Eight runs last night for the Kansas City Royals on four home runs.  That’s pretty much what one might have expected before the season started, right?  Billy Butler with two blasts, Eric Hosmer with his fifth of the year and Alex Gordon with the bomb to put the game away while the bullpen polished off the last two plus innings:  pretty much the pre-season gameplan.

While the offense stole the show in the streak stopper last night, Luke Hochevar had a fine outing.  The home opener disaster that Luke provide Royals’ fans on April 13th has tainted the view of him thus far in 2012.   Last night was his second very good start and third decent start out of four this season.  He’s no Bruce Chen, mind you, but Hochevar has actually been alright.

Luke opened the season throwing 6.1 innings against the Angels, allowing five hits and two runs.   After being knocked out, in more ways than one, in the home opener, Hochevar game back the following Friday to allow just two hits and a run in five innings of work.   Then last night, Luke tossed another 6.1 innings, allowing just four hits and two runs.  We may all want Hochevar to live up to that first overall draft pick status, but truth is that three out of four ain’t bad.

Let’s go back to last night. 

Pitch F/X via Brook’s Baseball classified Luke as throwing five different pitches last night (six in his first three starts):  four seam fastball, sinker, changeup, slider and curve.   The sixth pitch not used last night but used quite a bit by Hochevar in his first three starts was the cutter.   Now, you can call the sinker whatever you want (two seamer maybe?), but it is as fast or faster than Hochevar’s four seam fastball, and for the purposes of this column they are all fastballs.

Last night, Hochevar threw 47 fastballs, 29 sliders, 13 curves and 8 changeups.    Off his fastball offerings, 28 were strikes, and 22 of his 29 sliders were strikes with six of those being whiffs.   Luke only found the strike zone once with his change and half the time with his curveball.  

This season, the changeup has mostly been a ‘here’s something to think about pitch’ for Hochevar.   In his four starts, Luke has thrown it 4, 9, 9 and 8 times and hence it is not a huge part of his game.    So, let’s take that out of the equation for now as well.

The cutter, not used at all according to the data last night, was a good pitch for Hochevar earlier.  He threw it 14 times for 8 strikes (2 whiffs) on April 7th and threw it for virtually identical numbers in his third start.   In the debacle that was Friday April 13th, Hochevar offered it up seven times for five strikes.  An effective cutter helped Hochevar in his good start on the 7th an decent start on the 20th, but was not a part of his good outing last night.    Now, it is also possible that the cutter gets classified as a slider or vice-versa, but we could add them all together and only add more to the point that I am about to make below.

So, now we’re down to fastballs, curveballs and sliders. 

Compare the pitch counts of these pitches from Hochevar’s starts on April 7th (shown first) and last night:  two very good and very similar nights.

  • Fastballs – 43/47
  • Sliders – 21/29
  • Curves – 13/13

Okay, now look at the pitch usage from the awful start on the 13th:

  • Fastballs – 41
  • Sliders – 6
  • Curves – 7

Here is the interesting thing about the dramatic disparity in pitch selection:  the strike percentage of those three pitches is actually almost the same between the starts on the 7th, 13th and last night.   While Luke was getting lit up in Kaufmann Stadium, he three five of six sliders for strikes, 29 of 41 fastballs for strikes and three of seven curves.   Of course, ‘hits’ are considered strikes, so it is possible that Luke threw some pretty crappy sliders and fastballs (well, it’s not possible, he DID) on the 13th.

What should not be lost in this equation is when Hochevar offers up sliders somewhere at or above 20% of the time, he has been very effective this season.   Looking back at 2011, Hochevar barely threw the slider at all in April, May and June of that season (less than 5%), but gradually started using it more and more after that and was throwing it 18% of the time in September.

If want to lump the slider and cutter together as one ‘genre of a pitch’, Hochevar threw 35 on the 7th, 33 on the 20th and 29 last night, but only 13 on April 13th.  Call it what you want, but Hochevar need to command it and throw it often to be successful.

You can go back into 2011 and note that in the first three months and find that twenty percent of Hochevar’s pitches were being classified as cutters.   If you add that to the sliders, the percentages really don’t change that much over 2011, but something did change.   Starting in July of 2011, Hochevar either threw the slider more or changed his cutter enough to make the data reflect a change in pitch.  Hey, if the computers see it different, so do the hitters.

The change worked last season and, through four starts this year, when Hochevar uses that pitch often he is effective.   It was not used often or effectively on April 13th and we all saw the results.   Throw the slider, Luke, throw it often.

xxx