Consistency. It’s probably the most over used and therefore worthless term used in the baseball lexicon. “If only pitcher X could be more consistent, then he’d really be something.” When used, it’s also the most obvious. Yes, if a pitcher could pitch as well as his best game, every game, then he’d be Roy Halladay. Not surprisingly, there’s only one Roy Halladay because pitching, by it’s nature is an inconsistent art. What can happen from time to time is a pitcher will increase the number of games where he is highly effective and also limits the damage when he isn’t. Luke Hochevar last night pitched another example of his “A” stuff and since the All-Star break, he’s been pretty, well, consistent (seriously, I’m not using that word again, starting…….now).
During the All-Star break there was some rumblings about Luke Hochevar making some adjustments that would make him more effective. The rightly-skeptical public greeted this with a believe-it-when-we-see-it mentality. I’ve been calling Hochevar “Big-Inning Luke” for years now, because that’s exactly what he’s produced. He’ll be cruising along, just mowing down batters and then WHAM, five runs in an inning out of nowhere.
The arm-chair Freud’s out there posited that Luke Hochevar was a mental case. Everyone without a better explanation thought it sounded reasonable and so it became accepted. Many people believed and stated out loud that a guy who had pitched his way to a top College program and then into the Major Leagues, was a mentally strong pitcher until he decided to freak out on the mound in front of the same 30,000 fans he’d been pitching in front of for the four previous innings.
I had gone along with this same thinking until I decided to look for more logical and rational reasons for these big-inning collapses. My thoughts ran like this: In order to give up a big inning, you have to allow a lot of base runners. When you allow base runners, you completely change your motion from the wind-up to the stretch. Small adjustments can make a big difference in the effectiveness in the pitcher. Viola! Luke Hochevar isn’t good at pitching out of the stretch!
Granted, I have as much evidence at this point to prove this hypothesis than those who claim he’s a crazy-person. But when forced to choose between mental issues and mechanical, I’ll go mechanical every single time. So, let’s see if Luke Hochever is worse than the average pitcher with runners on base.
So Luke Hochevar is significantly worse with runners on base than he is when they are empty. This doesn’t lead us to a cause, but it does support the hypothesis somewhat. One piece of anecdotal evidence that contributes to my theory is that I’ve seen him on a couple of occasions go to the wind-up when there is a runner on third and no other runners on. That tells me that he’s willing to give up the slight advantage to the runner so he can be more comfortable and possibly effective out of the wind-up. It’s a small sample size but in 2011 with a runner only on 3rd, Luke gives up an OPS of .708. Could mean nothing with only 24 plate appearances, but it’s something to ponder.
Back to the adjusments that were alluded to over the All-Star break. Since that time Luke Hochevar has started five games and posted an ERA of 2.41 with an OPS against of .582. It’s only five games, so it could just be a hot or lucky streak.
Whether Luke Hochever continues to pitch like the top-of-the-rotation starter that the Royals believed him to be is unknown. For now, he’s been effective since the Royals claimed he made an adjustment. Sure, maybe he went on prozac and had an intimate 0ne-on-one conversation with Dr. Laura to cure his mental instability. I think it’s more likely that he improved the way he pitches out of the stretch and has been able to limit the big innings he was known for. Regardless of the fix, the question is whether he’ll be more consistent (damnit).