April 17, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Wade Davis (22) pitches in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Piggybacking Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar

Sep 20, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar (44) delivers a pitch against the Texas Rangers during the eighth inning at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals defeated the Rangers 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals, as we all know, are still uncertain as to who their fifth starter will be come Opening Day. At this point, it appears that Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura are the primary contenders for the role. Both pitchers, however, are not necessarily guaranteed to be in the rotation at the start of the year. Duffy has had injury issues over the past two seasons, and the Royals have stated a desire to keep him between 150 to 175 innings this season. Ventura may end up starting the season in Omaha, not because of anything he did or did not do during Spring Training, but due to the Royals being able to move back his arbitration clock.

In that case, the fifth spot in the rotation may end up coming down to two pitchers who have had a less than stellar track record as starters in Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar. Both pitchers have performed much better as relievers, so the idea of inserting either into the rotation may seem to be a rather foolish proposition. Yet, there could be a way to make that situation work.

The Houston Astros had experimented with the idea of piggybacking starters at the minor league level, with the nominal starter lasting either five innings or 75 pitches, whichever came first. Then, the second pitcher would enter, and either pitch four innings or 60 pitches. Then, if needed, the bullpen would finish up the rest of the game. The Colorado Rockies infamously attempted to get by with their starters only lasting 75 pitches before handing the game to the bullpen. However, what if the Royals employ that type of strategy with Davis and Hochevar?

Both Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar have been generally effective through their first 50 pitches. When Davis has struggled it has typically been in the third inning, where he has allowed a 6.51 ERA. Hochevar, meanwhile, gradually becomes less effective once he gets beyond the 50 pitch mark as well, with his struggles typically beginning at the same third inning. Over his first 50 pitches, Davis has given up a .250/.312/.395 batting line over his career. Hochevar, meanwhile, has given up a .246/.296/.411 batting line over his first 50 pitches.

Since Davis and Hochevar have both been more effective at the beginning of the game, it may make sense for the Royals to attempt to employ the Astros strategy of piggybacking starters at the major league level. Ned Yost could start either pitcher, bringing in the other once the starter begins to struggle after hitting the 50 pitch threshold. By utilizing both pitchers in this manner, the Royals may be able to cobble together six or seven innings of solid pitching before turning the game over to the bullpen. If it turns out that either Davis or Hochevar are looking particularly dominant, then they could remain in the game with the other held in reserve just in case.

It may be an unconventional way of handling the fifth starter spot, but if the Royals are set on either having Wade Davis or Luke Hochevar fill that role, it may be the best strategy to use. With the Royals having a trio of innings eating pitchers at the top of the rotation, the bullpen is likely to be fresh even if the Davis/Hochevar combination is unable to last into the sixth inning or beyond.

In reality, the Royals using such a strategy is probably as unlikely as having me ever throw a pitch at Kauffman Stadium. However, it is a strategy that the Royals should at least consider.

Next Royals Game View full schedule »
Tuesday, Sep 22 Sep7:10Texas RangersBuy Tickets

Tags: Kansas City Royals Luke Hochevar Wade Davis

  • jimfetterolf

    Royals have been doing that in the minors the last few years for pitchers on rehab, goes 3 or 4 innings, then the designated replacement comes in for his 3 or 4 innings.

    What I expect is that one or two of Hochevar, Davis, Chen, and maybe even Dwyer will clearly win the jobs in ST and the remaining ones will be swingmen. Two bad starts in a row and the roles change around, very short leash. If the victor stays consistent, fine, if not he can quickly be replaced. That allows the two kids to start late and keep innings low enough to be available in September and October. That will only be needed for a month or two with Duffy and ’til June for Ventura. Spring training will make the decisions.

  • unclejesse40

    I would love to see this at least for 4 or 5 starts to see how it would work.

  • cardsfanatik

    This isn’t a bad idea, but if we have to depend on Davis or Hochevar to much in the starting role, it won’t matter how much they save Ventura or Duffy, we won’t be playing October baseball anyway, so might as well just let them start the season in the rotation. Hochevar has been given ample opportunity to show that he is NOT a MLB starting pitcher. He is however, very effective one, maybe two times through the line-up. Davis was horrible as a starter also. Would just as soon start with the young guys, and see where they take us.

  • grantastica

    I’m curious if anyone has ever thought of pitching backwards with the staff? Start with a reliever and have him throw 2 innings, another reliever for 2 innings, and intersperse those guys with a reliever or two who can clean up high leverage situations. Then have your normal starter come in and finish the game…Save your closer for closing out the ninth. Thoughts?

    • grantastica

      It doesn’t have to be two innings- just giving you guys an example. This way, the opposition sees one guy for six ABs max, another for three or six ABs, then the “Starter” comes in and goes through the lineup a couple times, then the closer. It would sure be a strategic shaking of normalcy and would tend to keep the hitters off balance and not be able to get into any sort of groove with the pitchers.

  • Bigtexjayhawk

    Seriously??? I find it absolutely absurd this is even a consideration. They both have proven the pen is where they belong. No piggyback. No giving them a shot. Trade them if you can. Go with the young guns.