Luke Hochevar is going to the bullpen. It's an unsurprising development, given Kansas City's offseason activity and Hochevar's history of failure. The former first-overall pick nearly seven years ago, Hochevar has compiled a 5.39 ERA and 132 starts over his career to date. He did manage a career-best strikeout-to-walk ratio last season (2.36), however, his run average worsened from poor to intolerable—even for a Royals team previously light on starters.
There's no need to sweeten this tea: Hochevar has been a mess for a few years now. Google Hochevar's name in conjunction with Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland and you'll be hit with a half-dozen articles, all of which explain a different flaw or outline a new plan to get him back on track. To wit, here's a brief look at the various explanations given for Hochevar's poor performance over the past nine or so months:
“We didn’t give him anything new, but we got him to simplify things,” Eiland said. “We’ve gotten back to his main core pitches — his four-seam fastball, his curveball and his change-up. He still has his sinker and his cutter, but he uses those just to enhance those three other pitches.
“We want 85 percent of his pitches to be his four-seam fastball, his curveball and change-up. He can use the cutter and sinker as needed, but he was overusing those, and those are his fourth and fifth pitches, and there wasn’t enough separation in his pitches miles-per-hour-wise.”
“He’s got five or six different pitches,” Eiland said. “There are not many starting pitchers in this game, ever in this game, who have been successful for a long time who tried to throw that many pitches. You need to have three or four good ones.
“When he sticks to a certain plan, and he concentrates on three or four pitches, he has good games. When he tries to throw all of them, he doesn’t have good games.”
Over five years of frustration, the Royals have tried to help Hochevar overcome a list of supposed issues: tipping pitches, not being aggressive enough, thinking too much, not pitching inside, too many breaking balls, too many cut fastballs and more.
Hochevar did what all pitchers do in game-on-the-line situations; he’d try to reach back for a little more. To “step on the gas,” as he puts it. When he did, the situation often quickly got out of hand.
He now thinks he knows why.
“When I’d step on the gas,” he said, “my front side would fly open, and my ball would get flat. The thing is, if my front side stays in, I can step on the gas and (be effective). My front side stays in. I keep my angle. I don’t get flat. The hitter doesn’t pick me up early.
Despite it all, here's a prediction: Hochevar will find success in the bullpen. He'll simplify things, not by choice but by default since he won't have to save pitches or sequences for the second or third time around. Instead he'll pitch without fear of running out of creativity. That means riding his fastball and exhibiting greed with his curveball and changeup. If this all works out, and it might not, then Hochevar may still find himself on a new team next spring. But perhaps for a good reason, as another team might throw him back in the rotation to see if the lessons took.