Luke Hochevar Could be the Royals Fifth Starter
By David Hill
All offseason, it had been felt that the two biggest needs for the Kansas City Royals were to find a solid bat in right and a replacement for James Shields in the starting rotation. Instead, the Royals have focused on restocking their bullpen, bringing back Luke Hochevar and Jason Frasor. While those have been excellent signings, both Hochevar and Frasor leave the Royals with a bit less financial flexibility when it comes to filling those other openings.
Yet, as it turns out, there is the possibility that the Royals, in a very stealthy way, filled that opening in the rotation. It turns out that the contract that the Royals signed Hochevar to has incentives based on the number of innings he pitches and games started.
Could Luke Hochevar truly make his return as a Royal as a member of the starting rotation? It would appear as though he had found his niche in the majors, turning into an excellent reliever during the 2013 season. That year, Hochevar posted a 5-2 record with a 1.92 ERA and a 0.825 WHiP, striking out 82 batters in 70.1 innings of work. That certainly looks like the performance of an excellent set up man.
Call to the Pen
That dominant year came on the heels of five difficult years as a starter. While Hochevar had his moments, his 38-59 record, 5.39 ERA and 1.403 WHiP speak volumes to the inconsistencies that he faced in the rotation. However, the Royals apparently feel that those struggles were due to using too many pitches, as his success in the bullpen corresponded with Hochevar focusing on his sinker, cutter and four seam fastball.
The attempt to put Luke Hochevar back in the rotation may simply be what the Royals did with Wade Davis in 2013. Davis had a strong season for the Tampa Bay Rays in the bullpen, but the Royals felt that he could still be a starter in the majors. He received that one chance to prove himself, flaming out before being sent tot he bullpen and becoming the bearded strikeout creating cyborg we saw last season.
The idea that Hochevar could go back into the rotation may also be in part because of his Tommy John Surgery last year. It is thought that starting every five days, even if more innings are put on the arm, may actually be better than potentially pitching every day or four or five times a week. Putting Hochevar back into the rotation may just be a way to protect his arm going forward.
Of course, if the Royals sign a starter like an Ervin Santana or a Brett Anderson, then the idea of Luke Hochevar heading back into the rotation is a moot point. He would remain in the bullpen, where it seems that he has managed to turn his career around. The idea of Hochevar returning to the rotation would then be nothing more than interesting speculation.
Depending on how the rest of the Royals offseason goes, they may have already signed the starter they were expected to search for. The only difference is that no one expected it to be Luke Hochevar.