changed. So where are the Royals at now without Luke Hochevar?

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For one, the fifth starters job is now down to two. Brad Penny was released earlier this week and Wade Davis has been officially moved to the bullpen. That leaves the competition to young flamethrower Yordano Ventura and Twitter’s favorite son Danny Duffy. In my eyes this is the best thing for the future of this team, as Penny seemed like a long-shot and Davis failed miserably last year at the back of the Royals rotation. As much as I love Ventura(and think in the long run he will be a top of the rotation starter), it might be best to start out the year with Duffy at the back end of the rotation. This saves some of Ventura’s service time(June seems like a good guess as to when he would join Kansas City, barring an injury) and allows Duffy some time to prove he can be the pitcher that many feel he is capable of being. So far in his young career, Duffy has been hit with a mixture of injuries and lack of control.  But at times Duffy has looked electric with a fastball that can reach the high 90’s and a curveball that is close to being a 12-to-6 downer with varying speeds. His change up is also above average, so Duffy has all the makings to be a number 2 or 3 starter…if he can learn some control. The biggest obstacle he has faced so far(outside of injuries) is a lack of control that makes it hard for him to go much past 5 innings in any of his starts. If Duffy can learn to be more efficient and avoid the injury bug, it’s conceivable that both him and Ventura could be in the Royals rotation by the end of the year.

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Hochevar’s injury also forced Wade Davis to the Royals bullpen, which is also a major plus for Kansas City. Manager Ned Yost felt that with Hoch out, the Royals needed more of a veteran presence in the pen. Insert Davis, a pitcher who over his career has been a questionable starter(at best) and a solid reliever. Davis was a starter in 2010-2011 for Tampa Bay and last year for Kansas City. 2012 was spent out of the pen. Compare:

Wade Davis Statistics and History – Baseball-Reference.com: Standard Pitching

His numbers in relief are very solid, especially his strike out rate(jumping to 11.1 in 2012) and his ERA+(a full 63 points higher than his best season in the rotation). Davis could easily slide into Hochevar’s 2013 role and put up very similar numbers, while also elevating his value(as the Royals hold his option for the 2015 season). The Royals really wanted Davis to be a starter when he was acquired, but it appears he is better suited for the pen, especially if the team is serious about contending.

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The last way in which Hochevar’s injury affects the Royals is that it opens up another spot in the bullpen. Right now six pitchers seem a lock for the pen: Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, Davis and Louis Coleman. That leaves a spot for either a lefty(Franciscley Bueno, Donnie Joseph), a long reliever(Everett Teaford, P.J. Walters) or the pitcher that loses out in the fifth starter spot. With the Royals talking about Davis being a 2 inning reliever, that lessens the need for a long reliever. Kansas City GM Dayton Moore would prefer that the loser of the starters spot go to AAA Omaha,  as the club wants insurance in case a starter suffers an injury. That would leave a battle between lefties Bueno and Joseph. Bueno is coming off of a rough outing yesterday against Milwaukee, one in which he looked very hittable while Joseph has yet to give up a run this spring. Joseph meanwhile is younger and is more of a strikeout pitcher(he has a career 12.3 SO/9 in the minors) although his walk rate is high as well(4.5 BB/9 in the minors). The Royals have used Bueno over the past couple seasons and seem to like his ability to get lefties out. Either could make the team and there is a good chance both will see time with Kansas City at some point this season.

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I’ve never been a big fan of Luke Hochevar but he was a major part of the Royals bullpen last year and seemed to have breathed life into a flailing career. It’s unfortunate that as he seemed to have turned a corner(thanks for that, Ned) he is now out for 2014 and his career is now in question going forward. Hoch’s injury has given us an even better view of what the Royals Opening Day roster is going to look like. As valuable as Hochevar has become, he seemed overpriced(he is scheduled to make $5.21 million this year) for someone coming out of the bullpen. Moore has said they would like to bring Hochevar back in the future, but at this point it is possible we have seen the last of Luke in a Royals uniform. The Royals were lucky and weren’t really hit with any major injuries last year. Hopefully this is the last of them for this year.

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Up For Grabs(Cause You Can’t Have 5 Guys Rotate as the 5th Starter)

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Spring Training is not only underway, but games have begun and the Kansas City Royals will start defending their 2013 Cactus League title later today(I’m sure it’s just a slight that the flag isn’t up at ‘The K’ yet). That also means the biggest competition this spring has begun, that being the fight for the 5th starter spot for the Royals. Five pitchers are battling for the spot, which is a great thing to have that many options. Today let’s run down these five warriors(it sounded good in my head) and the chances of them winning the spot.

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Yordano Ventura

Ventura is the most intriguing out of the five candidates for this spot. Ventura, a 22 year old fireballer, got a taste of the big leagues in September last year with mixed results(he had a great start against Cleveland, but got roughed up a bit by the White Sox). Ventura easily has the best “stuff” of the five pitchers, as he complements his triple digit fastball with an improving curve and change-up. His WHIP was a bit high last year for AAA Omaha, as he gave up more hits than innings pitched, but he also struck out more than a batter per inning. If Ventura can improve the number of baserunners allowed and continue his strikeout rate than we could see a lot of Ventura in Kansas City this year. My guess is that unless Ventura blows everyone away this spring, he’ll start the year in Omaha. I love the idea of Yordano being brought up later in the year, almost like a mid-season acquisition. Either way, I think we see Ventura contribute this year for the Royals.

