Kansas City Royals Luke Hochevar Bridges The Gap
The Royals have innings 7-9 on lockdown. Luke Hochevar will get them there.
As the Kansas City Royals enter Spring Training, Kings of Kauffman will release a series of articles on the 25-man roster. We will be going through each individual player, including the locks, bubble players, and a few prospects. We will progress through the roster from the top down, starting with the rotation.
So far, we have looked at Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, Danny Duffy, Kris Medlen, and Mike Minor.
Today, we will be looking at Luke Hochevar.
All statistics provided by Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Brooks Baseball
"2015 stats – 1-1, 3.73 ERA, 49 SO, 16 BB, 1.28 WHIP, 4.00 FIP2016 Steamer – 3-3, 3.55 ERA, 51 SO, 19 BB, 1.24 WHIP, 3.91 FIP"
Projected Role – High Leverage Reliever
Similar to Kris Medlen, Hochevar’s 2015 season was somewhat a wash. He threw 50+ innings, but he didn’t make his appearance until early May, well after the back of the Royals bullpen had been established.
Hochevar struggled to get meaningful innings and didn’t help his cause by posting a 7.20 ERA over his first 12 appearances.
He bounced back in a big way over his next 22 appearances, posting a 1.85 ERA over 24.1 innings, striking out 26 during that span.
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Those 22 appearances look even better if you take out his July 29 appearance, where he gave up four runs in just an inning of work, accounting for four of his five earned runs over that span.
We saw glimpses of the Hochevar seen in 2013, when he found his niche as a late inning reliever.
He struck out 22% of the batters he faced, had a really good cutter, and gave up more soft contact than he did in 2013.
He was also completely shut down in the postseason, not giving up a run in 10.2 innings. He did, however, only strike out four batters in that span.
The fantastic thing about Hochevar is that he won’t be asked to fill a role he was expected to fill in 2014, before his injury.
If you’ll back track with me, when Hochevar went down in 2013, the Royals were needing some sort of bridge between the rotation, Kelvin Herrera, and at the time, Greg Holland.
Now, Hochevar will once again be asked to be a bridge, but with Herrera, Joakim Soria, and Wade Davis behind him.
In other words, Hochevar is now just another power arm, whereas he was a power arm that the Royals desperately needed.
But he is a power arm out of the bullpen, nonetheless.
He has swing-and-miss stuff, that includes a fastball in the upper-90s and, at times, devastating cutter.
Similar to Davis, Hochevar essentially cut two pitches from his arsenal when he joined the bullpen, his slider and his change up.
The need for more than three pitches as a starter can be detrimental, and we saw this with Hochevar. Namely, the use of both a slider and curveball can harm the effectiveness of one or both of the pitches, more often than not the curveball.
The need to monotonously execute pitches has been one of the biggest changes in both Davis and Hochevar, being able to repeat fewer pitches, both in pitch count and pitch type, making those pitches better.
With all that being said, Hochevar has starter stuff, and out of the bullpen, that stuff is elevated.
There was some stuff about 2015 Hochevar that did scare me, though.
Although he did strike hitters out at a reasonable rate, his contact rates took a pretty decent knock. In fact, all of his plate discipline numbers took a hit.
Hitters chased less and made contact more often.
While his swinging strikes and chase percentages fell by just about 3% each, his contact numbers spiked in the wrong direction, jumping from 72% to 79%
For reference, as a starter, that number hovered around 81%
But that argument could be categorized as a straw man’s argument.
There isn’t a whole lot there to suggest a dramatic decline in production, just like there really isn’t anything there to suggest a drastic increase.
Next: Mike Minor A Flyer Worth Taking
The bottom line is that, when healthy, Hochevar has the upside to be a dominate reliever. Even if his 2016 production mirrors that of his 2015 production, he would still have value.
The Royals have innings seven through nine locked down. The only issue the bullpen has had in recent years has been getting to the seventh inning, something they did a much better job of in 2015 than they did 2014.
If Hochevar can be serviceable, he can possibly team up with guys like Danny Duffy, Kris Medlen, and even Brian Flynn to bridge that gap.
If he approaches his upside, however, the Royals bullpen will wreak even more havoc on the American League.