When Luke Hochevar is scheduled to start, fans openly wonder which Luke will show up for the game.
The ‘Good' Luke is an awesome pitcher, the ‘Bad' Luke is an awful pitcher. Things can be going well for Luke, then suddenly go oh so bad.
One possibility is that the ‘Bad' Luke is merely the creation of a slow hook.
While there might be a college course somewhere on the theory and practice of managing a baseball game, I'm pretty sure Ned Yost has not taken that course. As a former catcher, we are to believe that Yost has the knowledge of how to handle a pitching staff and pitching changes.
In looking thru the 2012 pitching splits, you might wonder whether Ned could pass that college course. The data in Table 1 shows pitching splits for pitchers when they get a win, no decision or loss. The Royals have the second best ERA for pitchers that get the win, but the worst ERA for pitchers that get the loss. This stat suggests that the Royals leave in pitchers that get the loss for more runs than other teams do.
Diving deeper into the Royals pitching splits, Tables 2 and 3 show key stats broken down by win, no decision and loss. As expected, wins have significantly better stats than losses. What seems to be relevant is the stat profile for wins versus losses. For example, WHIP in wins is roughly one while in losses is roughly two.
It would be fairly easy to manage a game when a pitcher is doing well. The challenge in managing is to know when the pitcher is on the edge, ready to falter, and then having the guts to make a pitching change before too much damage is done.
Even the most casual fan knows that Yost has a habit of leaving a starter in the game too long. The data in Table 4 shows key pitching stats for the Royals pitchers in losses. Comparing the numbers for Mendoza and Hochevar suggests that Yost pulls Mendoza quicker than Hochevar.
Taking a closer look at Luke's splits in the following table shows the statistical differences between ‘Good' and ‘Bad' Luke.
This table shows stats for losses with a game score under 40. The pattern is clear - few strikeouts, plenty of base runners over three to five innings.
A logical approach to deciding when to pull a pitcher would be based on the patterns in the pitching splits. In wins, a pitcher has a lower WHIP, fewer home runs and a better SO/BB ratio than in losses.
At the start of the sixth inning with a pitch count around 80, the stat line was closer to ‘Bad' Luke than ‘Good' Luke - two homers, low 1.0 SO/BB, and an elevated 1.4 WHIP. On a ‘Bad' Luke night, a quick hook should be used - first sign of trouble, go to the bullpen.
If you play the game to win, Yost should have pulled Hochevar either after Betemit or McLouth. By leaving Luke in the game to face Machado, Yost's slow hook added to the growing legend of ‘Bad' Luke.
Data from Baseball-Reference.com for 2012 season.