Luke Hochevar To The Rotation?

USA TODAY Sports

He is not the pitcher you are looking for.

There have been rumblings from within the Royals' organization that Luke Hochevar will get a shot to return to the starting rotation for the 2014 season.  The outside looking in view is that the Royals believe a strong season spent in the pen might be parlayed into a far more effective starting performance than previously seen from Hochevar.  You know, The Greinke Maneuver.

Last spring I wrote about how the Royals were hoping (and in fact needed) Wade Davis to emerge from a successful bullpen stint and realize his potential as a starter.  As we sadly know, Davis is not Zack Greinke.  My guess is Luke Hochevar is not, either.

Yes, Hochevar was good, even great at times, out of the bullpen.  He struck out well over a batter per inning, exhibited better control than as a started and, in 70 innings put up almost as many fWAR as he did in 2012 in 185 innings. Does that mean he could return to the rotation with an equal effectiveness?

Before you bring up Greinke, let's make note that Zack went to the pen with less than 400 innings under his belt as a starter, while Hochevar had almost 800 innings in that role prior to last season.  That is a pretty solid book of work to prove that you probably are not going to get any better as a starter, bullpen detour or not.

Let's look (or actually, let's have Baseball Reference look for us) at the pitchers with the highest earned run averages who pitched 600 innings or more in their first six major league seasons in the  post-strike era.

Player ERA IP From To Age G GS
LaTroy Hawkins 5.76 609 1995 2000 22-27 165 98
Rob Bell 5.69 633 2000 2005 23-28 121 108
Jimmy Haynes 5.63 722 1995 2000 22-27 139 118
Kyle Davies 5.49 706.2 2005 2010 21-26 138 131
Frankie Rodriguez 5.45 645.1 1995 2000 22-27 177 82
Luke Hochevar 5.39 771 2007 2012 23-28 132 128
Brian Meadows 5.24 738.1 1998 2003 22-27 150 122
Dennis Springer 5.23 635 1995 2000 30-35 125 95
Scott Elarton 5.22 716.2 1998 2004 22-28 164 110
Casey Fossum 5.20 664.2 2001 2006 23-28 163 110
Scott Schoeneweis 5.16 710 1999 2004 25-30 223 93
Jamey Wright 5.15 901 1996 2001 21-26 151 149
Jeff Suppan 5.15 662 1995 2000 20-25 123 108
Jason Johnson 5.14 616.1 1997 2002 23-28 117 101
Shawn Chacon 5.12 740.1 2001 2006 23-28 190 115
Daniel Cabrera 5.10 892.1 2004 2009 23-28 162 155
James Baldwin 5.09 920 1995 2000 23-28 167 149
Brian Bannister 5.08 667.1 2006 2010 25-29 117 114
Mike Maroth 5.05 918 2002 2007 24-29 161 150
Ryan Dempster 5.01 964 1998 2003 21-26 161 156
Mark Hendrickson 5.01 844 2002 2007 28-33 179 135
Jason Hammel 4.99 732 2006 2011 23-28 169 115
Chris Volstad 4.94 703.2 2008 2013 21-26 130 123
Claudio Vargas 4.94 703.2 2003 2008 25-30 164 114
Glendon Rusch 4.93 910.1 1997 2002 22-27 161 148

First off, too many Royals on that list, but I digress.

At the top of the list is Latroy Hawkins, who started 98 of his first 99 major league games and, starting with his sixth season, never started another game.  As we know, Latroy has fashioned himself a fine career as a reliever and, if I had to guess, Hochevar is far more likely to be the next Latroy Hawkins than the next Ryan Dempster.

I bring up Dempster because he, way down there at number twenty on the above list, is the ONE guy of that group who was a starter - not a good one - went to the bullpen found success, then returned to be a quality starting pitcher.   Hey, if Hochevar turns into Dempster, I'm all for it.

In between Hawkins and Dempster there is a real trail to the land of misfit toys:

  • Rob Bell pitched 68 major league innings after 2004.
  • Jimmy Haynes started another 100+ games, but never got any better.
  • Kyle Davies?  Enough said.
  • Frankie Rodriguez was already a swingman well before the end of his 6th season and never got any better.
  • Brian Meadows started just seven more games in his career and had some mixed results as a reliever thereafter.
  • Dennis Springer pitched in just seven more games in the majors.
  • Scott Elarton continued to be Scott Elarton through 68 more starts and 8 relief appearances.
  • Casey Fossum started 10 of his next 74 games with poor results.
  • Scott Schoenewies spent two of his first six seasons as full time starter, two as a full time reliever and two more as a swingman.  He worked out of the bullpen from season six on.
  • Jamey Wright would soldier on as a starter for more than 100 starts after season six, with some relieving mixed in and would become a full fledged and fairly capable reliever at age 33 (and is still going, I think).
  • Jeff Suppan never spent much time in the bullpen, but instead just kept throwing innings.  A lot of KC fans are jaded as Suppan eventually ended up getting ground down by the futility of being a Royals' starting pitcher back around the turn of the century, but Suppan ended up with a nice career.  None of that, however, had anything to do with 'figuring it out' in the bullpen.
  • Jason Johnson continued on as a starter and, as many above, never got much better.
  • Shawn Chacon's first six seasons included a trip to the pen where he saved 35 games despite giving up 50 runs in 63 innings and a nice 24 start run in 2005 that included a good dose of luck.  That was the high point of his career, such that it was.
  • Daniel Cabrera's 892 innings in his first six seasons was all any major league team wanted to see.  He has not pitched in the majors since.
  • James Baldwin threw over 900 innings in six seasons, started another season and one-half and was out of baseball by 2007.
  • Brian Bannister and Mike Maroth were both pretty much done after their sixth seasons.
  • Mark Hendrickson is just below Dempster and fashioned a few more seasons as a swingman.  Nothing to see here, move along.
  • Jason Hammel spent most of his third major league season as a reliever, but started before and after.  Judging by the number of current and former Royals on the above list, it seems likely that Hammel will someday wear blue.
  • Chris Volstad.   Somewhere in the archives is way too much discussion of the time Volstad was a Royal.
  • Claudio Vargas had a nice year in the pen in season seven, a bad year in relief the next year and has been in the minors ever since.
  • Glendon Rusch.  Man there are a lot of Royals on this list.
If you run down the next 25 pitchers that fit in the above criteria, you start to run into some guys that turned into pretty good starters:  Chris Carpenter, Jeff Francis, Kyle Lohse and Gil Meche among them.  None of those four spent much time, if any, in the bullpen.  That seems representative of most of the list:  some became decent relievers, others continued to start and got better, most did neither.

What does 2014 hold for Luke Hochevar?  Well, five million dollars to begin with, but beyond that I would be far more confident in Luke being a solid 8th inning guy than in him becoming a league average starting pitcher (I wanted to say 'solid number four', but did not want to endure the day long indignation at the vagueness of that term).

Perhaps, just perhaps (and I have been drinking so...) the Royals are pumping up their confidence in Hochevar being better as a starter in 2014 simply to enhance his marketability this off-season.   Do we dare give Dayton Moore that much credit?  It would be kind of fun were it to be true.  It would also be fun if Hochevar turned into Dempster.

A lot of things are fun.  A lot of them, however, are not realistic.

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