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.
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.