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Danny Duffy

Duffy has to be the sentimental choice for most Royals fans. We love Duffy, just as much for his fan interaction on Twitter as his blazing fastball. Duffy put up good numbers in 2013 for the Royals but two issues keep popping up with him; injuries and high pitch counts. Duffy has electric stuff, mixing his fastball with a change, sinker and curveball. Duffy is another guy who has good “stuff”, but hasn’t been able to really harness it. If Duffy is healthy, he would be a great choice for the 5th spot. But even if healthy, his high pitch counts mean he doesn’t get far past the fifth inning in any of his starts. For him to be successful, he needs to start going deeper in games, even if the Royals bullpen is one of the best in baseball. I would have to think Duffy has a good chance to be in the rotation to start the season, although the Royals have kicked around the idea of him coming out of the bullpen to start the year. I actually really love that idea, as he wouldn’t have to worry about pitch counts and could just ‘air it out’ for the inning or two he pitched. Only issue with putting Duffy in the pen is how the Royals already have a full bullpen(and then some). It’s at least a solid idea being thrown around if Duffy doesn’t take the 5th spot.

Brad Penny

Brad Penny 

Penny probably is not making the team out of Spring Training, but he is in the 5th starter conversation, and could be solid insurance going forward. Penny sat out 2013 and will turn 36 in May. But if he is willing to go to AAA and be ready if needed, then Penny could be useful. It’s a long season and injuries and slumps happen. You hope they don’t, but they do. Penny has playoff experience and is a veteran who at this point probably just wants to play, no matter the role. I highly doubt Penny heads north with the team, but he would be good to keep around.

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Luke Hochevar  

Yes, Hochevar is a serious candidate for the 5th starters spot. I’ll even got a step further; I think he is the favorite. Do I agree with that? No. Not at all. The story has pretty well been told: pitcher sucks at starting, moves to bullpen, finds success. In fact, Hochevar became one of the best relievers for Kansas City in 2013, posting an ERA under two, a WHIP below one and a WAR of 2.0. Hochevar was so successful as a reliever that late in the season he was called upon numerous times to hold a lead–and he did! That might not seem like that big a deal, but Hochevar was never good in pressure situations as a starter. In fact, if he allowed a baserunner, we fans immediately started sweating. It was easy to say that Hoch could not deal with the pressure of having runners on base when starting, and earlier on in 2013 it was still a concern out of the bullpen. But he’s going to be given the chance to start and the Royals are hoping that what he learned slides over to him starting. Hey, they convinced him to get rid of his slider and go back to the cutter, which garnered him success, so maybe the Royals are right. But in my eyes, the Royals and them wanting to put Hochevar in the rotation is the definition of insanity; to try something over and over again while expecting different results. It would seem the smart thing to do would be keep Hochevar in the bullpen and let him continue to pitch good. But I’m pretty sure he will see him start before 2014 is over. Just remember this when Hoch is back in the pen by July…

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Wade Davis    

Wade Davis reminds me a lot of Hochevar, who reminds me a lot of Hiram Davies. All three guys have great “stuff”, all three had tons of potential, and all three were given probably more chances than they should have to prove to the Royals that they deserved to be in the rotation. Davis was considered a big part of the Wil Myers trade last year and pretty quickly it was evident that Kansas City was going to give him every chance to succeed. Davis did not back up that chance and before the season was done had been sent to the bullpen. His numbers last year were bad; like, “Hiram Davies” bad. There was a reason I started referring to Davis last year as ‘Hiram Davies III’. His ERA was well over 5, his WHIP was creeping up on 2 and his WAR was -2.1. Yes, that negative in front of the number is supposed to be there, and really proves how bad he was.  To give you an idea of how bad, you all remember Jeff Francoeur’s putrid 2012, right? The one where he was the “worst everyday player in baseball”? Well, that season Frenchy had a WAR of -2.3. So Davis almost reached that, and that was even with him having a solid September out of the bullpen. So once again, the Royals are giving Davis an opportunity to redeem himself and give him a shot at the 5th spot in the rotation. Will he? It’s possible he will get that chance. I know at one point Royals GM Dayton Moore referred to Davis as the ‘key’ to the Myers trade, and we all know Kansas City doesn’t want to be the ones to lose that trade. I’m not so sure Davis has it in him, since he did the same thing in Tampa. Struggled as a starter, was more than solid out of the pen. Sounds like Hoch, right? Davis could get a shot this year, but the leash will be very short. The Royals know they are in it this year to contend, and if Davis falters he’ll end up back in the pen faster than you can say ‘believeintheprocess’.  If that happens, it’s not the worst thing in the world. You just hope Davis isn’t allowed to stink up the joint as long as he did last year.

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With Spring Training games just underway, we’ve got a ways before we find out who wins the 5th starters job outright. In fact, there is a good chance the pitcher who wins this battle won’t still be the 5th starter come August. By then, we could be seeing Kyle Zimmer make his way to the big leagues or one of the five guys who didn’t make the rotation could slide in there and take over. More than anything, it is nice to sit here and know the Royals have solid options and only one rotation spot is up for grabs. Right there that is already an improvement over where Kansas City was even two years ago.

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