Sep 4, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Luke Hochevar (44) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman Stadium. Seattle won the game 6-4. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Hochevar's Role in 2014

Aug 12, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Luke Hochevar (44) is congratulated by catcher Salvador Perez (13) after the game against the Miami Marlins at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City won 6-2. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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  • Ed Connealy

    He sure is an expensive bullpen guy for thrifty team. I would hope he could be traded instead of Collins or Crow…get more of a return and save money on payroll.

  • moretrouble

    I agree with the author about Luke Hochevar’s role. What’s puzzling is why fans believe trading away Collins and/or Crow benefits the team. Now that KC has developed a great bullpen, why dismantle it?

  • jimfetterolf

    Hoch did fine in the bullpen, a result of three identifiable things. First he listened to the coaches and cut down on his number of pitches, at various times as a starter he used as many as six different pitches, which cost him command. Second, he started listening to his catcher and stopped trying to throw even harder with men on base, trying to throw the fastball by major league hitters, instead stayed within himself and mixed pitches. Third, after two years of the new Dave Eiland regime and a return to his college training, he returned to a 98mph gasser like at Tennessee when he was drafted.

    Luke may win a rotation spot ’til Ventura comes up, he may be the swing man as he’s still capable of two or more innings from the BP, or he may stick as 8th inning set up man and fill in closer. Holland may be traded and Luke becomes closer. Lot of options and spring training and the trade market will sort through them. I expect both Hoch and Davis to get plenty of SP starts.

    As for “why trade Collins or Crow”, it’s because they just aren’t as good at the moment as Hoch and Davis, Crow a two-pitch thrower and Collins a prototypical max effort guy skating on the edge of command. I don’t really trust either anymore. I’ld trade Collins and send Crow to Omaha to develop a couple of more pitches and transition back to starter, replacing them with Coleman and Joseph and maybe bring Chen back. Like Hoch, Crow’s training is no longer restricted and he has a chance to return to the skills that made him a 1st round draft choice.

    • unclejesse40

      Jim, I also find that I agree with you a lot (that should worry you haha). I think for a long time Royals pitching coaches tried to make all their pitchers fit into a nice style or type of pitcher. for a lot of guys making them change an aspect of their style really does affect them. If Hoch and Crow are really allowed to go back to what made them successful in the first place, I am all for it. Hoch to the rotation and Crow back to Omaha to try starting makes sense to me. I don’t think people should worry about GMDM finding bullpen pieces, he is great at that, I think he should try every option he has to find starters. I read something one time that said the pitcher that has four average pitches and can use them correctly can be a very good starter. Make Hoch figure out the four best pitches he has and scrap the others, and make Crow work on four pitches in Omaha.

      • jimfetterolf

        That’s about my view, which leads to a quick statement of what I think Dayton Moore’s two greatest mistakes were; limiting long-toss/program training until forced into the change by potential draftees who flat out told him that they wouldn’t sign unless they were allowed to keep their training regime; and having his top two minor league teams in band box stadiums better suited for a team like Baltimore or Toronto than for the Royals. Ideally the Royals’ AAA team would play in Wilmington, avoid the bad habits developed in Omaha and Springdale.

        GM Moore fixed the first problem by bringing in Dave Eiland and allowing more long toss. Too late to save the careers of Hochevar, Lamb, Montgomery, maybe Dwyer and Crow, and nearly Duffy. Moore wasn’t alone in that resistance, but it wasted some exceptional talent.

  • Eric Akers

    I wouldn’t mind maybe 10 starts our so while waiting for Ventura if necessary. That would show whether he figured some things out our not.

    • jimfetterolf

      I think that’s the idea, both to game Ventura’s service and to enhance Luke’s trade value. It may be Davis instead who takes the spot.