Feb 24, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar poses for a portrait during photo day at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The bullpen is an area of great strength for the Cleveland Indians headed into 2015. Scott Atchison, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen figure to once again take the 7th, 8th and 9th inning roles, and they certainly did well with them last year. However, the workload for Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski was ridiculous last year. Those three pitchers faced at least one batter in an average of 80 games each in 2014. Due to shaky bullpen depth at points during the season, they were forced to carry a lot of the weight because they were the most reliable options in pressure situations.
Luke Hochevar was the number one overall pick in the 2006 amateur draft, but never found much success as a starter. He never pitched a 100-inning season with an ERA less than 4.50 with the Royals, meaning he allowed more than one run every two innings. However, a move to the bullpen seemed to help him finally find his stride. In 2013, Hochevar threw 70.1 innings and finished with a 1.92 ERA and a 2.96 FIP. His ground ball and homer-to-fly-ball rates were below average, but his 82 strikeouts against only 17 walks set him up for a 1.2 WAR season; an equal value as Cody Allen in 2014 and more than double what Bryan Shaw gave the Tribe.
Hochevar will, of course, have the opportunity to compete for a starting role during spring training. If he takes the job away from someone else, that’s a really good problem to have. But if he doesn’t, he will fill a valuable role in the Tribe’s bullpen.
Hochevar is coming off Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2014 season. He’s scheduled to resume throwing activities in January, which would put him right on schedule to be fully recovered and throwing normally by spring training. In the end, we felt comfortable giving him a 2-year deal worth $9 million. Hochevar can also earn 250k for pitching 50 innings, an additional 250k for pitching 100 innings, and an additional 500k for pitching 200 innings over the life of the deal. Obviously, he won’t be able to reach the 200-inning plateau unless he starts at least a handful of games. By that point, however, we’re assuming he’s beaten out a lot of good pitchers for a spot in the Tribe’s rotation, which would make him well worth $5 million a year over 2 years.
We feel as though we got Hochevar at bargain value. Consider the fact that the Indians paid $4.5 million last year for John Axford, a closer with a history of struggles. Andrew Miller got a three year, $24 million deal from the Tigers in our simulation, and relief pitchers like Brian Wilson have gotten far more money after coming off Tommy John surgery. 1.2-win relievers have been known to command nearly $10 million a year in free agency, and while Hochevar is coming off surgery, his upside potential and success as a reliever makes him well worth the money the Tribe paid to get him.
With this move, the Tribe’s payroll sits at about $77.5 million.
Do you think we got Luke Hochevar at a good price? We encourage you to comment below, or tweet us at @wahoosonfirst