Luke Hochevar – After high school, Hochevar was selected in the 39th round of the 2002 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. To hell with that, he said, I’m going to Tennessee to follow Arrested Development and Tee Martin.
It turned out to be a darn good choice for Hochevar. In 2005, he set a school record for strikeouts, was named SEC player of the year and took home the prestigious Roger Clemens Award (given to the top D-I pitcher). For reasons unknown (wink), the award was discontinued in 2009 after only six years in existence. In addition to Hochevar, the other award winners are Jered Weaver, Andrew Miller, David Price and Aaron Crow.
Following his acclaimed college career, the Dodgers drafted Hochevar again, though this time in the first round (although 40th overall). As with so many other amateur players who are “advised” by Scott Boras, Hochevar’s negotiation with the Dodgers was long and contentious. At one point, Hochevar actually dumped Boras for another agent and accepted a $2.98 million signing bonus. The next day, however, Hochevar reunited with Boras and promptly reneged on the deal. Suffice it to say, nobody should have been surprised when the signing deadline passed and Hochevar was not a Dodger.
Hochevar re-entered the draft in 2006 and was selected first overall by Kansas City. The Royals showed him the money; Hochevar signed a four-year major league deal worth $5.3 million guaranteed, which included a $3.5 million signing bonus and additional incentives worth $1.7 million.
Hochevar began his professional career in 2007 (after being rated the #32 best prospect), pitching 152 innings between AA and AAA. Unfortunately, he didn’t fare all that well at either level. In AA, he had a 4.69 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, but an incredibly impressive 3.62 K:BB rate. At AAA, he had a 5.12 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and less impressive 2.10 K:BB rate. Still, he was only 23.
In 2008, Hochevar, now the #63 best prospect, showed some impressive chops in AAA in the Pacific Coast League, a tough hitter’s league. He impressed the brass so much that he was promoted to the woeful major league squad. He didn’t get much of a welcome basket though, as he teammates gave him the lowest run support of any major league pitcher (2.8 runs per game). Still, it wasn’t entirely his teammate’s fault that he had a 6-12 record. He had a miserable 5.02 K/9 rate and an even more miserable 3.28 BB/9 rate, i.e. a 1.52 K:BB rate – that won’t cut it. His bullpen didn’t help much (62.3% strand rate) either.
Undeterred, the Royals continued to run him out there every fifth day in 2009. While his ERA was worse, the underlying numbers suggested Hochevar actually took a small step forward. He had a 6.67 K/9 rate, a 2.90 BB/9 rate and a 2.30 K:BB rate – something that could work on the major league level. He gave up a few more HRs than would seem logical, had a somewhat inflated BABIP (.321 compared to .300 for his career) and an even worse strand rate (59.3%) than in 2008.
Prior to 2010, the claim could be made that that Hochevar was improving, albeit incrementally. Well, if you look at his 2010 round numbers – 4.81 ERA and 1.43 WHIP – it sure looks like the same ole crapola. However, he maintained a K:BB rate above 2.0 and his FIP was 3.93 (xFIP was 4.09) – certainly subtly positive signs.
Unfortunately, the incremental progress has stalled almost completely in 2011. His K/9 rate (5.12) is back in the sewer and his HRs are up. He has his first south-of-.300 BABIP, yet is wasting it completely.
I really thought, at this point, Hochevar would be an average MLB starter, someone in the Jeremy Guthrie mold who could do some nice things. While this belief has not come to fruition, it is still possible for him to take the necessary step forward.
Over his last 32.2 IPs and five starts, Hochevar has 26 Ks, a 3.58 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He has walked just 10 batters. There is some momentum with Hochevar that I find appealing, especially in deep leagues where you have to gain some Ks from unlikely sources. (This was written before his latest start against the Boston Red Sox, which wasn’t great: 6 IPs, five ER, eight hits, three walks and four Ks. Still, going back to July 3, he has pitched 47.2 IPs with a 4.72 ERA and 37 Ks to 19 walks and he has the 30th most Ks over the last 30 days. )
He’s still barely a match-ups plays. However, if he keeps this up, he could be a nice bargain now and in 2012. Plus, you get to say Hochevar, which I find fun. It reminds me of a fine cheese like manchego.
Mike Carp – If you don’t know the story of Mike Carp (for some reason I feel like I’m beginning the narration of Big Fish), well, sit a-spell. Also, how could you not know the ins and outs of the New York Mets 2004 ninth round draft pick? In 2005, and just 19 years old, Carp hit 19 bombs over 89 games in A ball. The following season, at the A+ level, he posted a .287/.379/.450 line and won the Sterling Award as the Mets organization player of the year.
Following this early success, Carp seemed destined to eventually win a job with the parent club. Unfortunately, he broke his finger in 2007 and stumbled to a .251/.337/.387 line in AA.
