The career events James Hoyt experienced last week serve to remind fans of the sheer absurdity of the life of a professional baseball player. Last Monday, the Cleveland Indians traded for Boston Red Sox backup catcher Sandy Leon, rendering the MLB roster with three players at that position.1 Major league rosters simply do not include three catchers, so it’s self-evident that by targeting Leon, the Indians believe him to be an upgrade over Kevin Plawecki, who never escaped his 2019-long slump. Also, Leon’s addition to the roster brought the total to 41, meaning someone had to go. The chessboard had one obvious move: to part ways with Plawecki. And yet, Plawecki’s release wasn’t announced until later on that afternoon. Instead, the Indians announced that, along with the acquisition of Leon, they would be designating James Hoyt for assignment. He elected to become a free agent.
For the 33-year-old Idahoan, the release was just the next tribulation in what’s been a career full of them. The year prior, the Houston Astros halted his activity due to injury before trading him to Cleveland, his third MLB franchise, in early July. Shutting him down did not lead to recovery; Hoyt’s injuries, a knee and his right elbow, would each necessitate surgery. But, his travails began even before he felt any knee or elbow pain. Hoyt wasn’t drafted out of high school or college, so before the Atlanta Braves signed him at age-26, he pitched for teams in the North American Baseball League, American Association of Independent Baseball (the Wichita Wingnuts!), and the Mexican League. And yet, his rigorous road to the majors began even before his foray into indie-ball. It began at birth, or specifically, at his place of birth. Of the 17,083 US-born men to play Major League Baseball, just 30 of them hailed from Idaho (the single Hall of Famer is on the other end of this link, if you’d like to guess). Baseball took Hoyt from Idaho to Kansas to Texas to Mexico to Atlanta to Houston to under a surgical knife to Cleveland. This isn’t Hoyt’s first rodeo.
Then, last Wednesday, two days after James Hoyt’s release, the Indians completed their 40-man roster with the addition of…James Hoyt. A chart of Cleveland’s net roster change would not mention him, as if nothing had happened; had he been on his annual, remote, completely fabricated Idaho log cabin retreat, the news cycle might have missed him entirely.2 James Hoyt had to face two days of complete career uncertainty while the Indians whimsically dropped him and picked him back up for incomprehensible reasons.
There are several follow-up questions worth addressing.
First, did the Indians articulate their intentions with Hoyt during this process? If they did, I suppose they come out of the situation with morally clean hands, although it doesn’t make the baseball move any less perplexing.
Did they attempt to shop Kevin Plawecki around the league before letting him go? Does that explain Hoyt’s very temporary removal? Not exactly. Just a few hours after Hoyt was released from the Indians, so too was Plawecki. Perhaps they shopped him around and were met with such a profound lack of interest that, after a couple of hours of trying, they simply let him go. If that’s true, though, one has to wonder why not test the water regarding Plawecki before making the Leon trade? I doubt urgency was necessary; there likely wasn’t a long line of baseball operations executives waiting for the chance to acquire Sandy Leon should the Indians have stalled for a couple of hours.
Honestly, I’m at a loss. It couldn’t possibly have been a mistake. Teams manage their rosters extremely seriously; players don’t get designated for assignment for no reason, and yet, that’s absolutely all I can say about the reasoning behind Hoyt’s DFA.
Concerningly, the move may speak to a lack of confidence in his baseball ability, which is a shame, because he might be an adjustment away from being a reliable high-leverage relief pitcher. Even now, Hoyt’s no slouch. By Steamer, James Hoyt projects to be the fourth-best relief pitcher on the Indians in ERA, FIP, and FanGraphs WAR. And, over the course of his career, his walks, strikeouts, ERA, FIP, and xFIP have each rated out as above-average, per FanGraphs’ “plus stats.” However, a career-spanning breakdown of Hoyt’s pitch effectiveness tells a convincing story:
|Pitch||Percentage||Batting Average||wRC+||Groundball%||Chase%||Swinging Strike%|
Hoyt’s thrown only 120 and 94 MLB change-ups and sinkers, per FanGraphs, so pay little attention to their rows. The slider and fastball, on the other hand, tell a story. James Hoyt’s slider has been unhittable, literally; in 2019, he surrendered zero hits off the pitch. For his career, opposing batters have whiffed at over a quarter of sliders, and chased the majority of them when they’re out of the zone. Prefer video evidence to the statistical kind? Please bear witness to Rhys Hoskins’ and CJ Cron’s futile swings:
On the other hand, as impressive as his slider has been, his fastball has been unimpressive; hitters have absolutely teed off on the fastball, to the tune of a 223 wRC+. They’ve also only missed one out of every 25 of them. Batters have plainly crushed his heater, to the extent that Hoyt might consider throwing fewer of them.
If he were to experiment with throwing his plus slider more often, say 60-70% of the time, there’s a good chance his strikeouts would skyrocket. But even as it stands now, James Hoyt represents a solid option out of the Tribe bullpen. He’s been relatively effective in the Majors, and we can expect fewer of his fly balls to find the seats in the future than the 20.6% over his career. James Hoyt’s been a solid relief pitcher for his career, and has the potential to be so much more. The carefree flow of James Hoyt on and off the Cleveland Indians roster makes little sense regardless of his potential value; that he has the potential to be an effective late-inning reliever makes last week’s moves all the more baffling.