When Luke Hochevar was drafted first overall in the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft, it was expected that he would become, at minimum, a solid part of the rotation. Perhaps Hochevar would not be a true ace, but he was expected to become a solid second or third starter at the very least. Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case, as Hochevar was only 38-58 with a 5.45 ERA as a starter, winning ten or more games only once in that time. He was the second or third starter on the Royals strictly due to a lack of other options in the rotation.
With the acquisitions of James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis last season, Hochevar was no longer needed to attempt to get through five or six innings and limit the damage. Transitioned to the bullpen, he responded with his best season, with a 5-2 record and a 1.92 ERA. While he had never been much of a strikeout pitcher as a starter, Hochevar struck out over ten batters per nine innings, while improving his control to the lowest walk rate of his career. Despite originally being used as a long reliever, Hochevar began earning a chance late in close ballgames, and ended up taking over as one of the primary setup men in September.
Now, with Santana likely to depart as a free agent, there is a potential hole in the rotation. Hochevar, along with Davis who was also banished to the bullpen last season, have been mentioned among the candidates to compete for that role. Yet, it simply does not make sense to move Hochevar back into the rotation.
As the Royals are expected to part ways with Aaron Crow or Tim Collins, if not both, it would make sense to keep Luke Hochevar in the bullpen. Not only did he thrive as a reliever last season, but he also proved that he could step in as an option in the seventh or eighth innings to be part of the bridge to Greg Holland. Hochevar saw the velocity on all of his pitches increase by over four MPH by the end of 2013, which made his improved control that much more impressive.
The biggest reason for that improvement was his success with his fastball and cutter. After being hit hard on those pitches as a starter, Hochevar gave up a .217 batting average on the fastball and a .126 batting average against the cutter. Working predominantely with those two pitches, Hochevar became a force in the bullpen last season.
Although it makes sense to think of Luke Hochevar as someone that could step in and compete for a role in the rotation, it would appear that doing so would be a step backwards. The most successful teams find roles where players perform well, and continually put those players in situations where they can succeed. With Hochevar, it is apparent that the best spot for him is in the bullpen. As the Royals have plenty of other options to consider for their rotation, it makes no sense to take Hochevar out of a role where he has found success.