Kansas City Royals: Luke Hochevar Is Close To Returning


Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar has been easy to lose track of over the past 12 months. The Royals don’t need bullpen help and he’s failed to live up to the (impossible) expectations attached to any number one overall draft selection.

If Hochevar returns to his 2013 form, after sitting out the 2014 season due to injury, the back end of the Royals pen will take a step closer to “downright unhittable-ness” as I like to call it. Seven-inning games might become six-inning games and the defending American League Champions might add an impact arm to its playoff-caliber roster.

Hochevar will continue to rebuild his arm strength in Triple-A Omaha and hopes to be Major League-ready sometime in May, according to the Kansas City Star’s Andy McCullough Right now, he looks like a number-one starter as a 6’ 5”, 225-pound power arm, but before finding a niche in the pen and breaking out in 2013, he’s been a replacement-level pitcher.

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So I ask… How could a Luke Hochevar return impact the Royals bullpen this season?

In 2013, Hochevar pitched 70.1 innings, struck out 82 batters, issued 17 walks and allowed just eight home runs to 262 batters faced. He posted a 1.92 ERA in a season-long flash of brilliance.

While I love the idea of a Ryan Madson resurgence and Jason Frasor defying time, we’re talking about adding another overpowering strikeout piece to the end of baseball’s premier bullpen. Hochevar provides seventh and eighth-inning insurance, too.

According to FanGraphs, there’s perhaps a single pitch that caused significant improvements in Hochevar’s results: his cutter.

He threw his cutter 35% of the time in 2013, up from a previous career-high of 16.5% in 2011. He also scrapped his changeup and slider, throwing each less than one percent of his 1,044 total pitches that first full season in the pen (Source of link: FanGraphs.com).

Hochevar upped his K-rate to a superb 10.49 K/9, lowered his BB-rate and his 2.90 xFIP is in line with his ERA. He was a different pitcher when he was allowed to focus on three outs at a time and forget about pacing for six innings or more. He was able to go from throwing five different pitches to consistently throwing three (fastball, cutter, curveball).

Here is Hochevar in 2013, fanning Indians batters Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera in order, in a pivotal spot in the game:

(Source of link: YouTube)

It looks like Hochevar’s a lot more comfortable in the pen, and in a 162-game race, the Kansas City Royals can certainly find him work.

Barring injury or trade, the trio of Herrera-Davis-Holland in the seventh-eighth-ninth innings will not change. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, that’s what they say. If 2013 Hochevar returns in 2015, however, we might have to add a fourth member to the three-headed cobra some call HDH.

Hochevar in the sixth inning (or any late-game innings) should salvage part of the 200 innings the Royals lost when the Padres offered James Shields a huge deal, and take pressure off of the starting rotation.

Of course, it’s another H and HHDH doesn’t roll off the tongue. Oh well, that’s a problem we fans will need to solve… hopefully.

Next: Opening Day Delivers Expectations For Royals Fans

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