Kansas City Royals Success May Depend On Luke Hochevar

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Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Luke Hochevar (44) Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

For pitchers, who are so dependent upon precision control and mastery of of multiple pitches, it can be significant. Sometimes extended gaps in competition can mess with a pitcher’s mechanics, play with their confidence, and have a snowball effect as they try to adapt and correct newly developed flaws. Sometimes, they can’t just pick up where they left off.

Something definitely clicked for Hochevar last season and he spoke with Royals beat writer Dick Kaegel to that effect,

"With starting, you’re facing guys three or four times, and maybe you don’t show all your weapons to them the first time. You don’t want to show them everything you’ve got or show them the way you’re going to get them out…Especially when you get late in the game, it’s a crucial situation and you’ve already gotten them out a different way — it’s more of a chess match, a cat-and-mouse game. Coming out of the bullpen is more like that football mentality — you’re just going right at ’em and throwing the pitch that’ll get ’em out right now."

So what was the difference in 2013 compared to previous years? To begin with, Hochevar all-but ditched his 5-pitch menu going instead with a scaled back three-pitch repertoire consisting of cutters, 4-seam fastballs, and curves.

Perhaps the most noteworthy change however, was the decision to eliminate his slider, previously a staple pitch for him, because it looked too similar to his cutter and that was affecting the effectiveness of both pitches. By virtue of the changes, he’s also developed better control over his cutter allowing him to turn it into a plus pitch for him.

Although his strikeout numbers were up this past season (82 Ks in 70.1 IPs), it wasn’t because he was trying to get more strikeouts. It was a consequence of learning how to pitch to his strengths rather than simply trying to deceive hitters with a dizzying array of pitches, some of which were not his best options.

In 2013, he appeared more content with using the whole strike zone, mixing his pitches in terms of velocity, arm slot, and count. Consequently, as his focus narrowed in terms of the types of pitches in his arsenal, he found he was better able to spot his pitches, even the hard stuff, often running his fastball up to 98 mph.

He also pitched more to contact, so should he find himself back in the starting rotation this season, those lower pitch counts should work in his favor.

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