When it comes to pitchers getting second, third and even fourth chances, pedigree matters. Case in point: Kansas City's Luke Hochevar. The first overall pick in the 2006 draft was supposed to anchor the Royals' rotation, providing the club with a homegrown ace to complement its embarrassment of hitting talent. Instead, he has been a perennial disappointment. Hochevar's best season in the majors was probably 2011, when he posted an 87 ERA+ (still 13 percent worse than the league average) in nearly 200 frames. Yet, Hochevar continued to get the ball. Some of that was general desperation -- this is a team that has given Bruce Chen 30-plus starts in recent seasons, after all -- but it was also because Hochevar had dominant, if ephemeral stretches of pitching. He struck out 13 Texas Rangers in 2009. He had a great second half in 2011. There was always a reason for K.C. to believe in Hochevar -- his prototypical power pitcher's frame, his low-to-mid-90s heat, his crisp breaking stuff.
Well, it looks like Hochevar has finally run out of chances to prove he's a capable starting pitcher. Manager Ned Yost announced that Hochevar will pitch out of the bullpen in 2013, with Kansas City hoping for marked improvement from a rotation that includes offseason pickups James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis, as well as 2012 holdover Jeremy Guthrie.
No one can claim that the Royals lacked patience with Hochevar as he generally got drubbed every fifth day. In fact, he received an almost historically unprecedented number of opportunities for a pitcher whose results were so poor. Through age 28, Hochevar has made the second-most starts ever for a pitcher with a career ERA+ under 80. Number one? Kyle Davies, another former Royal now trying to crack the Twins' Triple-A rotation:
Most Games Started by Pitchers through Age 28 with Career ERA+ Under 80
Hochevar's in the bullpen for now, but you can almost guarantee that he'll get another chance to start at some point, be it in Kansas City or elsewhere. He has long struggled from the stretch, with his strikeout rate plummeting from 17.3% with the bases empty to 14.1% with men on and his walk rate jumping from 7.1% to 8.5%. Some pitching coach will probably look at the tape and see a fixable mechanical flaw. Then, he'll start to dream -- the power pitcher's frame, the low-to-mid-90s heat, the crisp breaking stuff...