Repeating AA in 2008, and now 22, Carp returned to form: .299/.403/.471 – yep, a .400+ OBP and 17 HRs. He was on his way…to Seattle.
On December 11, 2008, Carp, as part of a three team deal, was sent to Seattle along with a few other guys including Jason Vargas, Endy Chavez and Aaron Heilman for what amounted to J.J. Putz (the ghost of Jeremy Reed’s prospect was also involved).
Carp spent most of his time in AAA for the Mariners and looked good, going .271/.372/.446 with 15 HRs in 110 games. I know I had an eye on him when he made his major league debut, especially after he went .315/.415/.463 in his first 65 MLB plate appearances.
However, it wasn’t enough to get Carp full time duties in 2010 and he was sent back to AAA. Carp scuffled the entire season (though he showed some fantastic power), going .257/.328/.516 and notching just seven hits in 41 plate appearances in the Show. Of course, Carp, after posting BABIPs well over .300 the last previous seasons in minors, finished with just a .259 average on balls in play.
The bloom was definitely not off the rose yet. Carp came out blazing in 2011, hitting .347/.414/.653 in AAA with 21 HRs in just 66 games. He hasn’t stopped in the majors either: .325/.382/.517 with six homers in 40 games.
While I’ve been overwhelmingly positive about Carp, I must mention the gargantuan elephant in the room: his .410 BABIP. He does have an unprecedented 29.7% line drive rate, but he is swinging and missing a ton: 14.9% and striking out a fair bit: 24.2%. It’s only a matter of time before major league pitchers make the adjustment and give him the Delmon Young treatment (i.e., nothing good to hit). Still, the kid is capable of taking a pitch and should be able to handle that bump. Until that bump comes, however, you need to be starting him in most every league. He is that locked in. I haven’t been this excited since Kevin Bass went .244/.303/.336 for the Orioles in 1995, and then promptly retired.
Brandon McCarthy – About seven years ago, Brandon McCarthy was on his way to being better known than Andrew McCarthy. As a 20-year-old, splitting time between A, A+ and AAA, McCarthy, a former 17th round draft pick of the White Sox in 2002, posted a 3.14 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. He struck out 202 batters in just 172 innings and walked only 30. He had a 6.73 K:BB rate.
Before 2005, McCarthy was rated the #49 prospect and looked good at AAA: 3.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 9.8 K/9 rate and 4.06 K:BB rate. He was brought up to the major league club, appeared in 12 games and started 10. If you looked at the cosmetics, his 4.03 ERA and 1.18 WHIP certainly foretold greatness. However, he had a .249 BABIP, an 81.2% strand rate and only posted a 6.45 K/9 rate.
The White Sox didn’t want to stress the young hurler, so they kept him in the bullpen for most of 2006. His strikeout rates benefitted, but he walked more guys and didn’t resemble anything near a top 50 prospect – finishing with a 4.68 ERA, 5.30 FIP and 4.60 xFIP.
McCarthy posted dismal K numbers during his first year with Texas and increased his walks, some of which might have been due to injury. After just 22 starts, the Rangers shut McCarthy down due to a stress fracture in his right shoulderblade.
McCarthy developed inflammation in his right elbow during Spring Training the next year and missed a sizeable chunk of the season. He pitched in the majors sparingly for Texas in 2009, but his time with the major league squad was done after that season. Overall, he pitched just 221 IPs with a 4.68 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 1.46 K:BB ratio for the big league club. He was worth barely one win above a replacement player during his tenure.
He did pitch 56 innings in the minors in 2010 for the Rangers. He looked good: 3.36 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and a 4.00 K:BB ratio. However he was granted free agency on November 5, 2010.
The Oakland Athletics made a play for McCarthy and signed him on December 14, 2010.
While battling chronic injuries, McCarthy has been a boon to a beleaguered Athletics rotation. He has taken the ball 18 times now, spread across 118 innings – the most he has pitched in the majors in any season. He has his same old pedestrian K-rate (5.87) but he has really cut down on his walks (just 1.37), giving himself a fantastic 4.28 K:BB rate. Apparently pitching in a more forgiving ballpark has given McCarthy the confidence to just throw strikes.
While his strand rate is a little generous (63.7%), it is mostly due to a stellar bullpen and a lack of homeruns – two things that seem to be constants for the A’s. His ERA (3.74), FIP (2.82) and xFIP (3.39) all paint a rosy picture for the one-time stud.
McCarthy, just recently 28, is a nice pitcher who can help control your ratios down the stretch. He’s a prefect compliment to someone like Bud Norris or Ryan Dempster, who bring the Ks, but also the high ratios. He is only 19% owned, so go out and get him for the stretch run.