Has Luke Finally Harnessed the Force?

One of the themes for 2010 before the season began was the necessity for Luke Hochevar to mature as a pitcher and develop more consistency. His last time out on May 20, Hochevar went 9 innings against Cleveland, striking out seven on 107 pitches. It was Kansas City’s first nine inning complete game of the year.

But Royals fans who follow the team closely were waiting for the other shoe to drop. We’ve seen sizzling performances from the former number one overall pick before, only to watch his next start fizzle in a puff of smoke.

Today, to follow up on his complete game, Hochevar went 8 innings, walked none, and surrendered only two runs against a Rangers offense that has battered and bruised Kansas City pitchers thus far. Has he finally figured it out? Let’s take a look:

These are Hochevar’s 2009 starts:

Date Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc
May 12 OAK 2.0 7 8 8 2 1 1 48 9
May 17 BAL 3.1 3 3 2 3 1 0 70 42
May 23 STL 6.1 7 4 4 2 1 1 92 42
June Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc
Jun 6 TOR 6.2 4 2 2 2 3 1 91 59
Jun 12 CIN 9.0 3 1 1 1 3 1 80 79
Jun 18 ARI 4.0 9 7 6 2 3 0 95 19
Jun 24 HOU 7.0 3 2 2 1 4 1 93 66
Jun 29 MIN 7.0 2 0 0 4 2 0 102 71
July Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc
Jul 4 CHW 6.0 9 4 4 2 3 2 95 39
Jul 9 BOS 6.0 9 5 5 1 5 2 101 38
Jul 19 TBR 6.1 7 2 2 0 9 0 97 60
Jul 25 TEX 7.0 5 3 2 0 13 1 112 70
Jul 30 BAL 6.0 11 7 7 1 4 1 105 25
August Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc
Aug 4 SEA 5.0 7 4 4 2 8 1 112 43
Aug 9 OAK 7.0 7 4 4 3 6 2 114 50
Aug 15 DET 4.0 12 6 6 0 4 2 105 18
Aug 21 MIN 7.0 5 3 3 0 3 0 94 58
Aug 26 CLE 6.1 8 4 3 2 6 1 116 47
Aug 31 OAK 5.1 6 7 6 4 5 0 108 31
September/October Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc
Sep 6 LAA 3.2 9 7 7 2 2 0 71 15
Sep 12 CLE 5.0 7 5 5 3 6 1 98 36
Sep 18 CHW 9.0 3 0 0 1 5 0 105 85
Sep 23 BOS 5.0 8 6 6 3 5 0 94 29
Sep 28 NYY 6.0 12 8 8 2 2 2 93 16
Oct 4 MIN 3.0 4 7 7 3 2 3 58 22
143.0 167 109 104 46 106 23
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/26/2010.

The games that jump out are Luke’s starts on June 12, July 25 and September 18. His line in each of those games fit what you’d expect from a first overall pick. But the problem we’ve seen time and again is the disaster following each of those impressive starts. Following the June 12 start, his June 18 start was one of his worst of the season, though he did rebound the rest of the month, putting in two solid starts afterward. That’s the kind of month you’d want from Hochevar, but June was an exception. Following his July 25 start, he had a below-average August and the last three starts after his September 18 shutout did nothing but inflate his ERA.

Hochevar hasn’t been much better in 2010, but there is some sense of optimism after today’s start.

Date Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc
Apr 7 DET 7.2 5 0 0 1 2 0 89 70
Apr 12 DET 5.0 6 5 4 3 5 1 98 39
Apr 18 MIN 6.0 6 3 2 5 4 0 104 49
Apr 24 MIN 6.2 8 5 4 1 7 0 100 46
Apr 29 TBR 2.2 11 9 9 2 1 0 73 -1
May Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc
May 4 CHW 6.0 3 1 0 4 3 0 92 63
May 9 TEX 2.2 3 4 4 4 1 0 71 33
May 15 CHW 6.1 7 5 5 2 3 0 103 40
May 20 CLE 9.0 4 3 3 2 7 1 107 72
52.0 53 35 31 24 33 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/26/2010.

This table shows Hochevar’s starts in 2010, not counting today’s win. The results have been similar, though he’s been closer to average in most of his starts, and only has two disasters so far (and one of those he was ill – apparently).

The key to a good start for Hochevar is efficiency. On April 7, he used only 89 pitches through 7.2 innings. In his complete game against Cleveland, he made it through 9 innings on 107 pitches.

Part of that results from Hochevar’s style. He’s not overpowering and uses the sinking action on his pitches to pitch to contact. Also, his better starts have a low walk total, which reduces a lot of wasted pitches. That just makes sense, but there’s also an element of confidence involved too. In some of the disastrous starts, Hochevar may cruise along for a while, only to put a couple of batters on base and the inning falls apart from there.

Maybe this is getting wrapped up in two good starts and I’m confusing correlation for causation, but on May 15, Luke was cruising along until the sixth inning. He got one out but gave up four runs in the inning, eventually taking the loss.

The bigger story, however, was Ned Yost’s handling of Hochevar in that sixth inning. After the game, he revealed why he left Hochevar in while the game slipped away.

“I told him, `Look, in those types of situations,’” Yost said, “`I’m going to let you pitch yourself out of trouble. You need to learn how. When you get yourself into those situations when you’re rolling, you need to learn how to get yourself out of those situations.’”

Yost is a former catcher and perhaps his experience in that capacity lends more weight to his words than Trey Hillman’s did. Hillman, you’ll remember, had never made it to the big leagues, a fact that Joe Posnanski thought may have been part of his difficulty to win over the Royals clubhouse. Yost has been there before, and perhaps it’s no surprise that after that loss, Luke’s last two starts have led to two wins, 17 innings pitched, 11 strikeouts, 10 hits and only 2 walks. Maybe Luke needed words of encouragement that his manager knew what he was capable of and wasn’t going to let him skate by, put his head down, and sit at the end of the bench.

Or it could just be a good stretch and he won’t make it out of the third inning next time out. It’s definitely something to look at later. But there’s a new hope for Hochevar. May the force be with him.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Kansas City Royals KC Luke Hochevar MLB Ned Yost Royals Trey Hillman

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