The finally successful Luke Hochevar


It wasn't the most direct path, but the Royals are finally getting some value out of the former #1 pick.

Things Luke Hochevar had going for him:

  • He was a first-overall pick
  • He had first-overall stuff
  • He was with a team that could afford to be patient with him

Things Luke Hochevar didn't have going for him:

But the whole time, he had stuff. Goodness, did he have stuff. He had a fastball with plenty of life ...

… a silly curveball …

… and a nifty slider.

All of that is top-of-the-rotation stuff. Instead, Hochevar was on all sorts of lists with Kyle Davies. When that kind of disconnect happens with a starter who has outstanding stuff, an obvious solution presents itself: put him in the 'pen. When the move was announced, Royals fans were mostly pleased; at least now he wasn't going to start every fifth day.

And the results, so far:

2013 29 1.10 16.1 10 2 1 3 18 1.7 9.9

You'll see a lot about sample size around these parts. Don't get excited about newly productive player because of sample size. Don't get too down on formerly productive player because of sample size. That thing with your wife and her boss was probably just a sample-size thing. Stuff like that. But let's throw that all out the window for this post because this is now Luke Hochevar. We've seen enough. He's a shutdown reliever now.

This proves a lot of things. First, the Internet is usually right. We don't have any accountability for our opinions, so we're going to come up with some pretty creative ones. If it took losing Wil Myers to get Hochevar out of the rotation, maybe Royals fans aren't so upset now.

Second, when a plus-stuff starting pitcher struggles for five straight seasons, a pretty good idea might be to try him in the bullpen. Let's call this the Luke Hochevar Theory and apply it from now until the end of time. When a starter with seemingly excellent stuff struggles for three seasons, consider moving him to short relief. Bart Giamatti was famous for saying, "The definition of innovation is trying the same thing and expecting different results." But there are limits, people. Five seasons are too many.

The thing about the Luke Hochevar Theory is that it hasn't been tried a lot in the past. Partly because bullpen usage was so different decades ago that teams would have no choice but to pound a Hochevar-shaped peg into a Saberhagen-shaped hole. If (live-armed pitcher) wasn't going to start in 1950, there would be a lot of value in sending him to the bullpen.

Another reason is that pitchers like Hochevar usually don't get nearly as many chances to fail, so it's hard to find comparable players with five seasons of pitching poorly. Heck, even two or three. Turns out the Royals are kind of a special case.

One of the better comps from the last decade is LaTroy Hawkins, who was dreadful for three seasons before immediately becoming a late-inning option. Jose Mesa was on the three-season plan, too, before becoming a reliever who walked the line between effective and ignominious

The best relatively recent comp is Ryan Dempster, who was a wild and inconsistent starting pitcher with the Marlins and Reds before becaming a closer with the Cubs. He wasn't a very good closer, so obviously the Cubs moved him back to the rotation ... and that somehow worked out? Baseball, man. Baseball. So don't close the door on Hochevar as a starter just yet. It worked for Dempster.

But for now, I think it's safe to assume that Hochevar is where he belongs. And he's thriving. Take a hike, sample size. Luke Hochevar is a shutdown reliever, and it's been a long time coming. Or, if you're a Royals fan, a long, long, long, long, long time. But it's not like there was anyone else worth picking in the '06 draft anyway.

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