It was in the power department that the splits were most glaring. In 1980, Cruz hit 7 homers on the road, 4 at home. In 1981, it was 10 on the road, 3 at home; in 1982, it was 6 and 3; 11 and
But here’s the funny thing: call a player underrated long enough and, at least in sabermetric circles, he might have become overrated. It’s not like the mainstream media didn’t notice him at all – he finished in the Top
For his career, Cruz managed to hit 106 homers on the road, just 59 at home, almost certainly one of the most pronounced home/road splits of any player in history with that many home runs. And yet for his career, his home splits (.289/.366/.418) are better than his road splits (.280/.344/.422). There’s no question that Cruz, at his peak, was hurt by an oppressive home field, but he was probably affected less than, say, any San Diego Padres hitter is today.
All of this is an incredibly long-winded, tangential, and possibly irrelevant way of saying that just as Jose Cruz was considered so underrated that he became overrated, I’m beginning to think that Luke Hochevar has been called overrated – or synonyms like “draft mistake” and “not Tim Lincecum” – so often that he’s now become underrated.
Ignore the fact that he was the #1 overall pick in 2006, that the Royals took him over Andrew Miller and Lincecum, to say nothing of guys like Joba Chamberlain or Clayton Kershaw (neither of whom, despite obvious talent, were considered realistic #1 overall picks at the time). Just look at his body of work:
1) In his first full professional season, he started the year in Double-A, moved up to Triple-A in August, and pitched well (2.13 ERA) in a September callup.
2) Struck out nearly three times as many batters as he walked (138 to 47) in the minors.
3) Showed no signs of fatigue or injury all season.
That’s not a bad debut for a prospect, even a top prospect, is it?
The criticisms of Hochevar seem to boil down to this:1) He gave up way too many hits and home runs in the minors;
2) He was a #1 overall pick.
Also, owing to his holdout, he was awfully old for a draft pick, and is already 24. On the other hand, age is not nearly as meaningful a factor for pitchers as it is for hitters, and if there is such a thing as an injury nexus, Hochevar is probably past it.
The hits, and especially the homers, are concerning. Hochevar is a flyball pitcher, and he’s going to give up his share of big flies. But the high BABIP is likely to be one of those fluky things that won’t stay with him in the future. Not to make excuses for him, but the Royals reportedly would sometimes restrict his repertoire during the season to tighten up his breaking pitches. More importantly, the scouts who saw him did not feel that his erratic performance was reflected in his stuff, which was still #2-starter caliber.
I only saw him pitch in September, but what I saw reminded me a lot of Gil Meche. Like Meche, Hochevar works off a good fastball and an excellent big-breaking curveball, but all four of his pitches are at least average. Maybe Meche isn’t the comparison I want to be making, given that it took him 7 years for his stuff to translate into results. But Meche’s medical reports could fill a file cabinet; Hochevar’s wouldn’t fit inside the MacBook Air.
I don’t think he’s ready for a rotation spot now. Another half-season in Triple-A would be ideal, but the notion of breaking him in as a reliever is not a bad idea so long as it remains a temporary one. Hochevar could also be compared to the Mets’ Aaron Heilman, a first-round pick who also spent his first full season in Double-A and Triple-A. Hochevar’s K/BB ratio last year was 138-to-47; Heilman’s K/BB ratio that year was 132-to-44. But Heilman struggled in the Mets rotation for parts of the next two years, and was starting to smell like a bust before the Mets moved him to the bullpen in 2005, where he’s been tremendous ever since. The problem is that the Mets are so concerned about his previous struggles in the rotation that they’ve decided to leave him in the pen permanently, despite a starter’s repertoire, and as a result his talents have been somewhat wasted.
If using Hochevar in middle relief for a season makes his transition to the rotation easier, I’m all for it. Better one year in relief now than a lifetime in relief later.
Do I wish the Royals had drafted Lincecum or Kershaw instead? Yes. Do I think that Hochevar could be an above-average major league starter in 2009? Yes. What’s past is prologue. The future for Hochevar is still pretty bright.